Book Review: Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

Worldliness is a difficult topic to consider because people can have some weird ideas as to what is worldly. Yet it is a topic Christians must consider, because the Bible says ” friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4) and instructs us to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). But what aspect of the world? Surely not the physical world, the flowers and sunsets and such that God created and called very good (Genesis 1 and 2), because “God…giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (I Timothy 5:17b). And surely not the people in the world, because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). John elaborates when he goes on to say, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:16-17).

C. J. Mahaney and four other ministers help us think through some of these questions, considerations, and applications in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. This book first came to my attention when I was listening to a former pastor’s sermon online and heard him quote from it. It intrigued me both because the quote in itself was very good, but mainly because I knew this pastor to be more conservative in his standards (not in a legalistic way) and thought if he found value in this book, it must definitely be worth reading.

And it definitely was. The authors successfully walk the narrow line between the extremes of making a list of legalistic external standards and eschewing all lists in favor of false understanding of Christian liberty. They seek to explain Biblically what it means to be “in the world yet not of it.” The first chapter discusses the concept, succeeding chapters apply the principles to media, music, possessions, and clothes, and the final chapter shares some right ways to love the world. There are two appendices in the back discussing modesty.

Here are just a few of the many quotes I marked:

The gospel makes all the difference between whether you are merely conservative or whether you are conquering worldliness in the power of the Spirit for the glory of Christ (p. 11, John Piper’s forward).

What does it look like when the blood of Christ governs the television and the Internet and the iPod and the checkbook and the neckline?…The only way most folks know how to draw lines is with rulers. The idea that lines might come into being freely and lovingly (and firmly) as the fruit of the gospel is rare (p. 11, Piper).

We will never be useful to the world if we are being deeply shaped by the world. And we will be shaped by the world without intentional efforts not to  be (p. 12, Piper).

In the end, the sum of all beauty is Christ, and the sin of all worldliness is to diminish our capacity to see him and be satisfied in him and show him compellingly to a perishing world (p. 13, Piper).

Before Demas deserted, he drifted (p. 20, Mahaney).

One reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church (p. 23, Spurgeon).

Worldliness, then, is a love for this fallen world. It’s loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically, it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God. It rejects God’s rule and replaces it with our own…It exalts our opinions above God’s truth. It elevates our sinful desires for the things of this fallen world above God’s commands and promises (p. 27, Mahaney).

I’m not saying it’s wrong to watch television, rent a DVD, surf the Internet, or spend an evening at he cinema. The hazard is thoughtless watching. Glorifying God is an intentional pursuit. We don’t accidentally drift into holiness; rather, we mature gradually and purposefully, one choice at a time (p. 40, Cabaniss).

Filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking are “out of place” — they’re forbidden not because they’re on some arbitrary “banned words” list, but because they reflect the heart and attitude of those who disregard God and His Word (p. 55, Cabaniss).

Christians should dislike and avoid vulgarity…not because we have a warped view of sex, and are either ashamed or afraid of it, but because we have a high and holy view of it as being in its right place God’s good gift, which we do not want to see cheapened (p. 56, Stott).

If we wouldn’t trust a non-Christian to give us counsel on how to live our lives, why would we regularly listen to their counsel set to music? (p. 82, Kauflin).

Materialism is what happens when coveting has cash to spend (p. 95, Harvey).

In my experience, 95 percent of the believers who face the test of persecution pass it, while 95 percent who face the test of prosperity fail it (p. 103, Alcorn quoting a Romanian pastor).

Covetous chains the heart to things that are passing away (p. 106, Harvey).

Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, you should be concerned with cultivating these twin virtues, modesty and self-control (p. 120, Mahaney).

The Bible doesn’t forbid a woman from enhancing her appearance. But here in I Timothy 2:9-10, Paul isn’t just advocating modesty in dress; he’s insisting that more time and energy be devoted to spiritual adornment in the form of good works. And he’s warning about excessive attention devoted to appearance to the neglect of good works (p. 135, Mahaney).

[The world] held no sway over Paul, nor was he dependent upon it for anything. He didn’t crave its approval, embrace its values, or covet its rewards (p. 169-170, Pursell).

Hope I didn’t overload you there. That’s only maybe a little over half of what I marked, and flipping through the pages again, I keep finding more thought-provoking statements.

There were maybe one or two statements in the book I’m not sure I agree with, but by and large I would consider it an invaluable resource for anyone who has grappled with what worldliness is and seeks grace-based ways of combatting it.

***I must say, as well, that though I enjoyed this book, this is not a blanket endorsement of the authors. I was only familiar with the names of two, knew little about them, and nothing about the rest.

A portion of the book is online here.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

  1. Thanks for taking the time to type up and share those quotes with us (I know it can be time-consuming!); I read every one. This is a topic that I think churches need to be paying particular attention to because it’s so easy to let the world creep into the church instead of the church taking Christ into the world.

    So many of these quotes speak to me, including this one:
    “In my experience, 95 percent of the believers who face the test of persecution pass it, while 95 percent who face the test of prosperity fail it.”

    It should make us think twice about wishing we were more wealthy. It could be our very demise. Only the Lord knows how much poverty or wealth we can handle and still remain faithful to Him.

  2. This sounds really good, Barbara! Because of some theological differences with a couple of those authors, I would probably not have even considered reading the book. I read some of your quotes to Wes, and he agreed with them, so I’m considering reading this one. We sure fight the battle against worldliness in our church, and the toughest battle is from those who have their lists of externals. Wes has been teaching on Christian liberty, but it seems to land on deaf ears sometimes.

  3. Those are all very thought provoking good quotes. It definitely sounds like a good book to study and apply to our lives as Christians. The world can slip in so easily so it’s good to stay on our toes and remind ourselves.

  4. Very intriguing quotes! I love that emphasis on being thoughtful and engaged, rather than just having a list of litmus tests that allow us to drift thoughtlessly. I agree that our faith is a thoughtful pursuit.

    This sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

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