I remember reading CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters when I was pretty young. I am not sure, but I think I was probably 12 or 13.
It was just enough humor and story for me to be able to read, while at the same time absorbing some good theology. I think that is what Matt Mikalatos is doing with Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian (Bookwi.se Reviews), but there are not many other books that are trying to mix a light story wrapper on good theology.
Lewis did something very different with the Narnia books. They were primarily about the story, but had a good world view and to some extent were allegorical. But with Screwtape Letters, the point was theology, it just had a satirical and fiction wrapper.
With Operation Screwtape Andrew Farley has tried to update the original idea. This is not a remake as much as a continuation. Instead of personal letters of advice between demons, this is supposed to be captured propaganda/training manual.
I listened to the audiobook of this and it had a quite appropriate creepy voice and maniacal laughter. Like the original it is short only about 3.5 hours or 192 pages in paper.
I am a bit mixed in my opinion. Overall I think it is worth reading. But I think Farley overplays some of his points.
Farley also is known for pushing a particular type of theology. And he does push it. I was alternating listening to Operation Screwtape while listening to Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Both are on the whole well worth reading. But they both fall into a few of the same issues. They have a theological perspective and they see everything through that perspective whether it was really intended to be related or not.
For Farley he is trying to work against the idea that we earn our salvation. He is very heavily focused on the idea of anything in addition to grace is not grace. Which I agree with and I really want to support.
But I think he takes it a bit too far occasionally He makes some good points about people in their attempts at living a holy life end up bound to a new law. And there are some, in confessing sin actually end up focusing more on that sin instead of living in the freedom of forgiveness. But I think the problem is that the person has not understood how to live in the freedom of forgiveness, not that any forgiveness after salvation is sinful.
Or that a desire to live a holy life is an attempt at works salvation. I want to live a holy life because that is what God wants for me. And Farley knows that God wants us to live a holy life. We just disagree on ways to get there. I agree with Farley that motive and method are important. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are more important to our spiritual growth than we are.
I think that Farley is exactly right that some people get so bound up in finding God’s will and waiting for God that we forget that we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us. I think his section on tithing is a good corrective that all we have it God’s and that the 10 percent tithe is not a new testament concept. But that does not mean that giving is bad. (However we both agree that pressure to give, especially to ‘test God’ or to show God how well we depend on him are bad ideas.)
There are several places where I think Farley in his attempt to free people from bad theology throws out more than just the bathwater. I am pretty anti-institutional, but I still believe that God uses the institution.
On the whole, if you read focusing on what he is trying to do, instead of reading into the book more than the words on the page, I think this is a good update to Lewis’ original and useful corrective to some of our spiritual development practices that are more focused on what we do instead of what God has already done for us. But it also makes me want to go back and read the original, which is probably not all bad.
You might be interested in reading the interview with Andrew Farley by Frank Viola that was posted yesterday about the book.
I was provided a copy of the MP3 audiobook by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.