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5.0 out of 5 stars I hate this book. Says the devil., 4 July 2001
This review is from: Lord Foulgrin's Letters: How to Strike Back at the Tyrant by Deceiving and Destroying His Human Vermin (Paperback)
The devil must hate this book for the same reasons that I loved it, and that you should read it. Unashamedly indebted to the premise of C.S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters", "Lord Foulgrin's Letters" purports to be a collection of correspondence from the demon Lord Foulgrin to his understudy Squaltaint. Squaltaint's mission is to target the unknowing Jordan Fletcher by ensnaring him with evil, and prevent him from serving the Enemy - God. Fortunately for us, Alcorn has not just blindly emulated Lewis, but has added an innovation of his own. Alongside the demonic letters is a story recounting the events in the life of Fletcher and his family, a story that is readable on its own. Since Foulgrin's letters are very dense - as Alcorn might say, "the devil would convince us not to read them" - the independent story-line helps us along in sustaining interest. It makes Alcorn's effort more accessible and relevant for modern readers than its famous Screwtape counterpart.
What Alcorn shares with Lewis, however, is the very thing that made the "Screwtape Letters" so popular and so powerful: a fascinating picture of the reality of spiritual warfare accompanied with a profound and insightful analysis of modern culture. Alcorn's portrait of this battle is of course fictional, but spiritual warfare itself is a Biblical reality. It is unfortunate that the content of the demonic letters does not always directly correspond with the accompanying plot description, and that Foulgrin's letters occasionally evolve into a hodgepodge of opinions on various matters, rather than structured expositions on a single theme. But nonetheless it is especially these letters at the end of each chapter that make this book so valuable. Alcorn's insights and analysis into today's world are sometimes shocking, but rarely are his criticisms misplaced.
This book is not like a great deal of other contemporary Christian fiction. It is not meant to be. Firstly, it's not easy to read. Each section is in effect a mini-sermon, and it would be an excellent resource for group discussion. Secondly, it does not unrealistically present believers as shining saints. Alcorn's characters are like us: they have sins, shortcomings and struggles, and yet they experience progress in the Christian life. Thirdly, it's not light, fluffy and syrupy. It's meant to open your eyes to the reality of spiritual warfare, the dangers of sin, and the responsibilities of the Christian in the modern world. If you feel guilty at times, then it has succeeded.
Alcorn equips his readers for spiritual warfare by critically analyzing our secular world though the glasses of his fictional demon. Although he also takes shots at the modern church, theological liberalism, and cultic Mormonism, Alcorn's critical eye especially targets modern secularism. In turn, he addresses the ills of our godless society: atheistic public education, secular colleges, abortion, pornography, and the occult. He warns against the dangers of the internet, television, and movies. He identifies our world's warped perspectives on love, sex and marriage, money and possessions. He demonstrates the relevance of the ten commandments in today's world. He encourages healthy habits for Christians, such as reading good Christian literature, maintaining regular devotions with Bible reading and prayer, and attending worship faithfully. He subtly teaches Biblical truths about complex theological problems and apologetics, by defending the divinity of Christ, maintaining the doctrine of creation over against evolution, and answering questions about the problem of evil in the world and how a loving God can allow suffering. Readers familiar with Alcorn's other writings on these subjects will recognize much they've read before. But it's a truth that bears repeating. Although what we have packaged in the end is Randy Alcorn's personal philosophy of life, it's essentially a Biblical philosophy.
Certainly there are exceptions - More attention could have been given to the work of the Holy Spirit in preserving true believers in the spiritual war. But on the whole, Alcorn's theology is sound: he clearly states the bad news about human depravity and the default condition of sinful mankind as hell-bound, the good news of God's grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in working regeneration and preserving the saints. Alcorn is in fact a four-point Calvinist, committed to total depravity, unconditional election, invincible grace, and the perseverance of the saints - the doctrine of limited atonement being the only Calvinistic arrow not in his quiver.
But alongside a sound theology, the premise of this novel also requires a sound demonology. Alcorn himself concedes that he is somewhat speculative in this respect. Although at times Alcorn became tiresome by unnecessarily spending too much time in describing the demons' hate for God rather than their deceptive wiles, his demonology was successful on the whole. It did raise some questions nonetheless: Is it possible for demons to witness scenes in heaven if they have been cast from heaven (Rev. 12)? Do demons have no ability whatsoever to read human thoughts? To what extent can demons control events such as causing a car crash or "inflict certain maladies" as with the case of Job? Alcorn has also struggled with these questions, and in the end a certain amount of speculation has to be accepted as a literary device and can hardly be avoided in a work of fiction.
But a somewhat speculative demonology doesn't undermine the truth of Alcorn's theology or the accuracy of his cultural critique. And it is precisely this that makes Lord Foulgrin's Letters so brilliant. It resonates with truth and conviction, and reminds us of the Biblical truth of Ephesians 6. Life is a spiritual war in which we must not underestimate our enemy, put on the armor of God, and stand only in His strength. Alcorn concludes in his afterword "Know your God. Know yourself. Know your enemy. I pray Lord Foulgrin's Letters helps you better know each." This book sure does. That's the reason why the devil hates it, and you will love it.
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