Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C.J. Mahaney

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen WorldTakeaway: We should pay attention to sin and spend time thinking about whether we are focusing more on loving the world or loving God.

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It is hard to review a book on worldliness.  Not nearly as hard as writing one, but still hard.  The tension is viewing worldliness as not anti-world, viewing holiness as a worthy goal, a desire to avoid legalism, the need to focus on the grace of Christ and the tendency to focus on a fairly narrow set of outward sins makes for a book on worldliness easy to take shots at.

I did not realized when I started this book that it was a series of essays by different authors rather than a complete work by Mahaney.  And that makes a difference.  What I liked so much about Mahaney’s book Humility (my review) was that it was so tightly pastoral.  And that seems to be a bit missing in some of the essays.  It also seems like it might be oriented toward young Christians.  After all the chapters are about media, music, consumerism and how to dress right.  (The chapter, my Mahaney, on dress really was inappropriate, it should not have been in the book and the focus seemed to be blaming women for being attractive.  Guys can lust if a woman is in a Burka.  The sin is the lust.  The women are the victim of the sin, not the perpetrators.  Yes, women can be immodest.  Yes, that is a sin, but having a chapter about modesty without talking about the sin of lust means that you are picking on women without dealing with the root issue.  After all if Adam and Eve were naked, without either shame or lust, then lack of clothing is not the issue.  Unfortunately, the long section on immodest wedding dresses really crossed the line for me.)

On the other hand, when read in the most generous fashion, mostly, there is little to disagree with.  There is a very long chapter (in relation to a fairly short book) on the consumption of media.  Most of it is quite true.  We are very much affected by the media in this world.  We do waste too much time in mindless consumption.  We should train children and others in how to look deeper in the the meaning of what is in front of us.  It is very convicting, especially the questions at the end of the chapter.  But it seemed to lack some of the pastoral focus that I think would have made it better.  It felt guilt inducing.  Maybe that is because I am guilty about my media consumption.  It is hard not to be.  As important as the particulars of the chapter were, I thought that being placed as the first chapter after the introduction, gave a prominence to an ‘easy target’ that might have been better balanced by placing it later in the book and cutting the length a bit.  (I also thought there was very little added by having another fairly long chapter on music, when most of the points were fairly similar to general media consumption.  And there was another section in the consumerism chapter that also dealt with advertising which again was repetitive.)

The chapter on consumption was probably the best chapter and came closest to my desire to deal with the actual internal issues of desiring to be like the world (instead of focusing on issues of appearing to look like the world.)

In the end, I wanted more of a focus on the positives of Holiness and less a focus on the problems of being in the world.  We are all in the world, that is part of our calling as a church.  And I certainly agree (and this it might be the best line in the book) when it says in context of being relevant that “we too often cloak our transformation by Christ in order to share Christ.”  That is convicting.  (The final chapter looked at ways that we can love the world and I thought that chapter was OK, but really too little too late.)

The main problem I have is one of editorial decisions of focus more than any real individual essays.  Personally, I think that a focus on holiness as a gift of the Holy Spirit is a better approach.  (The chapter on consumerism actually said that the main way to not focus on the world is to focus on the gospel, but the book seemed to mostly ignore this.)  When the focus is mostly on external view-able sins (and that is what this book is mostly about) then it is hard not eventually move to legalism or just to give up.  We cannot become holy by striving to not be worldly.  And the hardest sins of worldliness are not those external sins like watching the wrong movies or listening to the wrong music, or dressing too provocatively, it is the internal sins of desire, greed, a lack of trust in God for our provision, the internal sins that can only be confronted by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I like Mahaney, but I felt there is so much wrong with this book that I have a very hard time recommending it.

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This book was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.

2 Comments

I too found the chapter on modesty a bit awkward. While the issues surrounding modesty for guys and girls are different, there are none the less modesty issues in how guys sometimes dress but no-one ever addresses that. It is also just a little awkward to have an older guy telling younger women how to dress. Modesty can be a struggle and that is not due to lack of effort or a heart problem. That’s cause clothes these days seem to be cut for women a completely different shape to me!

I agree that we cannot be holy by avoiding being worldly but I’m not so sure that means the book was badly focused. Decisions about stuff like media do make the process of growing in holiness harder or easier. I’ve been realising since reading the book how much music can feed the wrong things or the right things.

    It is not that I don’t think that media and consumerism can distract from faith, I do. The issue I have is the this book focused almost exclusively on what we should not do. It is like telling you there is an elephant and not to notice it. They way you help people not focus and love the world is to help them understand positively how to love God and then how loving God means that we should be appropriately loving of people within the world. From that point I think it is much easier to say, now that we love (or are attempting to love) God and the people he has created, here is some distractions that will distort or distract our love.

    I think this is similar to Jesus’ parable about throwing out the demons but not replacing them with proper love of God. So that the demons returned and brought friends. The authors here kept talking about having the right heart and not being judgmental toward others, but I just do not think they talked about the how or why of judgement, which means that when many people that read the book and are not spiritually mature, they will try to put what they are reading into practice and many will naturally fall into judgement over those around them. The chapter on modesty I think is a perfect example. When he quotes a married woman (that would have had to been around 30 by description) who has to plan out her wardrobe with her husband and still struggles daily about how she can dress and then holds her up as a model, he is not pointing to someone that has a healthy understanding of modesty. He is pointing to someone that is bound by worldliness and has not found a positive understanding of what it means to dress in grace. She feels obligated to prevent sin around her and she cannot do that.

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