Bags of Bran

Worldliness: A Comprehensive Management Strategy
February 25, 2014, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Biography

First things first: if you agonize over and seriously wish you could eradicate worldliness from your life, skip to the end of this post, and read that first. Look for the * at the bottom.

Otherwise, read sequentially.

I have in my collection a book entitled, compellingly, Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, published by Crossway Books. Its presence in my library is a haunted mystery to me. I didn’t knowingly put it there, nor do I recall receiving it as a gift from a concerned friend or relative. I would not have paid $9.99 for it, as the sticker on the back indicates. I would not, for that matter, have paid half of $9.99, or $4.995 including a clipped penny, at Half Price Books. I presume that I received it for free either in a box or stack of books; or perhaps a well-meaning person planted it–like leaven in three measures of meal–in my collection, hoping I would read it and be blessed. If that person happens to be reading this, touche.

But since the topic is at hand, let’s see what the good folks over there at Crossway want us to believe concerning worldliness.

The book begins with C. J. Mahaney’s disarming introduction. He uses the word “we,” though he was an apostle at the time of publication, and one would think that his apostleship would more or less preclude tacit admissions of worldliness. But I know what he’s doing: I learned in seminary that when you mean “you,” you say “we” in order to not put undue pressure on “them,” even if what “you” are saying has little or no applicability to “you.” At least I hope he’s just saying “we:” the New Testament standards for leadership, such as being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith….in all respects to be a model of good works” (Titus 2), seem to not leave a whole lot of room for “we” talk when it comes to accusations of worldliness. “We” are supposed to have dealt with that back at the “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith” stage of preparation.

But that’s a quibble of language.

On p. 21 Mahaney cites James Davison Hunter’s volume, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, whence he summons this block quote:

Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from “worldly conduct” have been challenged if not altogether undermined. Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning (63).

Mahaney’s next sentences say “We’ve softened. We’ve lost clarity. Within a generation, worldly and worldliness have lost most of their meaning” (22). A significant bit of information about Hunter’s statement that Mahaney either failed to notice or failed to indicate to his own audience is that Hunter wrote Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation in 1987. So then, AS OF 1987, late in the Reagan administration, evangelicalism had lost most of its distinctiveness from the world.

Now, what Mahaney could have done here is ask, “have things improved or degraded since 1987?” That would be helpful. If you’re going to sound a warning that is two decades stale, acknowledge that it is two decades stale, use it as a benchmark, and ascertain your own position relative to that historical warning. Are “we” better or worse off than “we” were then?

But that’s a quibble of history.

Well, Mahaney’s definition of “world” is subject to criticism. He states:

The “world” of 1 John 2:15 doesn’t refer to the created order or to the blessings that come from living in a modern society, such as modern conveniences or medical and scientific advances. For God created the world and declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31) (25)

The reader can probably tell that God’s creation of the “world” is not the same kind of thing as the “blessings that come from living in a modern society.” God is the immediate cause of the one; man is the immediate cause of the other. God created and called it “very good.” Man is fallen, and some of those “scientific advances” that man is responsible for, such as the Tower of Babel, have been cause for God’s curse. Medical advances include operations to change one’s gender. Modern conveniences include internet pornography. Is Mahaney intentionally overlooking these things? Lack of nuance is not helpful here: people who are serious about wanting to defeat worldliness in their lives need serious definitions, not qualified excuses for hobby-sins. John very much includes everything that man has done apart from God, whether that thing is redeemable or not, in his definition of world. Mahaney proposes a reductionistic definition of world that he feels he can rally the troops against: “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God” (26). Excluded here are disorganized hostility toward God (Romans 1), passive hostility toward God, and any object or work used to express hostility towards God. Only the organized system falls under the evangelical ban: the forms that are most conducive to express that system, to the evangelical, are to be cherished as God’s good gifts.

But that’s a quibble about definitions.

We’re talking about enshrined evangelical practices and how to defend them from criticism while preventing them from boiling over into open scandal.

So that’s up to page 26, and I’m already over 800 words. The experts say that you’re long since done reading by this point, so I won’t belabor the rest of the book. Let’s just say that if you have to massage and qualify and quail in the face of anticipated objections as much as occurs in this book, you’re not serious about eradicating worldliness. Statements in defense of the evangelical status quo range from the fawning: “Let me be clear…John is not calling for some kind of monastic separation from the world” (25), and “please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying it’s wrong to watch television, rent a DVD, surf the Internet, or spend an evening at the cinema” (40); to the ridiculous: “Culture isn’t the same as worldliness” (79). It’s true: “culture” is a noun, and “worldliness” is a nominalized adjective describing a state: they must be unrelated, right. The book could be retitled, Worldliness: Carry On, but, uhhh…Be Careful?

Really, the essence of this book is idolatry management strategies. Once again, Mahaney et al. are defending enshrined evangelical practices from criticism while trying to keep them from burning the house down around them. The Bible says, rather strenuously, that Christians should be different from the world. The intended audience for this book  are people who want, on the one hand, to relish their justification; and on the other hand want to indulge in media, fashion, materialism, and ego-centrism because those are the “blessings” of the culture. This book says “don’t indulge, just dabble; and if you sense danger, run. In the meantime, have fun, because the gospel loves you and wouldn’t withhold anything nice from you.”

I know this is a harsh review of what I assume is a well-intentioned book. There are even a couple of places in the book where I was in agreement with various among the authors, and I noted so in the margin. But these victories were always short-lived, only to be traded away in fawning “don’t get me wrong” statements. At that point, game over. Why even write the book if nothing has to change?

*If you are serious about trying to eradicate worldliness from your life may I suggest putting your TV, computer, gadget, and phone in the closet for a few consecutive evenings and reading one of the following:

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen

The Mischief of Sin by Thomas Watson

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer

If you are at all curious about why I would contend that movies and TV are different from other types of media, may I suggest:

Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman (who was not a Christian, but had some keen anthropological insights)


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You quibbler, you. My guess is you got the book in the bag of free stuff they gave you at the last TGC extravaganza you attended.

Liked by 1 person

Comment by d4v34x

That’s it! I had forgotten about that, having been to nearly… nearly….. nearly….. nearly ONE TGC event. They all start to run together after so many!


Comment by christopheram

Well said, Chris. I wonder whether worldiness has not been erased by liberty altogether. It’s not so much that the word has lost its meaning as it is that it simply doesn’t exist.

Liked by 1 person

Comment by Eric A. White

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