Worldliness

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 fundamentallyreformed.com.

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.

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What Does Worldly Look Like? Part 3

The goal of these articles (Part 1, Part 2) is to challenge misconceptions about the world and worldliness by taking a fresh look at our authority, the Scriptures themselves. I’ve argued that the biblical concept of worldliness encompasses much more than the matters of fashion, entertainment, and material possessions that we fundamentalists tend to focus on when we use the term.

The Study So Far

Part 1 in the series focused on select passages that suggest worldliness encompasses all of the sinful attitudes and actions of our unregenerate past. Romans 12:2 contrasts two conditions, conformity to “this world” [1] and transformation through mind renewal. Believers are in the conformed condition to the extent that we are not yet in the transformed condition. “Worldly” here is the opposite of “transformed.” In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul links the untransformed condition to immaturity and fleshliness and cites envy, strife, and divisions as evidence of that immaturity. Finally, James 3:14-15 associates contentious, self-seeking attitudes and sensuality with wisdom that is worldly (“earthly”). [2] Together, these passages alert us against a host of ungodly attitudes we seldom think of as worldly.

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What Does Worldly Look Like? Part 2

What Is Written

The meaning of “worldly” is a matter of some controversy. This is true even among people strongly committed to Christian living as defined in Scripture. Most agree that “worldly” means being like the world and that being like the world isn’t good. But from there, confusion multiplies.

The reasons for this confusion are several. The most important for our purposes is that the meaning of “worldly” depends on the meaning “the world,” and many are confused regarding what “the world” means. What exactly is it that disciples of Christ should not be “like”? How much does it have to do with garments, music, hairstyles, or theaters?

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What Does Worldly Look Like?

(See Part 2, Part 3)

In fundamentalist parlance, the word worldly nearly always refers to matters of fashion and entertainment. It involves how a person dresses; what sort of places he goes; and the things he reads, views, or listens to. Consequently, many feel that if they just stay away from certain things, they are safe from worldliness.

In some cases, the attitude goes a step further. “As long as I have the proper appearance, never go to the proscribed places, or take in the proscribed materials, I am not only free of worldliness but also basically a good Christian.” Externals-focused preaching and institutional rules [1] reinforce the attitude, and plain human laziness gives it a cozy home. For many fundamentalists, avoiding the “worldly fashions and entertainments” list is easy. They grew up with the list, have never lived any other way, and never spend time with anyone who lives differently.

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