Political, social, and cultural developments in recent years have imparted a new sense of urgency to reflections on the changing relationship between faith and culture throughout the world. Those reflections at one stage focused on speculations concerning how culture would be reshaped when its religious foundations had been repudiated and eradicated. But in recent years we find terms such as "the death of the death of God" used in a book title by Jacob Neusner and "desecularization" in a book title by Peter Berger, and the questions in the foreground now pertain to the proper relationship between faith and cultural-political life in the face of the persistence of religious belief.
The current state of such questions is anticipated aptly in a pair of lectures given by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1978: "The End of Christendom," and "But Not of Christ."1 Muggeridge offers a personal witness to the efforts in the twentieth century to destroy Christianity especially in the Soviet Union and presciently reports that those efforts in the Soviet Union had failed—and this before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the success of Solidarity in Poland, and the implosion of the Soviet regime and empire. It is not coincidental to the account given in these lectures that Muggeridge himself converted to Christianity and just a few years after delivering these lectures became a Catholic. [End Page 5]
The end of Christendom in Muggeridge's terms indicates the collapse of a civilization in which Christianity is deeply entwined in the political, social, and cultural structures of power. He sees in the twentieth century a parallel to what St. Augustine encountered when faced with the collapse of Rome: the inevitable transience of historical civilizations in contrast to which the eternity that comes to light through Christianity shines out all the more clearly, as he envisions anew Augustine's distinction between the ephemeral City of Man and the everlasting City of God. Muggeridge in these essays offers witness to what he understands to be a great historical period of transition, and his reminder in the lectures that he speaks as a journalist and not as a scholar seems apt. His account imparts a personal character to the movement of history especially as he reports what he has witnessed of the failed effort in the Soviet Union to destroy Christianity and of the resurgence of Christian truth through the great figure of Solzhenitsyn as well as through his sense of moral and cultural decline in the West. To his credit, Muggeridge in the second essay, "But Not [the End] of Christ," recognizes the danger of egoism involved in crafting denunciations of the culture around him and applies self-restraint as he falls back upon the hope that flows from his own deeply held Christian faith.
Muggeridge can be viewed in these lectures as establishing the ground for a new set of challenges that he himself does not fully address—at one moment he movingly speaks of himself as living in the vicinity of death (although he lived for another twelve years after delivering these lectures), and while he knows that Christ and Christianity will live on beyond what he sees as the end of Christendom, he does not ask what new relationships between Christianity and political and cultural life might emerge in a new historical period. Perhaps Muggeridge was not well prepared for such questions because in these lectures he focuses on Christ and on great Christian thinkers and artists such as Newman and Dostoevsky but does not bring into focus Christ's presence in the world through the Christian church. In any case, one measure of historical development [End Page 6] in the three decades since Muggeridge delivered these lectures is that new questions about how Christianity should participate in contemporary public and cultural affairs are being thoughtfully and energetically pursued.
Among the many important initiatives in this area—and of course the Institute on Religion and Public Life and its journal, First Things, must be lauded in this context—is a new organization called "Theos: A Public Theology Think Tank," launched in November 2006 with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Cardinal...