Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

Article by   October 2008
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Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World
Edited by C.J. Mahaney
Foreword by John Piper
Crossway Books (September 2008)
192 p.



A broken leg gets more attention than the nagging pain in your side.  But the attention we give to an illness is not always an accurate judge of its severity.  The break may heal where the nagging pain betrays something far more serious.  Worldliness is a nagging pain in the Christian's soul.  It does not get the kind of attention that more public acute sins garner, but it is equally if not more deadly than many other temptations.  Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World is the Soul Physician's Desk Reference on the topic of worldliness.  In it, C. J. Mahaney and four other pastors from Sovereign Grace Ministries methodically examine each area of Christian living asking, "Is this area marked by the cross or by the world?"

Plenty of books have been published on the topic of worldliness.  What makes this book unique and worthy of a spot on your bookshelf?  The authors of Worldliness have managed to weave three themes through this book that successfully avoid the theological shortcuts that most authors take when discussing such a difficult topic.

The first theme is that worldliness is seductive, causing the heart to drift.  Worldliness is seductive.  Thomas Brooks described this seductive presentation of sin saying that Satan loved "to present the bait and hide the hook; to present the golden cup, and hide the poison."  The authors in this book are wise to Satan's devices.  They want to alert their readers to the deceitful, hidden, and often appealing overtures of a fallen world.  Why is this so important?  Simply put, because our hearts are prone to drift.  Like a canoe on a river, our hearts only stay on the right course through the strenuous use of a paddle.  Without active discernment, the heart drifts closer to the world, further from the cross.  This book is a call to discernment both to the seductive method of worldliness and to the drift tendency of the human heart.

The second theme woven through Worldliness is that neither blind liberty nor strict law get to the bottom of the problem of worldliness.  Honestly speaking, some Christians have no desire to put forward the effort to combat worldliness.  They say that it is not a big deal.  They encourage the view that every aspect of the world is to be enjoyed without question or quibble.  They may even accuse those who disagree of an inadequate view of cultural engagement.  This is not the view of this book.  Others, having accurately viewed the dangers of worldliness, combat it with rules and laws.  Holiness begins to be described in hem line inches and black-listed activities.  This also is not the view of this book.  Early and clearly, Worldliness sets forward the right idea, the Biblical idea.  The problem of worldliness lies in the Christian's heart.  It is not a question of external activities.  It is a question of internal identities.  It is a question of your relationship to Jesus Christ.  If you are going to confront worldliness, you must confront your own heart and Christ's work on the cross.  This leads into the third theme of this book.

The third and major theme of the book is that worldliness has been conquered at the cross of Christ.  The human heart loves the world when it does not see and savor Jesus Christ.  The revelation of God's love and sovereign, unmerited grace though the death of Jesus is the principle and power by which the war against worldliness is fought and won.  Christ robbed the world of its power over the Christian's heart.  He shed abroad his spiritual riches where there were once only the trinkets and baubles of sin.  This book is written because worldliness is offensive to the beauty of Christ.  It blinds believers to the rich grace daily offered to them through communion with the living God.

C. J. Mahaney begins the book clearly presenting the threat of worldliness.  He wants to know if 1 John 2:15 is in your Bible.  And if it is, he wants to know what you are doing about.  If you aren't awake to the problem of worldliness when you pick up this book, you will be after chapter one. 

Craig Cabaniss follows up Mahaney's introductory chapter discussing the effects of mass media.     Cabaniss skillfully describes how the average American is inundated with media.  He challenges his readers to consider whether they are passively consuming media or actively engaging--and yes, sometimes disengaging from--the media around them.    He wants to show the necessity of living a proactive life of media discernment before "God's face."

In chapter three, Bob Kauflin broaches the topic of music.  Kauflin's thoughts on the influence of music are some of the most interesting in the entire book.  He wants his readers to see music as a "carrier" of content rather than sinful or holy at its essence.  He provides practical ways to discern Christ-honoring music from Christ-dishonoring music.

Materialism is ably handled in the following chapter by Dave Harvey.  In a writing style that readers have grown to love from When Sinners Say I Do, Harvey lays bare the ugly side of our hearts' inordinate desire for material possessions.  Harvey closes his chapter by bringing his readers to the cross.  He shows the poverty of worldly riches in comparison to the riches of salvation in Christ. 

Mahaney returns in the fifth chapter to address the issue of modesty and clothing.  Using material from preaching and teaching on the subject of modesty at Covenant Life Church, Mahaney rightly defines modesty as humility expressed in dress.  He also marshals material from his wife and daughters' blog, Girl Talk, in challenging Christians, especially Christian women, to purchase and wear Christ-honoring clothing.

Jeff Purswell then concludes the book with ways to love the world well.  After five chapters of using the word "world" in its negative connotations, Purswell shows ways that the Christian is called to love the world.  He teases out issues of common grace, general revelation, the goodness of creation, and the mission of the church in God's plan of redemption.  Purswell's chapter serves as an appropriate conclusion--summarizing the previous content and tying up loose ends.  

These six chapters exist in unusual balance and agreement for a book written by five different authors. Each author has a different writing style, but all share a common love for the cross of Christ, a pastor's heart, and a keen grasp of the Bible.  The content is theologically deep but written in a way that makes it accessible to readers of varying reading ability and theological training.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  It addressed the issue of worldliness with an aggressive cross-centered humility that is often lacking when issues of media, music, possessions, and clothing arise.  I close simply by quoting John Piper from the Introduction.  When John Piper says things like this, it is best to take note. 

A word to pastors: this book is a gift to you.  It will help you help others--by the modeling that's done here and by the exegetical reflection and by the biblical and cultural insights.  I can see whole churches reading this together as the pastor fleshes out the biblical foundations from the pulpit.  What a powerful season that would be in the life of the church.

I agree with Piper's assessment.  Buy this book for yourself, for your church, and for your pastor.  Let it be an encouragement to you to flee worldliness and run to the cross. 


Joe Holland is the Assistant Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Kosciusko, MS, and regularly blogs at Mining Grace (www.miningrace.com).

Recommended Resources:
Worldliness by CJ Mahaney
Spectacular Sins by John Piper
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

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