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

Though the book is a few years old now, it remains an important contribution to the subject of worldliness in our time. Bob Hayton’s review comes to us by way of

Any book entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World promises not to be your average book on the shelf of today’s Christian bookstore. The subject of worldliness, or love for the values of this fallen world, is not a popular theme.

The contributors of this book, start off by asking if 1 John 2:15 (“Do not love the world or anything in the world”), is really in most Christian’s Bibles. All of us are guilty of worldliness. But how do we go about avoiding this sin? C.J. Mahaney explains:

Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards. If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating…surely you must be worldly.

Others, irritated and repulsed by rules that seem arbitrary, react to definitions of worldliness, assuming it’s impossible to define. Or they think legalism will inevitably be the result, so we shouldn’t even try.

…Both views are wrong. For by focusing exclusively on externals or dismissing the importance of externals, we’ve missed the point…. the real location of worldliness is internal. It resides in our hearts.

The book goes on to try to navigate between these two extremes and call today’s church to a healthy carefulness about how we interact with the world at large. With chapters on movies, music, money and modesty, the book aims to guide believers as they think critically about the myriad of choices facing us in today’s culture.

As one who has a very strict fundamentalist background, this book especially interested me. I was encouraged to see contemporary evangelical Christians warning about the social dangers that abound. And I noted that the book did not offer a list of rules which I should follow more closely than Scripture. Instead the authors were careful to encourage discernment and teach general guiding principles.

To some the book will seem quite strict. Think “radical,” instead. The authors aim to glorify God in everything they do. That will come across as totally radical to some and will require a unique focus on the temptations and opportunities that surround us.

While the discussion on media (movies) and music was quite good, the chapter on money and modesty wasn’t quite as captivating for me. I’d heard a lot of Mahaney’s stuff on modesty before, so maybe that’s why. But any lull in those chapters was more than made up by Mahaney’s opening chapter and the closing one by Jeff Purswell.

That final chapter focuses on how to love the world. We are to love God’s creation and the people He has made. We are placed within His world and called to serve for its good. Perhaps it’s because externals were over emphasized in my fundamentalist roots that this chapter on healthy interaction with the world resonated with me so well. In any case, Purswell paints a glorious picture of God’s covenant dealings with all the earth.

Moving from God’s overarching redemption plan, Purswell elevates our mundane day-to-day duties as part of that plan. He closes his section on work with this appeal:

So don’t just “go to work” and “do your job”—see your job as a way to imitate God, serve God, and love others. This doesn’t mean work will never be difficult or frustrating or tedious; the curse ensures that it will be at times. But God’s creational purposes and Christ’s redeeming work infuse our work with meaning, and promise God-glorifying fruit as a result.

Purswell calls us to enjoy, engage and evangelize the world. “We receive God’s earthly gifts, pursue God’s purposes in earthly life, and work for the salvation of people made in God’s image. All of life lived for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)”.

The final chapter exposes the tension once again. While we are to be in the world and working for its good, we are also not to love what it loves and prize what it prizes. Once again, the book stresses two bents which typify Christians:

Some have strictly spiritual preoccupations. For them the present is of little consequence, pleasures are perilous, spirituality means self-denial…

Others relish life in this world. Their delight in God’s temporal gifts is unrestrained, their enjoyment of their physical existence untempered, their hope in earthly endeavors absolute….

The answer finally is the cross of Christ. The cross tells us who we are, interprets the world we live in, transforms our view of people and gives our lives purpose. Finding our place in God’s story of redemption is the ultimate cure for a love of this world’s desires.

This book has the potential to transform your view of the Christian life. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

[node:bio/bob-hayton body]

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There are 7 Comments

Greg Long's picture

This is a great book. Thanks for the review, Bob. We used it for a small group study I led a little while ago.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bob Hayton's picture

Thanks, Greg. I agree the book is quite helpful. I believe that Sam Horn reviewed it in a Northland publication not too long ago, too.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Alex K.'s picture

worldliness is internal. it is allowing attitudes and values from the world to influence us.

Christians are conquerors through Christ over sin's effects in every day life as well as eternally. this comes by not separating from unsaved souls but offering hope by our words and actions. the joy of the Lord is our strength.

many of these "external" standards are window dressings the self-righteous like to trumpet, but, as Colossians 2 instructs: these do not stem sin.

let's see fundamentalists with God's power to overcome the sin and failure that is so prevalent, for they have not with their "standards" increased godliness, but, instead have put obstacles (stumbling blocks) in the paths of those looking for help.

Give to the wise and they will be wiser. Instruct the righteous and they will increase their learning. Proverbs 9:9

Aaron Blumer's picture


I've only perused it. But I'm interested in how well the balance they aim for is actually achieved.
I'm encouraged that they were even aware that there are two extremes to avoid... avoiding pure externalism is an obvious one in our times. But these days the other extreme of embracing an "externals don't matter at all" attitude is less likely to be recognized for the problem it is.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bob Hayton's picture


I don't think you'll be too disappointed. They actually are taking aim more on the "externals don't matter at all" attitude, if I remember right.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's the bigger problem in most places.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

pastorwesh's picture

We went through this book at church in our Adult Sunday School class. When we got to the media chapter, we picked a day that following week in which our class fasted from all media (except work-required) for the entire day. No radio, no MP3 player, no e-mail, no internet (Sharper Iron), Twitter, Facebook, or TV.

The result for me, I realized how much I depended upon media to fill the 'void' times in my life (ie while driving). It was amazing how much the Holy Spirit spoke to me during the quiet times of my day. I was ashamed at how much I turned to media in my life, instead of how much I turned to God.

My opinion: Great book!!

Serving the Savior, Pastor Wes Helfenbein 2 Cor. 5:17

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