Good Ole Uncle Screwtape.

This morning I had coffee with a dude from my church.  I spent the first half hour of this excursion reading a really cool compilation of short stories called The Universe in Miniature, In Miniature, by Patrick Somerville while I waited for him.  It’s a really cool book because Somerville writes a page long short story followed immediately by one 30x as lengthy, and the actual material ranges from the quasi-fantastic to the thing that you probably saw happen across the street two weeks ago.  So much variety in one tiny book = pretty tight.


The conversation I had with my church buddy was really good, and, as is true of most good conversations, it made me realize something that has been bouncing around in my head, looking for attention but not getting quite the level of focus that it needs to be resolved.

Every generation of Christians seems to pick and latch onto a part of Christianity that they think their predecessors and then they turn that part of Christian theology into Who Jesus Is and What Christianity Stands For.   For those of you who are not aware, Social Justice (I felt obligated to capitalize that) is huge in the church right now.  The Western church, its young people in particular, are tired of fire and brimstone, condemnation, and conversion-centric Christian teaching.  The new focus is on relationship, community and looking after human needs, which is, imho, awesome.

But I’m one of them, so I would think that.

Enter C.S. Lewis.  Not only did this dude write one of the greatest series of children’s books ever, he also wrote some of the most accessible, hardcore and relevant theology out there.  One of my personal favorites is The Screwtape Letters, which is a set of letters, written from one demon to another, that were “discovered” and published as found.   The writing demon, Screwtape, is older and wiser and trying to school his nephew, Wormwood, in the art of tempting humans away from Christianity.  Wormwood is a novice and not very good at what he does, so with every new error that he makes with his “patient”, we get one more glimpse into what those wily demons do to make us slip away from the “Enemy”, ie Jesus Cristo.

It’s amazing to see how consistent human behavior is, because almost every single issue that Lewis brings up in this text is something that we are still struggling with today.  Sometimes our struggle has changed its focus a little bit, but we have the same exact problems and the same exact inability to perceive our problems for what they are.

For example, one of the tactics that Screwtape suggests to his nephew is to convince his “patient” to take up an admirable “cause” and then to:

“…quietly and gradually nurse [the “patient”] on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can offer in favor of the [cause]… Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.  Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.” (p. 34-35 in linked text)

Right now the church’s cause seems to be Social Justice and, if Lewis is on the right track, by becoming so interested in Social Justice we are only succeeding in slipping away from Christianity in a different way than our predecessors, rather than getting any closer to perfecting it than they may have been.  Once the cause becomes a Christian’s main focus and the relationship with Christ takes second place it is over because it is, according to Lewis, not Christianity anymore.

It is activism.

About a month into Acts 29 our team split into smaller groups for a week and a half and each group went to a different town in India.  One group in particular came back really confused/angry.  The mission they had shadowed was doing really good things in its community, but no one who benefited from the mission even knew that it was run by Christians.  They never thought to ask the organization why they decided to help them and the organization wanted to do good things without ruffling feathers, so that’s exactly what they did.  They waited to be asked and the questions never came.

In other words they were all Social Justice and no Jesus, which is the way missions through the church are leaning these days.

And I can’t decide if I have a problem with that or not.

Half of me does.  This half of me says that if you believe (which I don’t know if I do) that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that Jesus is the only gate to Heaven (hullo, John 14:6), then how can you possibly spend so much time and energy on a group of people and only improve their lives on Earth?  You are, based on your own theology, making their lives more comfortable here, only to knowingly damn them to whatever hell is because you didn’t want to offend anyone by suggesting that their beliefs (or lack thereof) were wrong.  And that’s mean in an eternal way, rather than insensitive in a finite way.

The other half of me does not have a problem with all Social Justice and no Jesus because a) I’m kind of confused religiously to begin with, and b) how can you have a problem with something that is doing good?  You are giving microloans and helping people take care of themselves?  Cool.  You are putting food in hungry bellies?  Awesome.  You are curing diseases that they don’t have the resources to cure on their own?  Right on.

Also I have that same fear that holds any Christian back.  I gauge people really carefully before I am completely open with my religious views, and I usually only tell half the story anyways depending on who I am talking to (secret’s out, thank you interwebs).  If I’m talking to someone who seems more agnostic, I lean that way.  If I’m talking to someone who seems more Christian, I lean the other.  It’s lame, but it’s true and my inability to pick a side is probably what confuses me about this question so much.

But that doesn’t answer why my believing friendskies don’t pick a side.  And why they don’t pick what seems to be very clearly the RIGHT side for a believer.  We are just as bad at picking and choosing what parts of the gospel appeal to us as our forebearers were, but we pick the friendly side instead of the mean one so we can convince ourselves that we are making some mythical kind of headway that we are, in fact, not.

There is not a singular face to Jesus.  He, like all of us, has personality quirks that seem like contradictions, but, in reality just make him real.  Was Jesus into social justice?  Well, he spoke of and to the ostracized with fondness and familiarity, which seems like a yes to me.  Was Jesus insistent that he was the only way?  Sorry, yeah.  Did Jesus say that everyone was welcome to the eternal party in the sky?  With the help of God, yes, but sometimes life on Earth is too good.  Was Jesus welcoming, despite that strictness?  Pretty much…he spent time with and protected tax collectors, adulterers and children, despite people thinking that he was wasting his holy time with them.

Jesus was a fricking smorgasbord of philosophies.  He knew when to lend a hand and when to preach and if we actually want to be followers of the dude, we need to find that balance as well.  And yet, despite this, we have somehow convinced ourselves that Jesus would approve of a church that is all about social justice and neglects the spiritual consequences Christianity almost entirely.

Sounds to me like our demons are listening to good ole Uncle Screwtape’s advice.

And it’s working.


4 Responses to Good Ole Uncle Screwtape.

  1. mike v says:

    very good read holly. thanks.

  2. Karin says:

    Holly you and I seem to share some very similar thoughts. You should come out to Tahoe with your seester so we can gnaw on a few of them!

    • tertiaryhep says:

      I cannot even tell you how much I would love to visit you guys! Unfortunately my work schedule is all locked into place for the next couple weeks already, and I’m getting ready for the new school year, which is weird because it’s been a while since I’ve gone to a “real” school. 😛

      Maybe next year we will be able to do a family roadtrip down to Tahoe! Or you could take a roadtrip to see us!

  3. James says:

    In a book called Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, the author explains how there came to be a huge divide between social justice-minded Christians and the fundamentalist Christians. Apparently, there was a pastor who led the social justice movement and it gained some real steam. Unfortunately, he became less and less focused on combining social healing with spiritual healing and his own beliefs began to resemble something of deism and mysticism. This caused a lot of conservatives and fundamentalist Christians to shy away from social justice like it was the plague.

    Timothy Keller’s book suggests that not only are Christians called to be social justice-minded, but that we can do it without compromising our Great Commission or the integrity of our theology. Frankly, I think that our deeds done in an effort to make an impact for social justice reflect our faith, and if we speak the truth in love when explaining why we do what we do; what better testimony is there? Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and pray the sinner’s prayer with everyone”, but rather to “Go and make disciples of every nation on the earth”. We cannot save anyone, which is often said but the actions that follow seem to indicate otherwise. People act like they’ve failed if they share the Gospel with someone and the person turns them away. If we are to lead people to Jesus, we should lead by example in our words and deeds; giving glory to God all along the way.

    Another thing, are we not supposed to be distinguished by the love we have for one another (John 13:35)? I don’t want to discredit the theological issues which are raised, but it seems to me like Christians haven’t been paying attention to this little fact and instead divided the Church over things which I think Paul warned us against (2 Timothy 2:23). I sincerely believe that Christians need a renewal of authenticity in their faith. Christians are perceived mostly as fake and hypocritical, but it’s not entirely undeserved. Jesus and His disciples taught some really awesome and radical ideas that are still pretty far out by today’s standards, but how many Christians are actually doing it? How many Christians have an Acts 2 community with their brothers and sisters in the faith?

    It’s no secret that there are serious problems among the various representations of Christ around the world, but the change has to start with us; we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us.

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