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From a letter from Senior Tempter Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, who is in training to tempt Christians:

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate.

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over 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 to social justice.

The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [=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.

--The Screwtape Letters, pp. 126-127.


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16 thoughts on “Screwtape on Christianity and Politics”

  1. In other words, don’t confuse the Gospel with the results or implications of the Gospel, or you’ll lose the Gospel. Well done.

  2. Alex Philip says:

    It is uncanny how Lewis is perennially relevant. I am so glad that he did not live in the present era, though. I wonder if he would be either ignored or marketed to death (Screwtape for Men, Screwtape for Women, Screwtape for Couples etc.)

  3. Ron says:

    Makes me think of a book I just bought tonight by Os Guinness, “The Last Christian On Earth”. I’ve only read one chapter (cleverly referred to as “Memorandum 1″).

    http://www.amazon.com/Last-Christian-Earth-Uncover-Undermine/dp/0830751254/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278391884&sr=8-1

  4. I hope a conservative conception of social justice avoids this pitfall. It seems it should be a call on the Church to exemplify it’s mission in the world, not hand it over to the State.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Screwtape: “Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster.”

    I wonder whether the Manhattan Declaration is considered a political declaration. Are the issues of the Sanctity of Life, Biblical Marriage, and Religious Liberty construed as political issues?

  6. steve m says:

    Justin,

    I think it would be helpful (at least for me) if you could give some background on how you (and even Lewis) define social justice and how it differs from regular ole’ justice. I’ve seen you post various pieces about social justice but honestly I’m not able to figure out what you mean by it and where you’re coming from. If I’ve missed it, let me know and I’ll gladly read up.

    Thanks,

    -steve

    1. ch says:

      Justin,

      I echo Steve’s request as I too am at a loss on how to interpret the phrase, “social justice”. In my church, some of the those in an older generation tend to equate social justice with statism, redistribution of wealth, and big government. Whereas, some of the younger believers understand social justice as something akin to caring for the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner, which is every Christian’s responsibility. So, which is it?

      Thanks for any clarifying information.

      c.h.

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        Good questions. I’m not operating with a tight definition of “social justice” per se. I think it can stand for big-government liberalism in biblical garb, or it can stand for working out the implications of the gospel with a kingdom mindset. (And a lot

        of variations in between.) It depends on who is using it and how. For those using it in the best sense of the word, I think “social justice” is a subset of the larger concept of “justice”—justice as applied horizontally and biblically in this age.

        In this quote I think CSL means it in a positive sense of working toward the just ordering of society. His point is that it’s a good thing but that it should not be elevated above God himself.

        Hope that helps!

        JT

        1. steve m says:

          Thanks for the comments and clarification. It is indeed helpful and gives me a framework for your future posts on the subject as they come up. Thanks,

          -steve

      2. Andy says:

        The latter (care for the downtrodden – widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor, etc) would be the more accurate Biblical perspective.

        Tim Keller is particularly worthwhile on the topic of a faithful Biblical approach to social justice without compromising the gospel. He has a book coming out in November about this:
        http://www.amazon.com/Generous-Justice-Gods-Grace-Makes/dp/0525951903/

  7. In kind, I’d recommend working through Kevin DeYoung’s series, “<a href="http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/?s=seven+passages+on+social+justiceSeven Passages on Social Justice.”

    1. Heh… that didn’t work. Try this:

      In kind, I’d recommend working through Kevin DeYoung’s series, Seven Passages on Social Justice.

  8. ch says:

    thanks

  9. John Thomson says:

    A book on this topic I would enthusiastically recommend is Tim Chester’s ‘Good news for the poor’. I started reading it with a degree of weary skepticism that it would be another starry-eyed promotion of restorationist/post mill views on the church (and God’s) mission to redeem society. Far from it. It does go a little further along the line of socio-political change as a gospel imperative than I would go but on the whole it is a first class discussion of the issues with wise advice and conclusions from someone who is actively involved in what he writes about.

    I found it a challenging book. It challenges those of us rather complacent about the needy in society to greater involvement. It challenges those committed to social involvement to think rightly about what it involves and not confuse left or right middle-class socio-political agendas with truly ministering to the poor.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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