Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Operation Screwtape

Operation Screwtape: The Art of Spiritual War. By Andrew Farley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books. pp. 192. 2013. ($17.99 Hardcover | $14.98 Audio)

C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters launched a new genre of Christian fiction: demonic correspondence. The purpose of this genre is to use fictional dialogue or instruction from one demon to another as a means of educating believers on the ways in which we can be led into temptation and sin, as well as identifying the false beliefs errant perspectives we may hold. To understand what the author intends to communicate requires a kind of backward thinking process and analysis of what the book says. Thus if a demon desires to convince us that something is true, the inference is that it is false, and conversely, if a demon desires to convinces us that something is false, the inference is that it is true. Additionally, if a demon concedes something as true, we should generally take it to be true, and a strong approval of something would indicate it is bad, whereas a strong disdain for something would indicate it is good. Thinking about and understanding these books requires more thought than the average Christian living book you’ll find at the local Christian bookstore, and those who merely read for pleasure or a quick bit of encouragement may miss the entire point the author wishes to convey.

Operation Screwtape is a guidance manual for demons geared mostly towards causing trouble for Christian believers. Farley shows himself to be a good writer and clearly pays homage to Lewis’ own style of writing. The narration by David Cochran Heath is superb, making the audiobook version sound more like a dramatic reading than merely a professional narration.

Aesthetics aside, it is the content of the book that is most important. There were a few sections and chapters of the book that I found very helpful to believers. One of the demons’ tactics is to overwhelm believers with insecurity regarding their salvation. The demons freely acknowledge that once a person believes he is “forever lost” to them, but they realize that by obscuring that truth and getting believers to repeatedly “ask Jesus into their hearts” they can cripple a believer’s effectiveness by the constant insecurity of not knowing whether or not he has lost his salvation.

Unfortunately, most of the book gave me the distinct impression that, were this really a manual for demons, it was intended to fall into our hands. I say this because the conclusions Farley tries to lead his readers to are often unbiblical. For instance, Farley asserts that believers have no need for ongoing repentance because Christ’s blood covers their sins. However, this completely ignores Bible passages that view ongoing repentance as a mark of the Christian life (cf. 1 John 1:9; 2 Cor. 7:9, and the admonitions to repentance by Christ Himself in the letters to the churches in Revelation). He also denies that sinful desires originate in us, but rather asserts that they are external pressures from the world (and demons). This is contrary to Matthew 15:16-20 and James 1:14-15. Farley sees a total break between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant so much so that he doesn’t believe any of the Old Testament commands (or even the pre-resurrection commands of Christ) have any bearing on believers today. In essence, Farley takes the doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith” as a requirement to place no expectations on believers whatsoever except to encourage them to let the Spirit live and work through them.

Although I enjoyed reading The Screwtape Letters, and even As One Devil to Another, with its shortcomings, was an enjoyable read, Operation Screwtape was altogether different. I found myself nodding as I listened to the first two chapters, but slowly I started to raise and eyebrow and rewind now and again, saying, “He didn’t just suggest what I think he did.” The result was that by the end I became convinced that this book was much more likely to lead me into error and sin than it was to lead me into victory over Satan’s tactics. Now that is scary.

I received this book from christianaudio for the purpose of review.

NOTE: After reading Operation Screwtape, I looked for some reviews of his other books to see if they were similar. I found this one on his first book, The Naked Gospel, and another one on God Without Religion, confirmed my suspicions and alerted me to other issues with Mr. Farley’s teachings.

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