Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

3 Oct 2013

Will Anyone Speak Against Worldliness?


There is an elephant in the room of Evangelicalism that very few want to talk about. If we bring it up, we face ridicule and labels. “Legalist!” some shout, having little understanding of what legalism really is. “Traditionalist!” others say, as if we don’t have a rich church history and a very old Book as our guide.  “Isolationist!” the more thoughtful may counter, having seen some create odd sub-cultures. “Anti-Missionalist,” the more edgy will say, as if being of the world is a necessary part of being in the world to reach the world.  Fearing these reprisals, many remain silent about this elephant in the room of Evangelicalism. However, God is not hesitant to speak on this issue. He says, “Do not love the world.”

There is a lot of debate about what “loving the world” means, but I don’t think God leaves us in the dark. As a matter of fact, he illumines us as believers through His word, causing us to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). I want to encourage you to meditate on what God says about loving the world, and then I would encourage you to apply it to your life and ministry. God says:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

Ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. Do I love the world? Do I love that which is in and of the world? Are my loves any different from those of the unbelievers around me?
  2. Do I take sinful desires and actions seriously? Do I see how opposed they are to the holiness and will of God? Do I smell the shed blood of Christ or hear eternal judgment pronounced as I see sin committed? Is what I am willing to accept as allowable for life and entertainment different than that of unbelievers around me?
  3. Do I arrange my life in such a way that I am not spending my energies fulfilling fleshly desires, chasing after what I see, and finding my identity in what I possess? Are my priorities distinct from unbelievers around me?
For all of our faults and failures, personal separation from worldliness is something that Biblical Separatists have continued to speak against without apology. The lifestyle of stranger and pilgrim in this world and culture is ok with us, and we think it is ok with God. 

22 Responses

  1. Reagan Rose

    I really appreciate this post. Thank you!

    I have found that the greatest foe in my battle against worldliness is not the disapproval of unbelievers, but tends rather to be the fear of rebuke from of other Christians. Brothers, who when I ask for help in these areas, come instead with warnings of legalism, unknowingly give credence to the desires of my flesh, while at the same time helping me to quench the Spirit’s conviction in my heart.

    I found your second question the most convicting. For myself the war is most prevalent in my entertainment habits. Yet when I take a step back and look at what’s on Television (the commercials alone) or in the Movies (even children’s movies), I can’t help but come to the conclusion that I am willfully choosing to be entertained by watching other people, albeit fictional people, sin. Yet, as you noted, the Evangelical world tells me that that’s a legalistic attitude, that I just need to look for ‘redemptive themes’ in entertainment as if that somehow makes all the sex, blasphemy, covetousness portrayed somehow okay.

    These things ought not be so! Thus, I found your post, especially the final sentence, both encouraging and comforting. So again, I thank you for writing.

  2. PhilipT

    I’m all about speaking against worldliness, but I think there are several problems with the fundamentalist/separatist approach:

    1. Definition. Who gets to define worldliness and how will it be defined? Does worldliness refer to culture in general? Does it refer to 21st century culture vs. 1950’s culture? To what extent does Scripture itself define worldliness? And how do biblical examples teach us how to interact with the world? I think the fundamentalist thinks that they know what they’re talking about in terms of “worldliness”, but this definition needs to be presented and defined. Perhaps the reason why the fundamentalist feels that other evangelicals aren’t rigorous in their efforts against worldliness is that the fundamentalist has arrived at an entirely different definition of the term. I think most evangelicals would be happy to oppose worldliness just as much as fundamentalists, but I think cultural fundamentalists and evangelicals simply define “worldliness” differently.

    2. Consistency. In my experience, many fundamentalists promote inconsistent definitions of “worldliness” which subtract from a holistic and biblical worldview. In other words, it isn’t enough simply to say what we should oppose as Christians, but we also need to talk about what we support and why. We can’t just talk about separating from Christians, we also need to be talking (and, per the biblical text, primarily talking about) unity with believers. Non-fundamentalists often tend to do a better job of thinking in better categories (i.e., Carson’s treatment of Niebuhr’s categories in “Christ and Culture Revisited”).

    These two issues are critical for fundamentalists/separatists to think through as they advocate approaches to worldliness in the evangelical community.

  3. There are a few conservative evangelicals who have strongly spoken against worldliness in the recent past. . . a sampling is below. I don’t think they would have a problem with what you wrote or the questions you posed as a guide either. However, it seems some within the “Separatist” camp continue to advocate that they alone speak about these matters, I wonder how true that sentiment really is.

  4. Pearson Johnson

    I admit to some generalization in what I wrote and am very thankful for those who speak out on issues of worldliness, and hope they continue to do so consistently. Piper especially speaks out consistently in this area, but I think you’d agree that the general tenor of Evangelicalism is to ignore or avoid issues of personal separation. The articles you reference are very helpful.

    Philip– God gets to define worldliness, and he does so clearly enough for all of us in the passage I reference. The applications of what sinful lusts of the eyes and flesh and what is prideful need to be made more carefully and consistently I think, reflecting on what the Scriptures say is sinful. I am arguing for consistency for sure, and I think, while some are inconsistent in one direction, more are in the other. Thanks for your comments.

    Reagan– I think your experience happens regularly. I am glad the questions were helpful– as they are for me.

  5. PhilipT

    >>>”God gets to define worldliness”

    Right on. So what Biblical norms are all other believers besides the fundamentalist failing to follow?

    >>>”the general tenor of Evangelicalism is to ignore or avoid issues of personal separation”

    While this was noted in response to Tim, would you be willing to admit (painting with a similar broad-brush) that the general tenor of Fundamentalism is to over-apply or overemphasize issues of personal separation?

  6. Pearson Johnson

    I think the applications are as varied as that which fits under “the lust of the eyes, flesh, and the pride in possessions.”

    In many cases certain segments of Fundamentalism has for sure. I wasn’t speaking of “Fundamentalism” as a movement so much as those committed to biblical separatism as a conviction.

  7. PhilipT

    Regarding the first point: I attend an evangelical seminary and they speak strongly against these lusts and even offer particular applications against these lusts in preaching and teaching. While they may not emphasize issues like musical rhythm or movie attendance, they do a great job speaking to clear sin issues in this area. For example, they have great accountability and support groups for people who struggle with porn, same-sex attraction, etc. In the separatist Bible college I attended, these sins were treated as extreme and people were afraid to come forward with these issues because of the separatist mentality. So in the end, I’d say from my experience that most evangelicals tend to handle worldliness matters better than separatist-minded groups. What in your experience leads you to a different conclusion?

    Regarding the second point: This seems like equivocation to me. Whether we’re talking about those who claim the name of “fundamentalist” or those who are “committed to biblical separatism as a conviction”, are we really talking about two separate groups? And even if they are, does that really change the question? Would you not admit that the general tenor of those like yourself who are “committed to biblical separation as a conviction” is to over-apply or overemphasize issues of personal separation? You’re willing to make the above critique of such a broad spectrum of other believers, but are you willing to make a similar self-critique?

  8. Tim Allchin

    When you think of the movement of Evangelicalism you have to divide it into its various factions. Conservative Evangelicals, which I cited in my articles, are very vocal about speaking out against worldliness. Evangelicals who are seeker friendly nature, are not near as vocal about speaking out against worldliness because they all utilize many forms of pop culture in their ministry methodologies. Evangelicals who are from the inner-city African-American church cultures, often speak out about worldliness as well. Evangelicals who were from the holiness traditions often speak out against worldliness such as Pentecostals and Wesleyans.


    I was knocking on doors in some of the rough neighborhoods in Chicago yesterday for an event we have coming up for the biblical counseling center. There is a whole world out there of African-American churches that fundamentalism and popular evangelicalism does not often interact with. They are not who we think of when we say evangelical but they’re very much evangelical. They would consider themselves as evangelicals and they definitely would preach about the need to avoid worldliness.

    So if what you mean is that seeker sensitive evangelicalism does not speak out commonly against worldliness, I would agree with you. That segment of Evangelicalism is clearly the most well-known segment of Evangelicalism. They are well-known because they’re very good at using well-known forms of pop culture to communicate with a broad audience. Whether using pop culture is a smart idea is a totally different question altogether. I recognize that many on here would say that that is the worldliness that they are referring to.

    So, if what you mean is that seeker sensitive evangelicalism does not speak out commonly against worldliness, I would agree with you.

  9. PhilipT

    But isn’t it so much easier to paint with a broad-brush and then naturally come to the conclusion that you’re the only one that applies Scripture correctly? Wait…

    And that’s what I love most about this article. It begins by expressing frustration with supposed unfair claims by unnamed evangelicals, but then ends with unfair depictions of all who are not “Biblical Separatists.” This is a case example of how *not* to engage in thoughtful dialogue on the issue.

  10. Pearson Johnson

    Well, Philip and Tim, I hope, at the end of the day (which it is, and it was a beautiful one here in Detroit) regardless of how well I expressed my thoughts, that we will be those who are willing to speak out against worldliness and the sin for which Christ died. My main point was to give a call to that and to point out, as many others have, that too few professing believers in the church today take sin and the call to holiness seriously in daily life choices. Let’s be biblical in our commendations and condemnations and be Christlike in our aspirations.

    Thanks again for your comments. May God be glorified in our attitudes and actions.

  11. PhilipT

    I’m thankful for your concern for speaking out against worldliness. I’m thankful for your comment on the need to positively pursue righteousness and Christlikeness. That’s admirable.

    There’s just one line that runs like a thread through this post which I wish wasn’t here: “too few professing believers in the church today take sin and the call to holiness seriously in daily life choices.” This kind of attitude indicates an unhealthy bunker mentality that constantly bemoans being the only prophet true to God.

    I would encourage you as a brother in Christ to spend more time calling people to positive holiness, clearly defining worldliness according to Scripture, articulating a biblical worldview, and less time claiming that you’re the only one doing it.

  12. BE


    I would encourage you, as a brother in Christ, to read/listen more carefully so that you do not rebuke someone for something they did not do. Pearson’s blog post does what you encourage him to do (call people to holiness, define worldliness according to the Scripture) and does not do what you rebuke him for (claim to be the only one doing it; having a bunker mentality that claims to be the only prophet of God). He simply stated that not enough people are warning against worldliness (something the Bible warns against).

    Perhaps you think enough people are warning against worldliness and calling people to holiness. Maybe you even think too may people are doing so. If so, then you should argue that enough people are sounding the warning, rather than arguing against something Pearson never said.


  13. PhilipT


    I agree that this post moves in the direction that I would encourage. But my concern or admonition (I wouldn’t classify it as a rebuke) regards the mentality that self-identified “Biblical Separatists” are the only ones practicing a biblical approach to worldliness runs through this post and the comments. While I don’t know that it is intentional on the part of the writer, it certainly comes through in an unfortunate way. Here are a few examples to demonstrate that I’m drawing it from this thread:

    “Will *Anyone* Speak Against Worldliness?”

    “an elephant in the room of Evangelicalism that *very few* want to talk about.”

    “*many* remain silent”

    “the *general tenor* of Evangelicalism is to ignore or avoid issues of personal separation”

    “*too few* professing believers in the church today take sin and the call to holiness seriously in daily life choices”

    As Tim noted, there are many who speak to this issue. The argument is broad-brushed and only works well from a sectarian perspective that ignores the great contributions of other modern believers in this regard. This whole mentality that “Biblical Separatists” or fundamentalists are one of the few left who are speaking out against worldliness is flat wrong. And it simply isn’t healthy to have this kind of syndrome that everyone else has missed the boat.

  14. This whole post confuses me a bit as to who it is written and for what purpose. I interpreted the author to be saying that separatists should not compromise about speaking out against wordliness. He then cites his experience that speaking out against wordliness can draw the ire of “evangelicals” who refuse to do the same or practice separation from wordliness.

    I agree that many evangelicals compromise by not speaking out about wordliness. This is especially true of those within a seeker-sensitive tribe.

    I agree that many evangelicals marginalize and ridicule those who do speak out against wordliness particularly those who would advocate conservative church practices.

    I agree that it is entirely appropriate to teach, speak out and apply biblical principles about wordliness as best as you can understand them.

    I disagree that those who consider themselves “separatist” within the broad evangelical stream (I include Fundamentalism ) are the only ones speaking out against wordliness.

    I disagree that there will ever be one norm or standard of wordliness in the global christian church.

    I disagree that you could not bring up your concerns about wordliness to conservative evangelicals, wesleyans, conservative african-american churches, most of the global evangelical church in africa or latin america, missouri synod lutherans, most southern baptists, many methodist churches, mennonites, evangelical anglicans, or even fundamentalist baptist, without being mocked, experiencing reprisal or being labeled as “isolationist, traditionalist, or anti-missionalist.”

    I don’t know you or where you are coming in writing this article but my concern is whether or not you have actually spent time with any of these evangelical traditions before you assumed their response. Don’t assume african-american missionary baptist traditions will mistreat you because you are conservative in issues of wordliness. Don’t assume conservative anglicans will mock your concerns when they hold to the “common book of prayer” to ensure fidelity in worship. Don’t worry about whether most southern baptist will hear you out, they will and share your concerns. If you think a Missouri Synod Lutheran will quickly dismiss your concerns, I think you will find differently. However, you have to have the courage to get to know your brothers in Christ outside of conservative evangelicalism /fundamentalism.

    If you wonder if Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybles, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, or Stephen Furtick will push back on your understanding of worldliness, I think you know they will. However, they are one small but influential part of “Evangelicalism.” Go ahead and continue to speak up to those evangelicals from the seeker tribes, even if they marginalize you there are many other tribes where you will find some common ground about your concerns over wordliness. You might just have to overlook the fact that they baptize babies:)

  15. PhilipT

    To further address the issue that those who teach and preach against worldliness are in the minority, I’ll expand on Tim’s list. As Tim has noted, this doesn’t include many small denominations or those lesser-known by myself. Here we go:

    Al Mohler (SBC – the largest Protestant denomination in the US):
    He’s also spoken out against theological and moral drift as well as in support of some of the other mens’ stands against worldliness. Mohler’s approach, from my experience, is typical of the spirit within the SBC. I could offer dozens of similar resources on or from SBC professors, pastors, and leaders to a similar end.

    Jerry Bridges (Navigators):
    Bridges has written a number of books on holiness and addressing specifics of worldliness in a clear and biblical manner.

    Mark Dever (9Marks):

    Kevin DeYoung (Reformed Church in America):

    John Piper (Desiring God Ministries):

    Mark Driscoll (Acts 29):

    C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries):

    Bryan Chapell (PCA):
    See also extensive treatments by Tim Keller as another excellent example within the PCA.

    Sinclair Ferguson (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals):,,PTID307086_CHID560462_CIID1947798,00.html

    Iain Murray (Presbyterian Church of Australia):

    D. A. Carson (The Gospel Coalition):

    John MacArthur (Grace to You Ministries):

    Carl Trueman (Orthodox Presbyterian Church):
    There are many other examples from the Reformation21 blog that I could have pulled.

    I could continue to pull in more examples of lesser and similarly influential pastors, teachers, and leaders within evangelicalism today in order to disprove the notion that hardly anyone speaks against worldliness, but I have to get other things done today. Surely the efforts of these men of God do not deserve to be marginalized in a reckless rush towards separation. They should be supported and joined in their calls against worldliness and towards holiness.

  16. Pearson Johnson

    I hope you are right that all the streams of evangelicalism you are well-acquainted with are speaking consistently about sin, worldliness, and holiness. If they are, whether or not I am aware of it, I am all for it. I would love for you to write an article on the encouragements we can gain from this emphasis seen in the Evangelical church today. I say this with sincerity, not sarcasm.

    If I had said some of what you say I said, I would disagree with myself too! Let’s just make sure we agree with what John said.


  17. BE


    I imagine neither of us wants a drawn out back and forth on this issue, but let me just highlight a couple of things from some of the links you provided (I didn’t look at all of them).

    Description of Dever’s message: “his lecture will explore the strange contrast between the Bible’s warnings against worldliness, and the churches comparative unconcern. Why don’t we preach against this anymore, and do we even know what it is?”

    Promo for DeYoung’s book: “The hole in our holiness is that we don’t seem to care much about holiness….the problem is clear: too few Christians look like Christ and too many don’t seem all that concerned about it.”

    Mahaney’s book; Randy Alcorn’s blurb: “C. J. Mahaney and friends-men I trust-have written an excellent treatment of a vital and recently neglected subject. The difference between the world and the church is eroding at an alarming rate, and we need help with holiness.”

    Are you concerned that all of these people are “unhealthy to have this kind of syndrome that everyone else has missed the boat”? Or perhaps they, like Pearson, are simply stating what they believe to be true–worldliness is a problem, and not enough people are addressing it.


  18. PhilipT


    1. I understand the proclivity of writers and speakers to emphasize the scarcity of the address of their topic in order to draw attention to the import of their subject matter. While I accept this as typical of writers, I would expect a blogger or author who is addressing this *one* topic (viz., the lack of speaking against worldliness) to offer some sort of evidence of those who have intentionally avoided the topic. Even a personal example would have been helpful.

    2. Not all of those quotes are alike. Some speak of the breadth of the problem of worldliness within the church and not the failure to address the issue (intro to DeYoung). Others ask open-ended questions rather than making statements or arguments for a general rule (Dever). Others have overstated their case and convey an unnecessary spirit of “Lone Wolf syndrome” (perhaps Alcorn).

    3. I tend to understand men in the context of their ministries. Despite these men’s concerns about worldliness or even the paucity of material on the topic, they continue to pursue fellowship and cooperation with other evangelicals who also push back in this area. They are, in a sense, on the front lines of the issue, encouraging their brothers to speak out more on these topics. On the other hand, when self-identified “separationists” raise the issue, it often leads to more and more separation and insulation from good brothers who are pursuing holiness. For those safely behind the lines who have long-since codified lists of what is or isn’t worldly, it provides an excuse to disobey commands towards unity and leads to an unnecessary spirit of hostility. In summary: I’m excited when I hear unity-focused believers calling out other believers over issues like this, but I’m concerned when I see separation-focused believers calling out other believers in a similar way. Call it a double-standard, but if we always focus on what comes easy for us, we’ll never become aware of our own blindspots.

  19. These days I am much more concerned with HOW people speak on this subject of utmost importance. What I mean is how we speak against worldliness. Many (most) Christians I know do not follow the admonitions of Scripture on matters such as this, “Speaking to yourselves…” Instead all-too-often I hear believers chiding the world for being… worldly. Really? Of course the godless will be without God. The call to holiness should be spoken first and only to those of us who believe… and even then… with charity. Charity for a breadth of understanding and interpretation. Charity that I may not have it all figured out. Charity because I may be wrong in a given instance. May we continue to speak out against worldliness, while doing so charitably.

    Love you, buddy. Miss you! Sigma Alpha… the original Sparty on!!!

  20. Pearson Johnson

    Agreed, Rob– believers are the ones called to holiness. Unbelievers cannot do it without the regenerating, freeing work of the Spirit. We should urge unbelievers toward repentance rather than reformation.

    In all things charity, for sure. Good to hear from you! God has graciously encouraged me with a number of connections with our old society brothers in the past year or so!