Viewers of “The Big Lebowski” may well remember one of many memorable lines from Walter Sobchak. This one comes in the context of a discussion with Donny about the merits of nihilism. Walter will have none of an outlook that believes in nothing. As he explains to Donny, “Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
That line came to mind when reading a recent Christianity Today editorial about Chuck Colson and his efforts to unite Roman Catholics and Evangelicals in an Abraham-Kuyper like coalition to oppose “spiritual nihilism.”
Colson, like Kuyper, was concerned about the effects of modernism and later postmodernism on contemporary culture. And like Kuyper, he believed that unless believers are equipped with the critical tools of worldview thinking, they are unlikely to make any headway in redeeming culture.
When Colson and Richard John Neuhaus formed Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), their new Protestant-Catholic initiative, the group focused its initial statement on the common mission of the church in the third millennium. That mission, their 1994 document said, involved contending together “against all that opposes Christ and his cause.” In “developed societies,” that included “widespread secularization” that had descended “into a moral, intellectual, and spiritual nihilism that denies not only the One who is the Truth but the very idea of truth itself.”
Within the framework of Kuyper’s vision, this was an excellent summary of what Protestants and Catholics needed to address together.
As commendable as it may be for Christians to combat nihilism, why would this be a project that would exclude religiously conflicted folks like the Dude’s good friend and bowling team member, Walter? Lots of people who are not Christians oppose nihilism. Some of them are Christian. Some are Muslim. Some are Mormon. Some profess no God. If you want to oppose nihilism, then why not broaden the tent?
It could be that Christians think they alone have the true basis for a proper opposition. Or it could be that “spiritual nihilism” is different from Karl Hungus’ version of nihilism. But it does seem to me to be a form of shooting yourself in the foot when you make a common cultural cause into a matter of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Postscript: are neo-Calvinists really comfortable with Colson carrying the water for Kuyper’s legacy?