British journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was an agnostic through most of his life and highly adored (and criticized) for his quick wit and satire. During W.W. II, Muggeridge served as a British spy under the employment of MI6 (James Bond anyone?). After becoming a Christian, Muggeridge converted his quick wit, satire, and operative intelligence to the cause of Jesus Christ. What does a quick-witted, satirical spy look like when he becomes a Christian? A quick–witted, satirical Christian who becomes an agent for the Lord. One of Muggeridge’s famous sayings is, “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” Against the stream was Malcolm’s modus operandi, whether it was against the Nazis in W.W. II or against the ideals of secular humanism.
After becoming a Christian, Muggeridge wrote a book titled, Jesus Rediscovered (1969). I just saw that title today, and I found it especially refreshing in light of our sermon series at E91 called [Re]Discovering Jesus. Ah, there is truly nothing new under the sun! As Muggeridge put it, “All new news is old news happening to new people.”
One of the great lessons we learn from Muggeridge, which is why I write about him today, is how to engage our culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ while not taking ourselves too seriously. What I mean is that we should always take the Gospel of Jesus seriously. This is a matter of eternal life and death. But we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. We are the messengers, not the message. The problem is when we reverse the priority and take ourselves too seriously and the Gospel too lightly.
Muggeridge, in a similar way to G. K. Chesteron, was a master of sarcasm, not the sarcasm of late night talk shows, but the sarcasm that helps us laugh at ourselves. Muggeridge understood how ridiculous we appear in our self-importance, grandiose ideas and self-confident illusions.
For us to “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15a), we have to know the Gospel, the culture, and how to communicate “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b). Translation: Let’s be strong in our defense and respectful in our communication. Be full of truth but not full of yourself. Take the Gospel seriously and yourself lightly.
I fear we are headed further behind enemy lines in the culture wars over truth (What is truth?), meaning (What is meaning?), and morality (What is morality, and who gets to decide?). We’re losing ground, not because we don’t have truth, but because people can’t get past the messengers in order to discover it.
We are educating and equipping the next generation with the latest in technology, science, and epistemology, but who are devoid of a moral compass. President Teddy Roosevelt once said that “to educate a man in the mind and not in morals, is to educate a menace to society.” We are reaping what we have sown—both in our culture and churches. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Unfortunately, many are still in bondage. Some people won’t listen to truth, because we won’t get out of the way.
To put it in the words of Muggeridge:
So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.
May we fight against this extinction with truth, meaning and morality through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we take this charge—but not ourselves—seriously as we make a defense for our faith with gentleness and respect.