Giving his uncanny, hellish advice to his nephew and disciple Wormwood (a novice demon in charge to secure the damnation of an ordinary young man of the modern world), the worldly-wise old devil Screwtape delivers in letter form the following insights of his:
I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a triplenaïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches
[Note: from Screwtape's vantage point, the Enemy in this context is God]. That might have been so if he lived centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as a result of a chain of reasoning.
But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’.
Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous – that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
This, of course, is but a portion of the first of a series of letters penned by this old witty devil for his demon nephew that C. S. Lewis recounts in his book The Screwtape Letters. A real genius as he was in capturing the imaginations of both the young and the old through his allegorical literary masterpieces, Lewis paints a picture here of what has eventually become of the young man of the modern world.
The young man of this modern world, observes Screwtape, thinks differently from the pre-modern man. The old man of the past epoch had a pretty way of knowing whether an argument is true or not and was more than willing to alter his course in life whenever his belief was proved wrong and untenable. For him, thinking about truth and life go together; for which reason the two cannot be put asunder.
But for the young man of the modern world, says this veteran devil to the younger demon Wormwood, the truth, whatever it is, is not meant to be desired. If the old man of the past had a deep concern for truth, and for him it is characteristic of truth to correspond to reality, as well as to be exact and coherent, the young man of this era “has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen of incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’”
But Lewis did not live long enough to reach our time to witness what has eventually become of the Church. Meaning, his observation regarding the Church, implicitly put through the pen of the devil Screwtape, that “ jargon, not argument, is [the devils’] best ally in keeping [the young man] from the Church,” no longer applies today. From Screwtape’s vantage point, for the young man of the modern world to be kept away from what is generally known today as the Church is no longer necessary.
Already a grown up, he now occupies a leadership position in the Church. In fact, a significant segment of the Church has also become like him. So that somewhere along the way, the Church suddenly lost her passion for truth, particularly biblical truth, having settled for something else other than what used to define her during her finest moments in her long years of pilgrimage on earth.
21st century evangelicals
While what Lewis had in mind about the Church was not in any instance limited to the evangelical wing of Protestantism but encompasses the ecclesiastical bodies of Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant churches put together, this applies most particularly to the evangelical church of early 21st century that has largely abandoned its Christocentric vision of truth patterned after the 16th century Protestant Reformation’s sola Scriptura principle. Its outcome: a growing business of theological snobbery among evangelicals.
So here is a new breed of evangelicals who would rather prefer never to readily identify themselves on the grounds of their theological and doctrinal commitments (if they ever have these commitments at all!) if only to give way to what they believe is a more appropriate Christian response to the present mood of the hour. People in the so-called postmodern 21st century world, they say, tend to distance themselves from everything dogmatic, religious and traditional. So they felt obliged to readjust their Christianity.
Unfortunately, their response to this particular aloofness of people to anything religious and dogmatic is now being matched (or should we say, mismatched) by their own aloofness to things theological and doctrinal in place of the pragmatic, therapeutic, marketable and fashionable. For this reason their unlikely business of theological snobbery has ordered the day.
That is to say, given their “good” intentions never to appear “religious” so as to establish and maintain their point of contact with the unchurched people of the world, they committed the error of downplaying their very own doctrinal and theological upbringing to the extent that many of their constituents are at present gradually losing their bearing on the Word of God. So they put much of their attention onto things that they believe would attract the world if only to get an audience with the world.
Mainly for this reason, an increasing number of 21st century evangelicals are no longer being most particularly defined by the sola Scriptura principle that guided their forebears in their own contexts in history.
To a great extent, gone are the likes of the Reformers of the 16th century who bravely opposed the doctrinal and moral corruptions of the hierarchy of Late Medieval Christendom; the English Puritans who countered the pure intellectualism of Protestant scholasticism; the Revivalists of the 18th and 19th centuries who were not content whatsoever with the dead orthodoxy of their days; and the Neo-Evangelicals of mid-20th century who stood against the modernist-liberal assault to the total inerrancy of Holy Scripture and the fundamentals of the faith.
So laments the veteran American pastor, Bible teacher and seminary chancellor, Charles Swindoll,
We are moving toward an era similar to the Dark Ages … when copies of Scriptures were chained to the pulpit in the secret language of the clergy… when the public was kept stone ignorant of the life-changing teachings of the truth. But I see one great difference. In those days biblical ignorance was forced … in our day it is voluntary. Therein lies the saddest fact of all.
- Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001 edition
- Swindoll, Charles R. Come Before Winter and Share My Hope. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985