December 17, 2017

Love Not the World: Winning the War Against Worldliness

A review by Brian Collins

Leedy, Randy. Love Not the World: Winning the War Against Worldlinessclip_image001. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2012.

Discussing topics such as worldliness or eternal punishment or ecclesiastical boundaries are rarely enjoyable. The gospel, the new heavens and new earth, or the missionary advance of the church are more engaging topics. Nevertheless, ecclesiastical boundaries are necessary for healthy missionary advance. Understanding the punishment we all deserve for our guilt and sin is important for fully understanding the salvation we have in Christ. And understanding and applying Scriptural teaching about the world is essential for living out the gospel and its implications.

Leedy’s study of biblical theme of the world breaks into three parts. In two chapters he defines the world. Though this terminology is New Testament in origin, Leedy finds a parallel in Old Testament warnings for Israel not to conform to the nations. Since God’s New Testament people are multi-national, the Bible shifts from warning against conformity to the nations to warning against conformity to the world. Leedy does a good job documenting why this shift was necessary as well as surveying the varying senses of kosmos and aion, the two Greek words typically translated “world” in English versions. This section could have been strengthened, in my opinion, by reducing the space given to describing the difficulty that early Jewish Christians had in embracing Gentile Christians to make space for an examination of why world or age replaces nations in these warnings.*

The core of the book deals with the difficult task of defining what worldliness is. Based on the theological definition developed in the first part of the book, Leedy surveys various New Testament passages that describe worldliness. From this survey he is able to chart and categorize the explicit Scriptural descriptions of worldliness. But what about issues that the Scripture does not directly address? Leedy argues that the open-ended nature of Scriptural vice-lists compels Christians to acknowledge that Scripture does not provide a comprehensive list of worldly behaviors and attitudes to avoid. In other words, simply because it doesn’t show up in Scripture as explicitly prohibited doesn’t mean a Christian has the liberty to love it or do it. On the other hand, Leedy warns against simply adopting human lists of dos and don’ts. In the face of these false alternatives, Scripture demands discernment, and Leedy illustrates this by examining passages in which Scripture models this demand for discernment. His treatment of 1 Corinthians 8-10 is masterful, providing not only a clear outline of Paul’s argument but also a model for understanding how the epistolary authors reason with their readers. With this Scripture foundation in place, Leedy sets up a framework for applying Scripture to present-day culture.

The book’s final chapter moves into practical thoughts about overcoming worldliness. It begins with a serious consideration of cost of worldliness, before moving toward practical steps for resisting worldliness. This application is firmly grounded on the recognition of what Christ has accomplished in overcoming the world. Sanctification is not a matter of mere will power. It does involve means of grace, however. Leedy lists, “the indwelling Spirit, Scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers,” and he develops at length the role Scripture study and meditation play in overcoming worldliness. No doubt space constraints played a role in focusing on Scripture, but this section would have been strengthened by a consideration of the other elements listed. I would have been especially interested in a discussion about the role of the indwelling Spirit.

In all, Leedy has provided a helpful guidebook to a distasteful but very important topic.

Brian Collins recently completed a Ph.D. in theology at Bob Jones University and is currently employed at the BJU Press. This article originally appeared here.

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