Screwtape�s Advanced Strategies against Gospel Growth

by Kevin Halloran August 19, 2016

Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters.

My dearest nephew Wormwood,

I write you with greater urgency than mere words can convey. Two years ago, your subject crossed the point of no return when leaving the dark kingdom of our Lord and embracing the Enemy’s Son. Luckily for us, he embraced as “gospel truth” some of the splendidly simple, yet profoundly effective lies that you whispered in his ear:

  • “You really are too busy to pray today.”
  • “Be proud of yourself, you are a good Christian!”
  • “Sacrificing your Christian convictions is just part of witnessing to your unsaved friends.”
  • “My sin isn’t that bad compared to others I know.”

You even have him believing that a diligent effort in pursuing holiness amounts to legalism. Bravo! These lies have tremendous power for a newer follower of the Enemy. But the ineffectiveness of your weasely plans proves that his faith is only getting stronger.

This is the reason I write with urgency and trepidation. His deepened understanding of the Enemy’s transforming grace—which comes with his deeper appreciation for the cross— has simply served to destroy much of your great work and further ignite his faith.

There are a few telltale signs of this turn for the worse:

Sign #1: Your subject seems to be more joyful in the Enemy than ever before. This joy is fueled by his deep study and heartfelt conversations with the Enemy, and only seems to increase as he suffers. This is troubling because, once his affections are set, tempting him away from the Enemy becomes like trying to stop a runaway train. However, do not let this discourage you; I will outline a suggested strategy.

Sign #2: His love for others flows more naturally than ever. This goes for his coworkers, his neighbors, and even those pesky relatives that always used to get on his nerves. He has now begun talking about the Enemy with people at work and in public— you must continue to tell him how awkward it really is and remind him of how little time he has for such conversations.

Sign #3: He hates his sin more by the day. Sins that used to allure him now disgust him. And when he does sin, the Enemy has taught him to confess and repent immediately, which only deepens his love and thankfulness, making him even closer to the Enemy than before! That’s one step forward, two steps back for us, young Wormwood. Truly something troublesome.

Sign #4: Your subject now longs for the return of the Enemy’s Son. He doesn’t numb his mind to the world’s pain and tragedies like he used to. Instead, pain and tragedy now stir his desire for the Enemy’s Son to come back. When dealing with life’s hard issues, he now prays more—and you know what effect that has had for the Enemy and how it renders us powerless!

Since you can no longer divert him with the deliciously simple lies like before, you must go for the jugular, attacking the sources of this growth. You can’t stop a runaway train at full speed, but we can slow him down by attacking what fuels him. We can try to derail him with a “big” sin or a host of secretive sins that metastasize so beautifully throughout his entire being. You must not disregard or underestimate the power of secret sins—they lay the bedrock for the truly catastrophic ones!

Your approach must be subtle and increasingly nuanced as he seems to be waking up to many of the older approaches in this new season of spiritual passion and awakened understanding. It truly makes an old demon like me sick.

Here are four areas that you must always target:

Do whatever you can to keep him from the Enemy’s Word. Discourage him with reminders that he still has trouble understanding certain parts of it and that he’ll never be as smart as that brainy friend of his. Distract him with anything possible: thoughts from the workplace, his lady friend, that smartphone of his—yes, that phone is a splendid way to take his attention captive! Anything that will keep him from deep, soul-searching thought and reflection of the Enemy is a win for us.

Related to this is the powerful tool of doubt – a tool still at your disposal, but one you must wield more craftily. While it would be hard to entice him to doubt the inspiration of the Book, you can subtly sneak in the thought that it doesn’t impact his daily life—thus causing him to doubt the book’s practicality and importance! This nuanced approach won’t cause much backward movement in his faith, but will surely serve to stall his movement forward.

The next area we will attack is those conversations with the Enemy, what they affectionately refer to as “prayer”. A few strategies include telling him that he’s doing a good job in prayer, so as to turn his focus—and his pride—to how faithful he is. Or, simply remind him of his ever-growing to-do list and suggest that he finishes up this prayer thing quickly to do what really matters in life. Make him self-conscious because he doesn’t pray as eloquently as that more-spiritual friend of his or slip a little poison in the joyful waters of prayer by telling him that, to earn God’s favor, he needs to perform better.

Bottom line: Do whatever you can to keep his prayer life stagnant, forced, and fickle.

Wormwood, you also cannot be too diligent in attacking his time at church or with church people. Make every effort to keep his relationships with other Christians superficial, not a channel of blessing the Enemy uses to grow him and others. Sports, politics, books, news, friendly gossip about mutual friends—these are all encouraged topics of conversation. If the conversation turns to spiritual issues, especially his personal faith—watch out! Confession of sins, praying for each other, or sharing stories of the Enemy’s work will only strengthen the whole group. Indeed, this is part of the reason for his growth in the first place! That is why you must labor to sow seeds of dissension, distrust, hate, or simply indifference toward others at this church of his.

Even if his relationships remain strong and chummy, you can play this to your advantage by diverting their attention from the truth and grace of the Enemy to other things deemed as “good." Things things like: their own friendships, political causes fueled by religious fervor, a focus on knowing spiritual information without applying it, or any number of culturally acceptable idols—anything that would take his focus off of the Enemy Himself.

Wormwood, I’m sad to see that you’re in a bind like this. I wish I could say there was more hope for a despicable demon like you, but you know as well as I that our dark master has been defeated. Still, we can gnaw and scratch at the Enemy and his chosen ones to see if we can dampen their joy before we meet our doom.

Your affectionate uncle,