Culture

Whatever Happened to Worldliness?

You don’t hear much preaching against worldliness these days. Having grown up hearing negative references to “the world,” “worldly” and “worldliness” on a fairly regular basis, the absence seems odd to me sometimes. On the other hand, where worldliness is still a frequented topic, the term seems unclear, disconnected from biblical intent—or both. Whatever happened to worldliness?

More than one phenomenon is occurring.

First, we have a problem of omission. In some cases, this is due to nothing more than uncertainty by pastors and teachers as to how to handle the subject effectively. But sadly, in many ministries, the neglect is due to philosophies of ministry that embrace worldliness as the number one way to “reach people” and achieve “relevance.” What has happened to worldliness in these cases is that—as a pulpit and classroom topic—it has been shelved.

Second, in some ministries, the terms “worldly” and “worldliness” occur rarely from the pulpit simply because they occur rarely in Scripture. Though references to “world” abound in the Bible, “worldly” occurs only twice in the KJV (Titus 2:12 KJV, Heb. 9:1 KJV). The 1984 NIV uses it ten times (Luke 16:9 NIV; Luke 16:11 NIV; 1 Cor. 3:1 NIV, 1 Cor. 3:3 NIV; 2 Cor. 1:12 NIV, 2 Cor. 1:17 NIV; 2 Cor. 5:16 NIV, 2 Cor. 7:10 NIV; Titus 2:12 NIV). Still, the term “worldliness” does not occur in the Bible at all. So, what has happened to worldliness in these ministries is that it is being handled biblically using different language.

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"The Artistic Theologian... a place for publication, research, discussion, and resources for those engaged in worship and artistic ministry"

First issue includes K. Bauder on why pastors should be learned in worship and music, Scott Aniol on a biblical understanding of culture.

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"You... kid only yourselves if you think you can be an orthodox Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it"

“Frankly, in a couple of years it will not matter how much urban ink you sport, how much fair trade coffee you drink, how many craft brews you can name, how much urban gibberish you spout, how many art house movies you can find that redeemer figure in, and how much money you divert from gospel preaching to social justice: maintaining biblical sexual ethics will be the equivalent in our culture

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Christians and Mythology (Part 4: More Benefits)

Read the series.

This essay continues the previous post in which I began a list of benefits of studying mythology.

4. Learning to supplant

Not everyone will agree with my argument in Part 2 that redemptive analogies help pagan cultures adjust to the message of the gospel. James Davidson Hunter’s recent book To Change the World is just one example of how Christians have developed allergies to “redeeming culture” terminology. And speaking of Paul at Mars Hill, Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes,

Yes, Paul takes note of the altar to the unknown god, and yes, he quotes pagan poets. But in neither case is he “building a bridge”…. Paul does not find in the [Greek] poets some form of “redemptive analogy” he can use among a people who don’t acknowledge the authority of Scripture. He uses them to demonstrate that Athenian philosophy and culture are self-contradictory…. The poets lead him not to finding “common ground” with his hearers but to calling them to repentance on the basis of a scripturally revealed storyline of humanity.1

But this sounds like an either/or distinction that I think gives an incomplete picture. Yes, Paul preached the resurrection of Jesus. But he also used recognizable cultural mentifacts2 that the Greeks could relate to. This both/and construction is simply acknowledging that Paul called the Greeks to repentance by means of a language with which they were familiar.

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A Nineteenth-Century Plan to Redeem Culture: Was it Successful?

The plan

James Fraser (d. 1885) had a novel idea: redeem the theatre. He saw that it portrayed ideas, displayed unwholesomeness, and evoked responses contrary to modesty, dignity, and purity. He was not alone in this sentiment. Clergy widely, strongly, and vocally opposed the theatre. However, church-goers were still attending, enjoying, and even being employed by it.

Fraser envisioned the theatre being used for good, so that it would positively influence audiences and also be a legitimate form of amusement for Christians—one that was dignified, modest, and not degrading. In his opinion, it was futile to exhort Christians to avoid the theatre altogether, because it was a popular form of amusement and he believed Christianity could effect a positive change in and through it. Therefore, redeeming the theatre was the ticket.

As the second Bishop of Manchester, Fraser was in a position to try to persuade those inside and outside the church that his idea was valid and that change was possible. He was well-liked and respected, even by Nonconformists. He was firm in his beliefs and convictions, but not dogmatic, and an advisor and peacemaker on issues outside of the church, such as labor disputes. However, in nineteenth-century England, his redeeming-the-theatre idea was radical.

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