One of the highlights of last year for me was finding the Christian Bookshop in Ossett, West Yorkshire. As soon as you walk in you find yourself confronted with shelves and shelves of good, solid Reformed books. As I got stuck into the shelves picking up Calvin, Bucer and Owen books, my wife would occasionally call from across the shop. “They’ve got some Thomas Watson books over here! And some commentaries on the Heidelberg catechism!” If I could have bought the entire shop, I would have.
But that wasn’t the end of the treasure trove. Above the shop was a second-hand section packed with treasures. (For example: A seven volume set of Spurgeon’s Treasury of David for less than £20.) In one corner there were shelves of books by C.S. Lewis.
My wife had recently started reading Mere Christianity and Weight of Glory and so took the opportunity to pick up a few more paperbacks. One of which was The Screwtape Letters.
My knowledge of Lewis was very sparse. I knew he was an academic who converted to Christianity while at Oxford and was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien. I had read some of the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and had recently read his Cosmic Trilogy. However, I was totally ignorant of his apologetic work.
That changed by reading The Screwtape Letters. In them I found an astute observer of human behaviour and the temptations facing the church. This little, satirical book was full of moments where you could see with clarity the way the British church had gone away from the historic faith. It’s written from the point of view of the devils as they seek to tempt a man away from God. Here’s the elder devil Screwtape writing to his nephew, Wormwood, about the value to them of linking religion and politics:
Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything – even social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy (that’s God) demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game.
In this passage I see my own past, the present of many I come across and the future if we don’t see Reformation in the church.
C.S. Lewis was not Reformed. I’m sure there are plenty of areas where I could dissect his theology. But as a writer who can see the human condition and shed light on it with a fabulous style, he’s excellent. If you ever find yourself in a second-hand bookshop and there’s a battered Lewis to be had, don’t hesitate.