Mahaney: “Worldliness,” Ch. 4

Review: Chapter 4 – “God, My Heart, and Stuff” by Dave Harvey in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, C. J. Mahaney, ed.

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of this little book for my review. Since it is a compilation of six essays by five Sovereign Grace Ministries clergymen, I thought it best to review the book section by section. Previously: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three.

Chapter 4 comes from the pen of Dave Harvey who serves on the leadership team of Sovereign Grace Ministries. My understanding is that he is quite close to C. J. Mahaney and also serves on the board of CCEF, among other things.

The subject of “God, My Heart, and Stuff” is materialism and covetousness. Most Bible-believing Christians would agree with most of what is said in this chapter. But I’d also have to say that this chapter may be the weakest in the book. It is not weak because of the position it takes – it is weak because it is shallow in treating a serious subject. It reminds me of certain ‘story-telling preachers’ who occupy the hall of shame in the minds of some.

For example, Harvey begins the chapter by recounting the story of the man who wants Jesus to compel his brother to divide the inheritance with him. The man speaks up (as far as we know) in the middle of a session where Jesus is speaking against the Pharisees (Lk 12.13-14). Here is Harvey’s description of the man’s interruption:

As he spoke up, many in the crowd must have wondered, ‘Who is he? Does he seek a wise saying from the Great Teacher? Some blessing perhaps? Maybe a divine healing?

‘Teacher’ the man said, ‘tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ (Luke 12.13)

Talk about missing your cue!1

After mentioning Jesus’ rebuke of the man (Lk 12.15), Harvey says this:

That’s the biblical equivalent of a flag on the field. It’s meant to stop the action.2

Now, before we align with Team Jesus and root him on, let’s remember that we’re more similar to Mr. Oblivious than we might like to believe. 3

Perhaps I am too critical of this approach, but it this kind of ‘lightness’ is evident many times through the chapter. I am not against humor, not even in preaching, but sometimes preachers seem to be more interested in getting a laugh than in really dealing with the passages. That was the sense I got throughout the chapter.

In addition to the ‘lightness’, this chapter suffers a bit from the same problem as chapter one: a misunderstanding of worldliness itself. In other words, Harvey is shooting at our own internal lust more than he is at those lusts incorporated and inculcated into the whole way the unbelieving world works and promotes itself. Or, as one of my readers says, “the collective abandonment of unsaved individuals to … their inordinate affections to the point where it becomes a societal norm.”4

We see this right at the beginning of Harvey’s argument when he says:

In exposing materialism, the real issue for Christ is not the stuff around us but the stuff within. The Savior loves us so much that he comes after our coveting hearts and rescues us from the seduction of a fallen world.5

Well, it is true that we have a problem with covetousness within, and that the covetous within is a real problem because of the appeal of the world without. Our souls resonate with the world’s melody – we are of a piece with the world.

But consider this: is it possible to be materialistic or covetous without being particularly worldly?

  • What about misers?

A miser is someone who we would agree is covetous. We’d call them materialistic, wouldn’t we? Would we think they were particularly worldly? I don’t think so, at least not the way we normally use the term.

But Harvey does score some hits on covetousness:

But covetousness is a glutton for stuff. Through covetous attractions and distractions of the heart, our stuff takes on meaning in our lives far beyond what God intends. In fact, the apostle Paul makes the point that covetousness is a form of idol worship (Eph 5.5; Col 3.5). Idolatrous cravings maneuver our hearts  away from God and affix them to things of this world.6

Covetousness chains the heart to things that are passing away.7

When we seek happiness in stuff, we find that no amount of us makes us happy. Life becomes earthbound and chained to things that are passing away.8

Harvey identifies four ‘chains’ of covetousness:

  1. My Stuff Makes Me Happy9 – in this section he attacks the idea that some thing you don’t have will make you happy and complete
  2. My Stuff Makes Me Important10 – in this section he addresses the idea of the possessions making a statement about who you are
  3. My Stuff Makes Me Secure11 – here, the idea attacked is the complacency and lack of spiritual urgency men develop if they have great possessions
  4. My Stuff Makes Me Rich12 – this last chain is a little difficult to understand. He means to say that we become controlled by the things we own, rather than the other way around. I am not sure about his label ‘my stuff makes me rich’ – it doesn’t seem to communicate what he is after (but it is parallel with the others!).

As I mentioned earlier, all of this suffers from the notion that my internal coveting machine = a form of worldliness. While my internal coveting machine is a huge problem stemming from my flesh (and could be called my infernal coveting machine), by emphasizing the internals, the external problem with the world is minimized and, at points, ignored. We see this even as Harvey turns to his suggestions for a solution.

Remember the ‘Take care’ exhortation from Jesus. How do we cherish gospel freedom while being on our guard about covetousness.13

Once again, the focus is internal.14

Here are Harvey’s suggestions for overcoming covetousness. We do agree with the need to overcome covetousness and I agree with most of these suggestions, but we still aren’t talking about the world, and the other weaknesses already noted are still quite evident.

  • Consider your true riches15 – this includes a quote from John Owen and ‘Calvinist contemplative spirituality’ (not the emerging church kind) that is all the rage these days.
  • Confess and repent16 – I really agree with this, but he spends his time talking about confession and says nothing about repentance.
  • Express specific gratitude17 – in which he asserts, “This gratitude isn’t something mystical that wells up inside of us after forty days of prayer and fasting. It’s simply the obedient response of those who understand their heavenly assets.”18 I agree with this.
  • De-materialize your life19 – this is real repentance. I very much agree with this. We are trying to sell our house and move. A lot of stuff has been packed away and is in storage… when we move… a lot of it needs not to come back.
  • Give generously20 – this is 70 times 7 repentance. We need to learn to give and to give again. John Wesley is a prime example for us in this regard.

In analyzing this, I have to agree with most of it. I’m not much into mysticism, especially not the Calvinist kind, so the first suggestion doesn’t do much for me. But the rest are good. If a man really put this into practice, I would say that the world wouldn’t have much material hold on him, so to that extent this chapter is successful.

There is a brief section (pp. 112-114)) about training your children about covetousness. There is some value to this section, but the breezy style and brief treatment only give a hint about what could have been said.

I have been critical of this chapter in the notes above. In the final analysis, I can’t be absolutely critical because I believe the attempt is sincere. However the misguided re-definition of worldliness is spiritually dangerous and the breezy style cheapens a serious subject.

don_sig2

UPDATE: Corrected biographical info on Dave Harvey, on the board of CCEF, not CCEL. Thanks to Greg Linscott for bringing my error to my attention.

Notes:

  1. pp. 91-92 []
  2. p. 92 []
  3. pp.92-93 []
  4. Thanks to d4v34x, or Dave, for that – see the comments on Mahaney: “Worldliness,” chapter 1. []
  5. p. 94 []
  6. p. 95 []
  7. p. 99 []
  8. p. 101 []
  9. pp. 99-101 []
  10. pp. 101-103 []
  11. pp. 103-104 []
  12. pp. 105-107 []
  13. p. 107 []
  14. And note the ‘gospel’ reference. These are the people who talk about being ‘cross-centered’, ‘gospel-centered’ and definitely not ‘man-centered.’ Yet they constantly think and talk about man. So where is the centre? []
  15. p. 108 []
  16. pp. 108-109 []
  17. pp. 109-110 []
  18. p. 109 []
  19. pp. 110-111 []
  20. pp. 111-112 []

Comments

  1. Watchman says:

    In light of your doctrinal critque with this chapter, could you interact a little with this passage? I haven’t read the book, so I’m curious as to how what he’s saying conflicts with what Jesus said here.

    And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
    For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Matthew 7:18-23

    • Watchman,

      I think you mistyped the reference… that’s Mark 7.18-23

      First, the context of the passage, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for their particularism about eating with hands washed in a prescribed way. He is not rebuking them about worldliness. The ‘things that enter into a man’ are food eaten with unwashed hands (a particular kind of washing according to Pharisaic tradition). So such can never defile a man.

      Second, it is quite clear that evil thoughts etc. proceed from a man. In this and other posts I haven’t denied that.

      The Bible does warn against the world, against loving the world and against being conformed to the world. Being conformed to the world can mean sharing the lusts of the world, but it isn’t exactly the same thing as every lust that might be conceived in the heart of a man. A man can lust without being worldly. Perhaps it would be best to describe worldliness as a special subset of all the lusts that exist in a man’s heart. Worldliness would be those particular lusts that imitate or mimic the anti-God fashion of the world.

      As I said in my post, a man could be a miser, but might not be considered particularly worldly. We wouldn’t deny that he is corrupted by lusts in his heart, but he isn’t conforming himself to the spirit of this age. Miserliness is not the general viewpoint of the world, although greed is. But these are related things, not the same thing.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Keith says:

    Probably be my only post on this piece, and it’s another straight up question.

    How do you propose that one ought to “shoot at those lusts incorporated and inculcated into the whole way the unbelieving world works and promotes itself”?

  3. I’ve somewhat been following this conversation, and I have to say I feel like you’ve missed what worldliness is in the Bible. If the Pharisees were not worldly, I don’t know who is. Christ repeatedly states that the world hates Him, and from everything we see in the gospels it’s not the adulterers and sinners who are his primary enemies, but the religious leaders (Jn 7:7; 15:18-26; cf. 8:23, 44).

    Your problem is an all too common one: equating worldiness with mere external activity when it has just as much to do with internal desires. That’s why James 4 is so crucial in this matter. Worldliness at its heart is a failure to recognize God in His proper place and to submit to Him. The way you define worldliness, a good Roman Catholic, a good Mormon, a good Jew, a good Muslim, etc. are not worldly, whereas Scripture would say they are worldly b/c they are not properly submitted to God. (or do you think they are not enemies of God? Are they his friends?)

    So to answer one of your questions: Yes, misers are very worldly people. They don’t love Jesus as they should, which is evidence that they are part of the world and thus worldly. If they loved Jesus as they should, then they would be willing to share their money with others (Eph 4:17-24, 28). Their worldliness is demonstrated by their selfishness, and Jesus would have us have nothing to do with that mindset and those passions (i.e., lusts of the flesh).

    • Hi Ed

      On what basis would you say the Pharisees were worldly? While they were sinners, enemies of God, driven by various lusts, from my understanding of their beliefs and practices, I wouldn’t describe them as particularly worldly. The Sadducees, yes, but the Pharisees, no.

      However, with this term we are more interested in Christians than non-Christians. When James warns against worldliness, he isn’t warning non-Christians. He is warning Christians about friendship with the world. Your definition: “a failure to recognize God in His proper place and to submit to Him” is too general and isn’t biblical. The Bible clearly has something much more specific in mind in its warnings about the world. I realize that I am being fairly narrow in my definition, but if ‘worldliness’ means ‘any old sinner’, then it is pretty well robbed of its meaning.

      By your definition, every sinner is worldly. If so, why would Mahaney et al feel any need to write their book at all? Why would anyone write on worldliness?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. The reason Mahaney feels a need to write a book about worldliness is the same reason the Bible warns against it and preachers warn against it. Believers have a tendency to not live like believers but to instead live like unbelievers–hence my use of Eph 4.

    The reason you don’t think the Pharisees were worldly is b/c you have redefined worldliness away from the biblical description to the faulty one promoted by most fundamentalists–wordliness is certain activities and behaviors, i.e., it’s not being conservative. That’s why James 4 (along with many other passages) is so important. The issue at its heart is what I said: a failure to recognize God in His proper place and to submit to Him. That why the remedy that James gives to being a friend of the world is to humble yourself and submit to God. That’s also why good Roman Catholics and Mormons are also worldly.

    That failure to recognize God in His proper place and to submit to Him leads to certain activities and mindsets–the kinds of activities that people in rebellion against God will do. That not only includes things like drunkenness and adultery, but things like self-righteousness and greed.

    You ask on what basis I would say the Pharisees are worldly. The basis I already gave–they are the ones primarily described as being in opposition to Christ, and it is the world that Jesus says is in opposition to Him. The world hated him b/c he exposed their sinfulness (exactly what he did to the Pharisees). So I’m calling them worldly b/c Jesus describes them as part of the world and they exemplify one of the ways that worldliness manifests itself.

    And I would say that James (and John) are not merely concerned with Christians. They are concerned with professing Christians. If these professing Christians continue living like the world (i.e., like unregenerate humanity in rebellion against God, which would include groups like the Pharisees) then they demonstrate that they really are part of the world. (e.g., “If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Does that describe a believer?)

    • Ed, I concede that you are correct in several points here.

      Yes to Mahaney’s motivation. I agree. But while I applaud his motivation, I think he fails to grasp worldliness completely. I am not entirely sure why this is, but I think he is predisposed to think as he does because he holds to a generally Reformed view of sanctification. This is a guess on my part, but I think it is reflected in his other book, The Cross Centered Life and in some of the points made in this book. I am not arguing against the things Mahaney is saying, but noting that he hasn’t said enough.

      I don’t think I have redefined worldliness, I have attempted to form my understanding by Scriptural usage. I have written elsewhere on this subject, please check my category head, “Worldliness” in the archives to see some of my work.

      I see what you are saying about the Pharisees. However, I think your case is somewhat tenuous. In Jn 15, I think Jesus is speaking much more broadly than of the Pharisees alone. The whole world was arrayed against him in the end. Even his disciples fled. So while I see what you are saying, I don’t think your argument is one to be dogmatic about. Nevertheless, that question isn’t essential to my view of the Scripture about worldliness itself. The explicit passages teach us what worldliness is.

      With respect to James and John, they are explicitly writing to believers. And yes, it is possible for “the love of the Father is not in him” to describe a believer. While again not something to be dogmatic about, there is such a thing as an Objective Genitive which would interpret that phrase “if any one loves the world the love [of that man] FOR the Father is not in him.” So you don’t have an open and shut case even there.

      But I do thank you for the comments and challenging my thinking. I will have to keep these passages in mind as I continue to work on this and please do write back if you care to.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Keith says:

    “By your definition, every sinner is worldly. If so, why would Mahaney et al feel any need to write their book at all? Why would anyone write on worldliness?”

    Because God doesn’t wan’t people to be worldly and they want to help people come to God.

  6. Keith says:

    Oops, I forgot that I said I would only post once. Sorry.

  7. I noticed you didn’t mention a significant point I brought up about James. If worldliness is what you say it is, why does James give the remedy of humility/submission to God?

  8. A couple of other points:

    There’s a difference between his disciples fleeing and the Pharisees leading the way to kill him. One fits the idea of “hate” much more than the other.

    With respect to James and John, I must reemphasize that they are writing to professing believers–they are not explicitly writing to believers. After all, 1 John is written in large part to help people determine whether or not they truly are believers (unless you interpret the book as describing a Wesleyan type of perfectionism that some believers can attain while others are still just normal Christians). Both writers give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the profession is genuine, but there is the chance it’s not (e.g. James 2:14-26).

    Even if it is an objective genitive, I don’t think believers can be faithfully described as people who do not have a love for the Father. Will there be times in which they do not love Him as they should? Certainly, but that’s different than saying it’s not there. This point is further strengthened by the contrast at the end of the section:

    “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

    I haven’t read Mahaney’s book, so I can’t say whether or not he gets worldliness right, but I can say that you seem to be putting way too much of an emphasis on particular activities/sins that conservative Christians have considered taboo as constituting worldliness, while excluding other sins/people from that category that the Bible would include (e.g., misers, Pharisees).

    Thanks for the interaction

    • Hi Ed

      First, I didn’t deal with the point about humility and submission because I didn’t think it was relevant either way. If we acted with humility and submission, we wouldn’t sin, period. So I didn’t think it advanced your view of worldliness particularly.

      I agree that there is a difference between the disciples fleeing and the Pharisees antagonism. I am not sure that you want to say that the Pharisees led the way to kill our Lord, the Priests seemed to be at the front of that line, and they were Sadducees. Many Pharisees joined in, of course, but the opposition wasn’t exclusively Pharisees, and it wasn’t until the chief priests got involved that the deed was done.

      Well, I won’t quibble about the purpose of James and John. I think we have to take them at their word and wouldn’t put their purpose in exactly the language you have here, but I don’t think it is worth making a big deal about.

      On the objective genitive, I think it plays into the Lord’s parable about God and Mammon also. I do believe genuine believers can get themselves trapped into pretty serious sin. That’s why the warnings are there. Also, sometimes the Scripture writers speak hyperbolically, I would have to think on it a bit to be dogmatic about 1 Jn 2, but one does have to keep that possibility in mind when interpreting Scripture.

      Last, on Mahaney’s book, if you read it you will find that, in spite of my criticisms, his view of the world and worldliness is basically the same as mine. The core chapters deal with these topics: ch. 2 Movies and Internet, ch. 3 Music, ch. 4 Materialism, and ch. 5 Clothing. Where I criticize the book is especially ch. 1, where I think Mahaney blows it on 1 Jn 2.16 and thus confuses the reader and also on the selective and limited applications taken in opposition to worldliness. I think they don’t go far enough or don’t apply their own principles broadly enough in the discussion. You could title the book: Worldliness: Kind of Resisting the Seduction of the Fallen World, Sometimes When it Suits Us. But basically, their definition of world and worldliness is the same as mine, despite my complaints.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  9. The point about humility and submission if definitely relevant. The solution for the problem usually gives significant insight into the real cause of the problem. If it was as simple as you said (humility and submission mean we would never sin) then why don’t Jesus and the apostles simply say, “Christians, just be humble and submit. Amen”? You’re a better expositor than to claim that the solution to the problem is irrelevant in determining the nature of the problem.

    • Well, to be complete, humility and submission are not all that are enjoined in the passage. The argument goes on to about v. 12. But it is an interesting passage overall. Note that those who are warned of friendship with the world are those who are praying and asking amiss, that they might consume it on their lusts.

      So what I am saying, is if someone were to live James 4.6-12, they wouldn’t sin. That would involve pretty well a totally sold out life.

      Anyway, there is more going on in the passage than just the reference to worldliness. I don’t have time to go into it in detail right now, so I’ll leave it at that.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  10. Certainly other things are said, but it’s under the major heading of humility and submission. And I do note that those who are asking amiss are those who are the worldly ones. That fits perfectly with my point that worldliness is a failure to recognize God in his proper place. If I’m asking for things to consume on my own lusts, I’m putting myself in the position that only God deserves. Instead, I’m to ask based on God’s will and desires. What would be the remedy for such a problem? The remedy would be to humble myself and submit myself to God, putting him in his proper place. Neat how that all works out, eh?

    I’ve already gone into it in detail, so no need to worry about that. That’s why I brought up the passage in the first place.

    • Well, all I’ll say is that one passage isn’t the whole doctrine.

      Do you have your work in Jas 4 posted online anywhere?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  11. I don’t really have anything posted online (perhaps a good thing :) )

    I’ll try to see if I can track down perhaps a commentary or two that expresses well what I think the passage is saying.

  12. I would quibble here and there with some of the exegesis (and would make clearer some of the connections between sections), but I think by and large Peter Davids in the NIGTC on James lays out what I think the passage in James 4 is saying.

  13. Also, though he doesn’t draw out some of the implications of worldliness in the passage, I was challenged by Paul Tripp’s message on James 4:1-10
    http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=3310810613

    • Ed, thanks for the references. I’ll check them out.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3