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Tis the season for the great migration of students to our institutions of higher learning. This week, next week, and into September, thousands of young adults will leave home and head off to college (“University” if you want to sound European). Many of these students are Christians. Some will look for Christian fellowship in their new home. Fewer will commit themselves to a church. This “fewer” is just as the devil likes it.

At one time or another every Christian writer tries his hand at a Screwtape Letter, the C.S. Lewis inspired form of address where you write like you’re one of the bad guys. I don’t claim to be very good at it, but here’s my humble attempt. Pass it on your friends and children. Churchless Christians are on their way to being no Christian at all.

*******

Fall 2010, A.H. (Anno Hostis, “the year of our Enemy”)

My dear Wormwood,

It’s been too long time since last I wrote. In my defense, however, it was dreadfully cold up above. How do humans endure such miserable conditions? But poor weather aside, please accept my insincerest apologies for the delay in finally putting pen to paper.

I trust all is devious and devilish between you and your subject. I am not an easy uncle to please, but your efforts over the past several years with your subject have been, I must admit, rather impressive. True, high school is a particularly grand time for opportunistic spirits like ourselves.  But these advantages do not detract from your work, which has been to date, exemplary.

Your teenage subject has all the usual paradoxes of American youth we like to see down here: rebellious, yet disinterested; slothful, yet impetuous; disrespectful to parents, yet an irresponsible drain on their resources; tolerant of religions he knows nothing about, yet fiercely intolerant of the one he knows best. All in all, a splendid few years my injurious Wormwood. Bravo!

It is because your work has proven so trustworthy over the last few years, that I now feel obliged to speak with you quite candidly about a matter of grave importance. Your subject is now enrolled in what the earth world calls “college.” I do not need to remind you what splendid opportunities these places afford us. But there is one particular danger, and you must see to it that it is avoided at all costs. And that danger is church attendance.

Though your subject seems safe from the clutches of our Enemy Above, you will recall that he has spent the majority of his Sundays, thus far, in church. The habit may not be easy to break. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: “If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is meddle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.”

Church attendance is bad enough, nephew, but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. If your human persists in his church interest, you simply must devise some way to shuffle him around from congregation to congregation. See to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do.

College students are nothing if not critical. They are trained in it daily. Use this to your advantage, my dear boy. If your subject is determined to go to church, make sure he searches for the perfect church. Within a few weeks he will be fast asleep on Sunday morning, much to our Father’s delight.

Speaking of sleep, do whatever you can do keep your subject out late on Saturday evenings? Drink, girls, football, video games, paper—it doesn’t matter. Just keep him up. You know perfectly well how our Father Below insists on busyness at all costs and how terribly he depends on sleep deprivation for his work. It’s a well known fact among the higher ranks of devildom, that silly humans suspect our interference in the big things–death, accidents, spinning heads, and the like. They never expect that our work consists mainly in distraction.

So do not neglect our demonic bread and butter. Make Friday a fun day and Saturday a waste. He will have no choice then but to sleep on Sunday and use the rest of the day to get ready for Monday. Keep up your discipline my dear Wormwood or he will keep up his!

You will excuse me for my stern tone, but I cannot overstate the importance of this matter of church. Perhaps your youth prevents you from fully grasping the eternal significance of this issue. Heaven is at stake, my infernal child. Spirituality is one thing. God talk is generally harmless. Student “fellowships” as they call them are tolerable for a season. But for hell’s sake, Wormwood, church is absolutely out of the question.

Of course, it goes without saying some churches serve our cause nicely. Dead tradition churches. Silly entertainment churches. Social get-together churches. Political party churches. Loveless, divisive churches. Doctrineless churches. These are all wonderful. Our concern, and I must reiterate it is a deep concern, is with churches that act like churches, the ones that preach Christ and live out their blasphemous faith.

Such churches introduce many bad habits in our subjects. They become more thoughtful. They become more aware of our Enemy’s character and schemes. They learn to love each other, even people unlike them in situation and temperament. This can only bode ill for our work in the long run.

(Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of the letter)


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19 thoughts on “A Lost Letter to Wormwood”

  1. Justin says:

    Great job! I can’t wait for the conclusion.

  2. Phyllis says:

    This page could fit right in with C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and no one would know the difference. Good writing!
    “Keep them busy,” “Sleep deprivation.” Hmmm! He’s not just working on college kids is he?
    I’m ready for the conclusion now…please.

  3. will says:

    Hey I like this Kevin, thanks a lot!

  4. Paula says:

    This is first rate. I read it to my son tonight….he’s heading to college (MI) in the morning. We have spent a lot of time in prayer for the right church for him. We’ve researched many area churches online and the perils mentioned above are evident. We are especially wary of churches that are too focused on college students, which can easily become unbalanced. Our son deeply desires to be in a church with believers of all ages so he can grow and serve in the midst of families while he’s away from home.

  5. Tommie says:

    I have never read “The Screwtape letters”. If it is anything like this, I think it’s really worth a look.

  6. Veronica says:

    I just finished reading Screwtape Letters (and am sinking my teeth into the Narnia series once again haha) this summer, and this is right up Screwtape’s alley! Man, that fictional character is fiendish. This speaks volumes about the tempting distractions and procrastination of collegiate life…

    Your letter sort of fell into my lap while I was, appropriately, sleep deprived. I’m going into my sophomore year in college and have to say, much of freshman year for me was finding a balance in the right worship setting. So, thank you! For bluntly expressing in this letter excuses which many college kids only dare think fleetingly.

    But here is the critical collegiate in me…in Screwtape Letters, Lewis spoke of the “lower ranks” of devils, as if in descending they became more influential; you wrote “higher.” Forgive me for the criticism! It’s a really enlightening and accurate letter. :] Blessings!!

  7. sandy says:

    This is amazing! I think a whole book might be in order….I think C.S. would love this!

  8. Tamara Slack says:

    Bravo!!!

    That was great. Please keep writing fiction like this if you ever have time. We need more Christians to write like this, grasping our attention in story form about very important matters.

  9. Brian J. Catton says:

    GREAT post! Moving in the Altoona area in a few days – look forward to passing this out to Penn State Altoona students!

  10. Kim in ON says:

    Having had a daughter in university (here in Canada, a school called a “college”does not grant degrees, so if one wants a degree, he must attend university, which is why those of us with students in those institutions call them that) for the past three years and ready to send off another, this is timely. Another incentive for getting students away from church on Sunday is to persuade them that they have too much homework.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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