Worldliness. Edited by C.J. Mahaney. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. 191 pages. Hardcover, $12.99.
There are no small parts. Even in the New Testament, the briefest appearances of some individuals often provide rich insight and even warning to the body of Christ. Such is the case with Demas. He appears as a companion of Paul sending greetings, along with Luke, to the church in Colossae (Col 4:14). Then he again emerges as one of several greeters in Paul’s letter to Philemon (v. 24). With such a resume, the reader might expect to find him in one of Paul’s later letters appointed as a church pastor or on some missionary assignment. Instead, Paul reports in his final letter to Timothy that “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim 4:10). This revelation of the true treasure of Demas’ heart serves as a warning to all followers of Christ of the trappings and enticements of the world in which we live.
The danger of the love of the world, or worldliness, operates as the subject of focus for C. J. Mahaney and others in Crossway’s 2008 volume, Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, authors the first and fifth chapters as well as functioning as the volume’s editor. In the spirit of Mahaney’s 2005 book, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah), this volume provides a compact and accessible look at one of the most urgent areas of concern for contemporary Christianity. Though contemporary in look and feel, this volume, thankfully, has more in common with seventeenth century treatments of the same and similar topics by the English Puritans than it does with some of the modern misguided prescriptions for the “Christian life.” In short, Worldliness is more Bible than just merely “biblically based,” more like a well lit mirror than hides nothing than a well dressed window that distracts the eye, more Puritan that Pietist, more truth than experience, and more relevant wisdom from heaven rather than trendy street smarts.
Mahaney’s first chapter functions as the theological foundation upon which the remaining five chapters and two appendices are built. Focusing on 1 John 2:15-17 that begins, “Do not love the world or the things in the world,” Mahaney states that “the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world” (22). Since what constitutes the “world” can often confuse or mislead, Mahaney asserts that the world that Christians are forbidden to love is “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God” (26). How is one to know where he stands? Mahaney offers the following test:
Imagine I take a blind test in which my task is to identify the genuine follower of Jesus Christ. My choices are an unregenerate individual and you.
I’m given two reports detailing conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, iPod playlists, television habits, hobbies, leisure time, financial transactions, thoughts, passions, and dreams.
The question is: Would I be able to tell you apart? Would I discern a difference between you and your unconverted neighbor, coworker, classmate, or friend?
Have the lines between Christian and worldly conduct in your life become so indistinguishable that there really is no difference at all? (24).
Mahaney continues, though, to note that often the conflict that ensues among believers when confronted with love for the world focuses wrongly on external standards. He explains that people either try to categorize worldliness as the violation of a specific set of universal rules on the one hand or people claim that any attempt to draw boundaries is legalism on the other hand. Both miss the mark as “worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within. But the real location of worldliness is internal. It resides in our hearts” (29).
What is worldliness? Mahaney concludes that “it’s loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically, it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God” (27). He probes,
If you are more excited about the release of a new movie or video game than about serving in the local church, if you’re impressed by Hollywood stars or professional athletes regardless of their lack of integrity or morality, then you’ve been seduced by this fallen world (31).
But Mahaney does not leave the reader without hope. Indeed, he provides the antidote to worldliness with this advice, “Do you want the world to lose its appeal? Then crowd out worldliness by filling your affections with the cross of Christ” (34).
Chapters 2 through 5 provide detailed assessments of “God, My Heart,” and “Media,” “Music,” “Stuff,” and “Clothes.” Chapter 6 faithfully brings the volume to a conclusion by examining the ways in which Christians now not in love with the world should, in fact, love the world in which they live (John 17:18). Here Jeff Purswell gives a review of God’s plan for the world and then encourages believers to enjoy, engage, and evangelize the world – seeing the world always through “the prism of Christ’s saving work on the cross” (170).
Worldliness is a small book with a message of eternal weight that reorients the mind. Like the literature of the Puritans, this volume serves to diagnose and probe all the while providing a remedy of hope for the internal battle waged by all in the twenty first century. This is good as “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
Jason G. Duesing
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary