Fundamentalists are famous for gearing whole conferences, seminars, sermon series, college courses, and camp themes around the idea of worldliness. But I do not know of any books from this sector devoted specifically to this topic. This is unfortunate because as our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with the media, the church needs biblically grounded books moored us to the truth about the allurements of the world.
C.J. Mahaney, a pastor probably most comfortable with the moniker “conservative evangelical” has edited a timely volume encouraging Christians to resist the temptations of a fallen world. I commend this book for several reasons. First, evangelicalism neglects and sometimes even mocks the topic. The chapters are specific enough to make the book controversial. That’s a good thing. So we should congratulate the authors simply for devoting 200 hundred pages to the idea of worldliness. Second, Worldliness addresses the right issues. Among the topics are (1) a definition of worldliness (“love for this fallen world”), (2) media, (3) music, (4) stuff, and (5) clothing. Like it or not, these are the issues people want to talk about. The authors understand this and devote an entire chapter to each one.
Second, the chapter on “media” was the best and most marked up chapter in the book. It addresses the hazards of thoughtless TV watching. It knocks down the argument that says: “The Bible records sexual sin, so its OK for me to watch sexual sin in movies” (52). Best of all, the chapter gives us dozens of “time”, “heart”, and “content” questions to ask ourselves before watching a movie. The questions go far beyond that of sex scenes and cursing, but toward ideas like: “How much time have I spent on media today?”, “Am I watching this because I’m bored or lazy?”, “What does this film mock and glamorize?”, and “Does its content reflect truth, beauty, or goodness?” (57-59).
Finally, Mahaney’s chapter on “God, My Heart, and Clothes” was surprisingly good. He addressed the heart issue, promoted modesty, quoted often from his wife and other women, and pushed men to take responsibility for their daughter’s dress. The two appendices “Modesty Heart Check” and “Modesty on Your Wedding Day” were also very good.
There were a couple of areas of disagreement. I’m not sure I agreed with Mahaney’s definition of legalism. He writes: “A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance” (44). Of course we know that justification is by grace alone with no personal effort earning any merit before God (Eph. 2:8; Acts 15). But is it true that legalism is seeking “God’s approval through personal performance”? God does delight in the obedience (or “performance”) of his children (1 Sam. 15:22). We know, however, that we cannot take personal credit for acts of righteousness, for it is God working in us (Phil. 2:13). Still, I think this definition opens the door for ridicule upon those who are seeking to please God by living holy lives.
Bob Kauflin’s chapter on music was good, but followed the status quo by emphasizing the lyrics of music and ignoring “style”. I’m not sure I agreed with his comments on page 71: “[Melody, harmony, and rhythm] in themselves carry no moral value. There are no ‘evil’ melodies or ‘false’ rhythms. Music alone is incapable of lying to us or commanding us to do wrong. Music by itself is also unable to communicate ‘truth statements’ to us.”
This is a good book that everyone will find something to disagree about. But I would encourage people to read it because it doesn’t fall into the trap of legalism. It puts the gospel at the center, doesn’t avoid the key issues, and gets the big ideas right. Mahaney may be correct: “The greatest challenge facing American evangelicalism is… seduction by the world” (22).