Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Thought provoking essays from a different point of view
Cons: Some theological issues with how things are portrayed
The Bottom Line:
Enemy’s view of
Temptation and sin.  Digest
It with discernment

Fresh Look at Temptation and Spiritual Warfare from the Other Side

I love The Chronicles of Narnia.  Seriously, in any form I’ve encountered them, I’ve fallen under the spell of them.  But I’ve never moved on to any of C. S. Lewis’s other books until this month, when I listened to The Screwtape Letters.  Naturally, I’d heard about this book for years, and I can certainly see why people talk about it so much.

The premise of the book is unique.  It’s a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior devil, to his nephew Wormwood, who is on his first assignment as a tempter.  We don’t get many details on the man Wormwood is trying to lead astray (he is always called the Patient), but as we go through the roughly 30 letters, a story begins to unfold.  The Patient is a new Christian, and it is Wormwood’s job to keep that conversion from sticking.  Screwtape offers advice on just about anything from his home life to his new love and even the growing European war.  As he does so, we get insight into how even good things can be easily twisted for evil and how the enemy thinks.

Or maybe not.  The thing to remember while reading the book is that this is all one man’s conjecture on how things are in the spiritual realm.  As I was listening, I kept having to remind myself that this is not necessarily the way things are.  Having said that, what is here is actually quite logical and makes a lot of sense with what I’ve seen in my own life.  There is much to think about and chew on, and the book is well worth reading for that reason alone.  Just keep in mind that it is fiction as you think about it.

What I think struck me the most is how easily good things can be twisted around to make them sinful.  That is hit upon several times over the course of the book, and I could certainly see the point Lewis was making.  For example, pride can easily crop up in a group that is right on an issue.  It’s not anything I didn’t already know before, but seeing it laid out from the other side made hit me in a different way.

The book was originally published in 1941, meaning that World War II plays a huge part in the events unfolding.  That may date a few of the references, but none of the real issues brought up are at all dated.

In fact, as Screwtape was expounding on the way the demons are trying to influence the population at large, I recognized much in our world today.  The book may be almost 75 years old, but the vision that Lewis had of our culture and how it would unfold in the future is downright scary at times.  The book concludes with “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” a speech Lewis wrote in the early 60’s reviving the Screwtape character.  Again, his observations are spot on even all these years later.

Which is why I feel I am sorry to have to point out a theological flaw to the book.  It is obvious as you read that Screwtape thinks a person can lose their salvation.  That’s dangerous theology, and not the way I read the Bible.  I certainly think that Christians can still be lead into sin, however, but the idea that the demons can claim a Christian’s soul goes against what I think the Bible teaches.

The audio version I listened to was from Blackstone Audio and narrated by Ralph Cosham.  He did a great job keeping my interest, which considering the lack of dialogue and other normal fiction trappings was quite a feat.  In a lot of ways, this is non-fiction disguised as fiction, and the mix is just right to keep it interesting and make you think.

So be sure to read The Screwtape Letters with discernment, but by all means read it and think about what is presented in this short novel.  There is a reason that it has been read and talked about for all these years.

I read this book for the Reading to Know Bookclub.  With as short as the book is, there's still plenty of time to read it to participate yourself this month.


  1. I also confess that I struggle with Lewis's other books. Narnia I ADORE but the rest is something that I could just as soon leave alone (although I do try).

    Agree with you on the point you make about one's ability to lose their salvation. Lewis did believe this (and various other things I disagree with) and I am of the opinion that God's grip is so strong that you can't be lost. Good thing to point out about that book!

    One of my best friends is always raving about audiobooks. Makes me think I ought to try one sometime. :P

    1. That's interesting about Lewis. And I guess that explains Susan in The Last Battle. Of course, even Christians can still be tempted, so there's still much to gain from this book.

    2. Oh, and as far as audio books goes, I've listened to them for years driving to and from visiting my family, but I started listening to more this year. I'm really enjoying that because I'm getting some books I've been curious to read but would never be able to sit down and read off my TBR pile. Plus all three of the times I'm participating in the RTK Bookclub are going to be via audio books.

  2. I agree about losing one's salvation - that it is not possible but that Lewis (or at least Screwtape) seems to think so. I had some problems with a few theological points in the book but did not mention that one in my review and should have.

    I do like the way Lewis made us think of temptation from the other side of it and pointed out that we can get so easily tripped up over smaller issues or a wrong emphasis.

    I agree, too, that there is a lot more to the whole issue of sin and temptation than what he covered, but what he did share was thought-provoking.

    1. This was a great book for making you think. Lewis has so many great points even if I don't agree with all of them.

  3. I'm glad you pointed out some of the theological iffyness. I usually get all wrapped up in how much I have to learn from Lewis and sort of tend to shift aside the stuff that I'm not so sure about. I did write "I don't know about that" in the margins of my copy at a few places, but in my reviews I tend to just gush about the convicting passages and how smart I think Lewis is.
    Also, everyone's copy (except mine) has Screwtape Proposes a Toast at the end. Now I have to find a different copy just to read that part.

    1. You should definitely read Proposes a Toast. It's just as convicting and good as the rest.


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