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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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I Spy & The Human Heart

From The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963 to A Perfect Spy to The Night Manager, Le Carré’s fiction has transcended the spy genre he has both shaped and dominated.

The murky world of agents and double agents, of noble ends justifying horrendous means, of friendships and loves calculatingly nurtured and ruthlessly betrayed was always a metaphor for the murky world of the human heart: for the secrets we all have but don’t share, for the masks we wear and the pretences we sustain, for the betrayals of mind and heart, of body and abandonment.

In his latest novel, A Legacy of Spies, Le Carré summons an old agent out of retirement to defend decisions that led to the deaths of The Spy Who Came in and his innocent girlfriend 50 years before. How will the justifications of the past stand up to the spiky legalism and self-righteous political correctness of the present? History, of course, is full of discarded creeds – from sati to cannibalism, from racism to sexism – all oh so clearly flawed to us. Now. But how, I wonder, will history look on our own age’s frenzied scurrying for meaning in the idolatry of things?

More pertinently, how many decisions made in conformity to a transient culture will stand up to the scrutiny of an eternal God? This is, of course, why Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2): cultures make plausible what God calls abominable.

Still, Le Carré’s voice is neither cynical nor nihilist. In even the darkest nights, compassion flickers determinedly in the hearts of his chief protagonists. And so does the goodness and possibility of true love, lifelong loyalty, and the unalloyed desire to do the best thing one can think to do, even when that is neither clear, nor easy, nor without cost. Every day, of course, Christians wrestle with such questions – in war zones, in third-world hospitals with too little medicine for too many patients, or in the toxic, scheming, first-world workplaces in which some of my friends find themselves.

For most of us, the stakes are less high, even if the challenge is ever-present: how this day, in my context, can I tend the flame of compassion, stay true, overcome evil with good, sow shalom, and walk humbly with my God?


Mark Greene
Executive Director, LICC


  1. Mark, great piece, but I thought, “Let us NOT conform . . . .” had been erased from the bible? We all seem so keen to surf every cultural tide of public opinion, party politics, entertainment, gender theory, science theory, accreditation, life’s supposed values, goals and attainments. Minds transformed into what?

    By Rod Boucher  -  29 Sep 2017
  2. Powerful and challenging as ever Mark, thank you.

    By Ann Page  -  29 Sep 2017
  3. Very well constructed it is both thoughtful clearly & this is worthy of consideration.
    One of the worlds great conundrums is how we will communicate to future generations the danger of nuclear waste sites due to the potential for languages to change. in short a simple sign saying do not build your house here will not suffice.
    Your advice to give soundness of faith in a never changing God seems so important and worthy of both our generation and theirs.

    By Stephen Robinson  -  29 Sep 2017
  4. Thanks Mark, very perceptive!
    And today, more than ever, “how many decisions made in conformity to a transient culture will stand up to the scrutiny of an eternal God? ” requires perception and wisdom. The question is pressing in the social arena.

    By Ian Hore-Lacy  -  29 Sep 2017
  5. This is splendid stuff. Open-eyed to the bankrupt values of our Post-Modern culture, yet full of hope.

    By Jim Noakes  -  6 Oct 2017
  6. George Smiley was a child of a culture, which is not today’s – were things easier then? – at least the signposts were clearer. But every generation has to find for itself what “renewing the mind implies” and it is perhaps our children who are most at sea in the morass of relativism. Thanks so much for all you do

    By Stuart Mustow  -  7 Oct 2017

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