Review: Chapter 6 – “How to Love the World” by Jeff Purswell 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 Four, Chapter Five.
Jeff Purswell writes the last chapter of this book. He is dean of the Pastors College of Sovereign Grace Ministries and on the pastoral staff of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The last chapter of Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World is an attempt to turn a more negative approach to the world to a more positive approach. Purswell begins with an illustration of the boundless energy of his own young son and his efforts at restraining and training such a lad. He finds himself often saying, “no”, and his son seems to wonder, “But what can I do?”1 In a book on resisting worldliness, Purswell is concerned that readers might have a similar feeling towards the subject. The last chapter, therefore, is an essay attempting to outline a positive perspective towards Christian living in the fallen world. He says,
It would be tragic indeed if we ignored, diluted, or otherwise marginalized the command this book began with: ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world’ (1 John 2.15). It would be equally tragic if we defined our relationship with the world simply in terms of negation. For John’s Gospel affirms both God’s love for the world (John 3.16) and his intention that we be in the world (John 17.18).2
My main criticism of this chapter can be seen, I think, from this quotation. The criticism is this – in a book about worldliness, it is astonishing that one would so badly confuse God’s call for separation from the world with the Christian’s mandate in the world. When the subject is worldliness, there remains a vital Christian concern about the world as defined by C. J. Mahaney in chapter 1:
The world we’re not to love is the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God. The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world.3
In chapter 6, Jeff Purswell instead deals with the created world and the world of humanity in need of salvation. He does not have our relationship to the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God in view at all. His subject matter, while ably presented for the most part does not relate to worldliness as such. As a result, in my view, he fails to be clear and allows for confusion to enter the mind of the reader. Should I love the world? Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Love not the world’? Is the Bible contradictory?
The confusion, in part, comes from different senses of the term ‘world’. There is a sense in which the world must be totally opposed by the believer, the sense of ‘organized system’ as noted above; there is a sense in which the believer should be fully engaged in the world, but this is not the world system we are called to shun.
I believe the last chapter would be stronger if it re-emphasized the themes of the rest of the book, while making it clear that by avoiding worldliness we don’t mean some kind of ‘other-worldliness’ that seeks isolation from the created world or a failure to evangelize the lost world. The balance of the chapter was heavily weighted to these latter topics (about 95% I would estimate) while giving only cursory acknowledgement to the principle of separation from the world.
The first thing Purswell does in the chapter is attempt to create some understanding of his subject. He says we need a “biblical worldview” in order to approach the world properly. So he begins by offering us The World: A Biography.
In this, he attempts to give us the basic story of the world under four heads, “creation, fall, redemption, consummation.”4 He concludes the ‘biography’ with this paragraph:
What a story! The grandness of its scale, the integrity of its parts, the clarity of its moral vision, the nobility of its themes, and the authenticity of its narrative dwarf the greatest accomplishments of literature. What’s more, it’s all true! It conforms to reality. It elucidates the human predicament. It explains the world. It makes sense of our lives. There’s no dimension of reality it doesn’t embrace, no sphere of human existence it doesn’t touch, no aspect of our lives it doesn’t address. Here we find clarity for our lives, direction for our activities, and hope for our future.5
From this ‘biography’, Purswell offers three tasks to the believer:
- Enjoy the World (pp. 147-154)
- Engage the World (pp. 154-161)
- Evangelize the World (pp. 161-168)
In fairness, I need to admit that Purswell does mention the “rebellious, independent, God-rejecting mindset of those who inhabit this creation… mankind in settled opposition to God.”6 This is at the beginning of the ‘Enjoy the World’ section. He says “we must not share this world’s outlook, live by its values, cherish its cravings, or pursue its goals.”7 But he quickly turns from this small caveat and spends his time advocating for enjoyment of the physical world.
Purswell argues for enjoyment of God’s world based on two principles: (1) that creation is God’s witness to himself [general revelation], therefore as believers we should take delight in what God reveals of himself through creation; and (2) that creation is God’s gift and God intended for man to enjoy it. This should involve us, he says, in knowing God, imitating God [through creativity, arts, other activities], and delighting in God. He does make one bizarre statement in this section:
The golfer who launches a drive 350 yards down the center of the fairway reflects the prowess of Providence.8
Somehow I have never thought of it that way. Of course, I’ve never been able to launch a 350 yard drive, either. Maybe 10 yards! I suppose that reflects the depravity of man.
Under the header of engaging the world, he still has the physical world in mind and ties our responsibility of engagement to the dominion command in Gen 1.28. He acknowledges the distortions brought on by the fall, but insists this command remains in force, thus mandating Christians to make no distinction between “secular and sacred” and to view every activity of life in this world as an opportunity to live out God’s command. Here he says:
Our jobs aren’t something to be endured until we can really serve God (at church, on a missions trip, or until we can get a job at a Christian organization) — they are serving God! They’re a channel by which we help to fulfill the cultural mandate, contributing our gifts and labors to those of others who develop and protect God’s creation.9
He goes on to discuss our attitudes to work in other ways and our attitudes and service to God in our homes.
From this point, he moves to the responsibility we have of evangelizing the world. I’ll just offer a few quotes to give something of the gist of his points here:
A biblical worldview can transform evangelism from a neglected Christian duty or a mark of elite spirituality to an exhilarating privilege for every believer.10
This cosmic vantage point should bring fresh perspective and motivation to a task we often shy away from. Far from being an optional extra of the Christian life, evangelism lies at the core of God’s campaign to restore his entire creation — the reconciliation of his rebellious image bearers to himself.11
Strictly speaking, evangelism is sharing the message of the gospel … our daily lives in all their variety — vocation, relationships, study, community involvement, artistic endeavors, leisure — have the potential, when pursued for God’s glory, to demonstrate something of the gospel and its effects.12
That last quote might seem a bit soft. He does go from there to talk about serving “the poor and underprivileged”13 and such talk rings warning bells for me, but he goes on to say:
Of course, such endeavors are not a substitute for the evangelistic task, although the distinction between these responsibilities is increasingly blurred in the evangelical world.14
Most fundamentalists would have little disagreement with these three points. We might be a bit leery of the danger that preoccupation with social do-goodism might have for evangelism, but the essence of the message on these points are biblical.
The last section of the chapter is called The World and the Cross. Purswell begins this section with this paragraph:
Enjoying the world, engaging the world, evangelizing the world — all are ways by which God calls us to be in the world and love the world. We receive God’s earthly gifts, pursue God’s purpose in earthly life, and work for the salvation of people made in God’s image. All of life lived for the glory of God (1 Cor 10.31).15
Well, true enough, for the most part. But we are called to be in the world? Where else would we be? We are called to love the world in some ways? Where is that in the Bible? We are called to be stewards of all that God has given us and we are called to evangelize the lost. But love the world?
And that’s not all… wasn’t this book about worldliness? Purswell himself asks that question in the next paragraph. He says that it isn’t easy to live in this world and navigate between the concerns of loving the wicked world and loving the created world (my terms). He suggests that some have “strictly spiritual preoccupations”16 who forget the “good creation to be cared for and enjoyed.”17. Others delight so much in this world and this life that they basically give no thought to spiritual things and spiritual needs and make no impact for Christ in the world.
Purswell says the apostle Paul solved living with these two polarities by focusing on the cross (Gal 6.14). He says the cross “reinterpreted his [Paul’s] past”18 and “defined his present” and “determined his future” (Phil 1.21)19. He goes on to talk about how the cross ought to tell us who we are, interpret the world we inhabit, transform the way I look at others, and give my life purpose.
This is all sort of an echo of a Mahaney theme, The Cross-Centered Life. But how does this semi-mystical approach differ significantly from those who have “strictly spiritual preoccupations”20 who forget the “good creation to be cared for and enjoyed”?21 It is hard to see how that can be achieved. He says, however, if we will just do this cross thing:
We won’t be enamored of a fallen world that opposes God; it is for such a world that our Savior died. Nor will we ignore the world, untouched by its God-glorifying potential or unmoved by its needs.22
I am not sure exactly how this is supposed to happen. The magic of sanctified meditation, perhaps?
While I don’t disagree with all the concepts taught in this chapter, I find it hard to reconcile with making them the final emphasis of a book on worldliness. It is almost as if there is a sense of guilt at being so ‘hard-edged’ towards worldliness in the first five chapters. This last chapter is the feel-good chapter. It seems to say, you know, the fall was bad, but it wasn’t that bad. You can still love the world. Just don’t love the bad parts.
And in the final analysis, it seems to me that the book is highly selective when it comes to ‘the bad parts’ of the world. A line is drawn about music, for example, that eliminates vulgar language and metaphors in songs, but leaves the concept of adopting any worldly style wide open. A line is drawn about immodest dress, but ostentation is barely mentioned, and men are not in the radar at all when it comes to appearance. A line is sort of drawn about ‘stuff’ but it is kind of hazy and ill-defined. A line is drawn about movies and entertainment, and for the most part seems to be drawn well. But in the final analysis, is it merely these four categories where we find the problem of worldliness? And in these categories, if something doesn’t fall under the excluding lines, is it all good? All permissible, at least? The warnings for the most part don’t seem as sober as they should.
The Scriptures are really unequivocal about our attitude toward the world. The world is not the friend of the believer or of God. Being good stewards of the earth is not the same thing as loving the world ‘in a good sense’. Being an evangelist and loving sinners is not the same thing as loving the world in any sense.
- pp. 139-140 [↩]
- p. 140 [↩]
- p. 26, emphasis original [↩]
- p. 141 [↩]
- p. 147 [↩]
- p. 147 [↩]
- ibid. [↩]
- p. 153 [↩]
- p. 157 [↩]
- pp. 161-162 [↩]
- p. 162 [↩]
- p. 166 [↩]
- p. 167 [↩]
- p. 167 [↩]
- p. 168 – note that he takes 1 Cor 10.31 out of context here, but so do many fundamentalists! [pet peeve] [↩]
- p. 168 [↩]
- p. 169 [↩]
- p. 169 [↩]
- ibid [↩]
- p. 168 [↩]
- p. 169 [↩]
- p. 171 [↩]