Hindrances to Discipleship: The World - page 4

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From the Fall 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Hindrances to Discipleship: The World

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
Director of Ministry, C.S. Lewis Institute


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  Commenting on the evangelical church in 1994, theologian David Wells said,

The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself . . . It may be that Christian faith, which has made many easy alliances with modern culture in the past few decades, is also living in a fool’s paradise, comforting itself about all the things God is doing . . . while it is losing its character, if not its soul.10

  Today there is good evidence that what Wells suspected is correct. To cite just two examples, in 2008 Pew Research reported that 47 percent of evangelicals believe the pluralist idea that “many religions can lead to eternal life,”11 something that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago. In a 2008 report, Barna Research found that the combined divorce rate of evangelical and nonevangelical Christians was 32 percent versus 33 percent for the population at large.12 Many other examples could be given, but space prevents it. Jerry Bridges sums up well what is happening in the American church:

The world . . . is characterized by the subtle and relentless pressure it brings to bear upon us to conform to its values and practices. It creeps up on us little by little. What was once unthinkable becomes thinkable, then doable, and finally acceptable to society at large. Sin becomes respectable, and so Christians finally embrace it.13

What Does Worldliness Look Like?

  In the middle of the twentieth century, the fundamentalist subculture identified worldliness with smoking, drinking alcohol, dancing, playing cards, and the like. Today some would identify it with driving fancy cars, living in expensive homes, wearing costly jewelry or clothing. Others might suggest it involves watching R-rated movies, listening to certain types of music, going to parties, and so forth. How do we distinguish true worldliness from cultural taboos? F.F. Bruce offers wise insight, “Worldliness, it must be emphasized in the face of much superficial thought and language on the subject, does not lie in the things we do or the places we frequent; it lies in the human heart, in the set [orientation] of human affections and attitudes.”14
   If we think of worldliness then as a list of prohibited behaviors, which is a common approach, we are on the wrong track. James gets right to the point when he says indulging worldly desires is spiritual adultery and that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Worldliness is not a matter of “keeping the rules” but of the desires of the heart, as Bruce reminds us. It is first and foremost a matter of what the heart loves. It is “the enthronement of something other than God as the supreme object of man’s interests and affections.”15 What’s more, the object does not even have to be evil. “Pleasures and occupations, not necessarily wrong in themselves, become so when an all-absorbing attention is paid to them.”16

Biblical Insights on the Peril of Worldliness

  The Bible provides much valuable insight and direction for dealing with this deadly snare. In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 13–20; Luke 8:4–15), for instance, Jesus speaks of four responses people can make to the word of God.
   In the first hearer, there is no understanding of the word, which allows the devil to snatch away the word before it can make an impact.

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