a summary: Worldliness edited by Mahaney

My review of Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, C. J. Mahaney, ed. turned out a little longer than I intended. I reviewed the book chapter by chapter, you can find each individual review here: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six.

As I think back over these reviews, each chapter review was written as a ‘first impression’. My first impressions may be  more negative than need be. It is easy to be a critic. On the whole, I think that the book has some merit, in spite of my criticisms. However, it is not a book I can recommend on the subject of worldliness because of two weaknesses.

First is a redefinition of worldliness which makes the problem with worldliness to be a matter of ordinary lusts that inhabit every human heart rather than a captivation of the heart by the world. The reason this is so problematic is that there is something about the world that is very attractive to us and we are easily deceived by it. By muting the warning, the danger of deception increases.

What is it that makes the world attractive? Why, it is those very lusts we share with it. The things of the world are infused with these lusts, enveloped in them, marinated in them! They put the sizzle in the world’s steak, they put the sparkle in the world’s jewels, they are the kin of our heart. Our heart resonates to the touch of the world’s strings. Why is it that the world exploits sexuality to sell everything from automobiles to soap? Because the world appeals to our heart this way.

If the problem with the world is only a matter of the ordinary lusts of my heart, why would there be a need for a special warning against the world? No, the world itself is gorged with lusts on purpose to catch and deceive men’s hearts.

So the first weakness of the book is the redefinition of worldliness.

The second weakness of the book may be a little harder to see. It is the limitation of application to only certain aspects of worldliness. This is most easily seen in the chapter on music by Kauflin, who will not admit any worldly aspects to musical style at all. Yet worldly people can talk about a ‘sultry sound’. If that isn’t worldliness infusing music, I don’t know what it is. It is also seen on the chapter on clothes, specifically women and their clothes — as if men have no problems with worldliness and the way they dress. Is there no worldliness in men’s fashions? Well, blow me down! Amazing. Just those wicked wenches to whom we need to harp endlessly on modesty!1 I think this limitation is a serious oversight.

In addition to these weaknesses, there is some weakness in making the whole book about particular applications. It is not that I disagree that there is worldliness in the media, in music, in ‘stuff’ and in dress, but that the whole concept of worldliness needs more thorough exposition from the scriptures and perhaps less specific application.

After all, can someone read this book and come away thinking, “Ok, I’ve got my media under control, my music is all theologically rich, I don’t have much stuff, and I’m a guy so why worry about clothes… I must not be worldly”?

This last is not meant to be as strong a criticism as the two main weaknesses.

On the positive side, I would say that it is good to see prominent evangelicals addressing the issue. A lot of what they have to say is good. The chapter on media is really quite good and would be a good resource as a stand alone essay. The chapter on modesty is good as well, it is a worthy topic to address. I think it is primarily based on a message by Mahaney that is probably available online. It might be worth pointing people to.

Bottom line: the book isn’t terrible, but it could have been much more. For me, it scores a 3 out of 5.



  1. Please note, I think the overall teaching on female modesty in this book is well done. The focus is just too narrow when the subject is worldliness. []


  1. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Have appreciated the critique, Don. I haven’t read the book myself, but as I think I mentioned earlier, may get it one day. You have at least in the meantime provided info to pass along to others who may have questions as they pick up this book.
    Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.

    • See you soon. Looks to be an interesting week. We are living out the Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3