Book Review: Polemic Trying to be a Satire

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To be honest, I stopped reading Operation Screwtape about 20 pages or so before the end because I just found it too tedious to go on. That action (or in-action) highlights one of my two major criticisms of the book. It’s not interesting.

I’ll get to the other criticism in a minute, but I want to focus first on the not very interesting part. 

Operation Screwtape, by best-selling author Andrew Farley, is a frank imitation of the fictional technique C.S. Lewis used in his classic, The Screwtape Letters. The Screwtape Letters is a work of fiction in which a veteran demon named Screwtape attempts to instruct his protégée, Wormwood, in the methods needed to lead a new Christian away from the faith. It is illustrative satire at its best.

I wouldn’t compare Lewis’ book to this one except that the author invites such comparison by his choice of names and that one of the reviewers who made it to the book jacket says, “Operation Screwtape channels the creativity and wit of C. S. Lewis.”

That, in my humble opinion, is not true. Operation Screwtape has none of the creativity and wit of The Screwtape Letters. For starters, it does not have a story line. It does not have characters, unless you assume that anything that is written in the first person has a “character.” 

The Screwtape Letters is satire. Operation Screwtape, on the other hand, is polemic that claims to be satire. The target of this polemic is, as nearly as I can tell, organized Christianity. That’s fine, if you want to write it. There’s plenty of meat there. But it takes more than ironic expressions to make a good satire. 

The other problem I have with the book is what I think is it’s viewpoint. The viewpoint is clothed in the ironic way it’s expressed, so I have to more or less derive it. But it appears to me that the author is pushing his own brand of Christianity, which is divorced from the 2,000 year tradition of the institutional church. Again, I have no problems with him holding this viewpoint. I just don’t share it. 

My feeling is that Operation Screwtape has some good and valid points mixed in with an individualistic Christian teaching that, in at least some ways, flies in the face of what has been constant Christian teaching for 2,000 years. I am aware that many sincere Christians share the author’s beliefs. However, I can not recommend the book for anyone who doesn’t.

If you are not one of the “I love Jesus but hate the Church” crowd, there’s little here that would make it worthwhile to plow through this book. If the book was an interesting read, I could recommend it on that basis. For instance, Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth uses the same device to attack Christianity. But it’s such a good read, that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it on its literary merits. If, on the other hand, Operation Screwtape advanced new ideas, or even old ideas with a new twist, it would be easy to recommend the book based on that. 

But I found it tedious to read and basically more of the same old stuff I’ve seen on many blogs and in essays and magazine columns. 

My advice is to get a copy of The Screwtape Letters and read it if you want satire of this sort. Or you might read Letters from the Earth and The Screwtape Letters back to back and compare them with one another. That would be fun. 

This book is not. 


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