Book Review: Worldliness

“Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World” edited by C.J. Mahaney

Is this verse in your Bible? “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 John 2:15)

This is the question that opens this book, written as a collaborative effort by C.J. Mahaney, Craig Cabaniss, Bob Kauflin, Dave Harvey, and Jeff Purswell, all of whom are affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. These authors seek to address the tricky subject of how we are to engage the culture biblically without falling victim to the temptation toward the opposite extremes of legalism and worldliness.

In the first chapter, Mahaney tells us that most Christians act as if 1 John 2:15 does not appear in our Bibles. He compares our inconsistent practical application of Scripture (a metaphorical “cut-and-paste job”) in our lives to Thomas Jefferson, who literally cut out of his Bible anything that conflicted with his personal worldview, including the Book of John, and all references to Jesus’ divinity, the supernatural, or Hell. Mahaney says, “if we ignore any portion of God’s Word — whether unintentionally, conveniently, or deliberately — we too are guilty of Jefferson’s offense.

The first chapter lays the groundwork for the rest of the book, as Mahaney defines worldliness as a desire to “gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God.” This encompasses far more than the visible surface issues of greed, immodesty, and a lack of discernment. It is a matter of a heart that is desperately wicked and rebellious to God, apart from the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

The following four chapters deal practically, philosophically, and theologically with worldliness in four different categories: Media, Music, Stuff, and Clothing. While none are exhaustive treatments, all are helpful to some degree, particularly for anyone who has never read anything on the subject.

The first two of these chapters are excellent. Cabaniss exposes the effects of media saturation in our lives, and calls us to be discerning as we choose what to consume and what to avoid. Kauflin does the same in regard to music, showing the sometimes very subtle effects music has in our lives. He also has some great thoughts here in regard to how a lack of discernment in what we listen to during the week affect our worship on Sundays (which I addressed earlier this week on the Worship Ministry blog).

The next two chapters are not quite as good. Harvey’s “stuff” chapter was pretty surface-level compared to the rest of the book… or maybe it just came across that way to me because I’ve read several other books dealing with idolatry and stewardship lately that were much better. The chapter on clothing (also by Mahaney) was a good overview of the practical outworking of the “modesty and self-control” prescribed for the adornment of women in 1 Timothy 2:9, but it had almost no relevance to men apart from recommending that husbands and fathers help their wives and daughters to discern whether clothes will be helpful or hurtful to other men struggling with lust (which means all of us). There are some good things here (including two appendices with checklists to aid women with this type of discernment), but this chapter primarily quotes from other books by C.J. Mahaney and his wife, Carolyn, which deal with the subject much more thoroughly.

The final chapter provides the opening chapter with balance by presenting a seemingly opposite challenge: “How do we love the world?” How do we reconcile 1 John 2:15 with the knowledge that God loves the world, and that we are to be like Him? Purswell answers by repeating the opening assertion that the problem is not with the world itself or with its “stuff”, but with the fallen nature of the people who inhabit it. The world and everything in it was created by God for his glory, and given to us as a gift. The world is our present home, where God works out His redemptive story through the people He is calling to Himself, but it is also our future home, which God will one day renew, and where He will live with his people forever at the consummation of history.

After giving us a short summary of the fundamentals of a Christian worldview, Purswell shows us that this leaves the Christian with three purposes in regard to the world. We are to enjoy the world, engage the world, and evangelize the world. This requires the understanding that there is no separation between our sacred and secular lives, but that “every second of life is significant“, and that every moment is an opportunity to bring God glory. Ultimately, we are able only to do this when we live each moment in light of the cross of Christ. This concept is fleshed out much more thoroughly in Mahaney’s book, “The Cross-Centered Life”.

Over all, this is a good read. Buy it here.

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