Home > Brandenburg, Culture, The World, Worldliness > Culture: What’s Not to Love

Culture: What’s Not to Love

February 27, 2008

You hear the light, syncopated throb of the trap set, the pound of snare followed by the light rake of the wire brush on the cymbal, and then start the cat calls, loud whoops and hollers, because the teenagers know what it means. You’re quiet and they’re loud, because you both know. Your silence repudiates what the sound means. Their rowdiness signals reception. They love it. You don’t. Should they love what they’ve heard? Should they even accept it?

The World, That’s What (James 4:1-6)

In an examination of genuine saving faith, James in chapter four exposes characteristics of the world. To start, everyone should know that God is an enemy to anyone who is a friend of the world, that is, affectionate with the world, all the drives and impulses that would be associated with it. The unwillingness to break from the world’s culture comes because of this affection (“friendship,” James 4:4, philia) for the world. And then when someone loves the world, the world no longer hates the person. If you are “of the world,” the world loves “its own” (John 15:19). The way the world treated Christ is how it will treat the friends of Christ, so if you can get along with the world, you can know why.

The term “world” refers to the man-centered, Satan-directed system, which is hostile to God, Christ, and the Christian. It’s not talking about the globe, about terra firma, or about anything physical. It’s talking about the spiritual reality of a Satan-directed, man-centered system hostile to the Lord and His nature and work. It refers to all the values, the mores, the lifestyle, the ethics, the morals, and the institutions of the world as they are established apart from and antagonistic to God.

The goal of the world is self-glory, self-fulfillment, self-control, self-indulgence, and self-satisfaction. All of it opposes God’s will, so James is very direct when he says that an affection for the world is utterly incompatible with loyalty to God. He says it is enmity, that is, personal hostility or hatred to God. It is one thing to do worldly things and then hate them. It’s something else to love the world and its lusts and then defend that activity.

James pictures this friendship of the world as a great danger first because of the conflict that will surely result, primarily because the world system itself is fundamentally conflicted. You can’t be the world’s friend and not be pulled into the war that it characteristically is. Since the primary issue of the world is self, all of those selves that make up this system can’t but be in conflict with one another. Selves keep bumping into each other like atoms before a nuclear explosion.

At the beginning of chapter four, James asks where the conflicts occurring in the assembly of believers, the internal warfare and fighting that was in their midst and causing great destruction, came from. Those fightings originated from the belligerence between two crowds of people—those who love God and those whose affections are for the world. Some want the best for God and others are more interested in consuming things upon their own lusts. Some are for living by faith in what God said and others are for attempting to fit Christianity into what they desire. You can’t maintain these two groups of people in a church and not have ongoing conflict.

Not only will conflict manifest itself in the church because of the worldly, but the worldly church members themselves will have a natural tension and stress inside of themselves. The same people causing strife in the church will have their own personal issues that will cause problems also. People who want what the world offers and can’t get it like they want will become frustrated. And their frustration will come out of their own hedonism (“lusts,” hedone, end of v. 3). They have their difficulties because they live for pleasure. If they will have any peace, then they need to give up personal pleasure for God, because the road of pleasure, even as James 1 showed, ends in death.

John wrote in 1 John 2:15-17 that those in the world are controlled by the things in the world—the lust of their eyes (what I see, I desire), the lust of their flesh (what I feel, I desire), and the pride of life (the gratification of self). Someone who loves the Lord is content with Him and what He will provide. The best the world can offer is temporal, because the system and all that are in it will pass away. However, what is the worst aspect of love for the world is the conflict it makes between God and you.

In verse four of chapter four, James says that this affection for the world puts you in antagonism with God, and not only Him, but in verse five, His Word. If you would be a friend of the world, you have ignored what Scripture says about the nature of the flesh—you just disregard the Bible about it if you are someone who thinks you can get along with the world, be its friend. Scripture in general says that the spirit of man lusts to envy. The evil impulses of man’s heart draw him toward a worldliness that will be judged by God.

God wants to give grace to man, but He won’t if man won’t humble himself. In the context of chapter four, being hedonistic and worldly is the same thing as being proud. If you’re proudly consumed with what you want in the world, you won’t experience the grace of God. He does give grace but He gives it only to the humble. On the other hand, the Lord fights the proud, because they are His enemies. Even someone who is saved will spin the wheels of his Christian life, getting nowhere, when he takes a friendly disposition toward the world.

What does love or affection for the world look like? To know what loving the world is like, we must understand what love and affection is. I believe that if you started looking at the times that the word “love” itself is used in the Bible, you would see that when we love something or someone, we invest in it our time and energy. We pour ourselves into it. We make it a priority, put it as first above other things. The devotion for the world and its things will manifest itself like our love for God will reveal itself.

When God commands us “love not the world,” it means that we must also hate the world. We can’t love both God and the world—they’re mutually exclusive. In Psalm 139:19-22, David wrote:

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.

How Not to Love the World

Someone who loves God and hates the world will exhibit this in at least three different degrees.

First, God’s child will not adapt to the world system. Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.” “Conforming” is “adapting.” A believer will continue to conflict with the world’s styles and philosophies. The world itself isn’t neutral in its relations to God. We were sometime in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord, so we walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). “Conform” and “adapt” also mean “to be similar.” The art, music, dress, attitude, and aesthetics of a Christian won’t be similar to the world’s. Christians don’t adapt to the culture, because Christianity itself presents an unchanging, infinite message. The goal is to see the people of the world change, not God’s people. When we adapt to them, we lose the distinctiveness, the saltiness, that God uses to show them the difference between His ways and theirs.

Consider what Richard Kyle, Professor of History and Religion at Tabor College in Hillsborough, Kansas, writes about evangelicalism in his Evangelicalism: An Americanized Christianity (p. 2):

The first tendency—the acculturation of evangelicalism—has dominated and has been a key to evangelicalism’s numerical success. Rather than develop a viable subculture, evangelicals have created a counterfeit culture—that is, they have baptized and sanctified secular culture. . . . For any religious body . . . there is only a fine line between being relevant to its surrounding culture and being absorbed by the culture. American evangelicalism has stepped over this line. . . . For much of its history, evangelicalism has accommodated popular culture. This trend has accelerated itself in the late twentieth century. . . . Because evangelicals have become culturally mainstream, their social acceptance has greatly increased.

James Montgomery Boice writes in The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (p. 20):

What was once said of liberal churches must now be said of evangelical churches: they seek the world’s wisdom, believe the world’s theology, follow the world’s agenda, and adopt the world’s methods.

Second, God’s child will not absorb the world system.  A Christian isn’t to “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). God’s holy priesthood are “peculiar people” (Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9), putting off “the old man and his deeds” (Col. 3:8, 9). Saints will “put off the former conversation of the old man” (Ephesians 4:22). Knowing that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” a believer will “cast off the works of darkness, and” “put on the armour of light” (Heb. 13:12). You can see that absorbing the world’s culture is not God’s plan. Those who absorb the world, love the world. God’s disdain for absorbing the culture is seen in Jeremiah’s command to God’s people in Jeremiah 10:2, “Learn not the way of the heathen.”

Third, God’s child will not adopt the world system, that is, he won’t become like the world. He won’t look like the world, act like the world, or sound like the world.  The man involved in the battle for and with Christ will not “entangle himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). “Affairs” is hapaxlegomena from which comes “pragmatic.” Being like the world is not an acceptable strategy for someone entrenched for the Lord. As a part of our holiness, majestic transcendence from this world system, Peter instructs: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14). “Fashioning” is suschematizo, “to form according to a pattern or mold.”  A believer will not adopt the culture.

In The Christian Mind, Michael L. Gowens writes:

When people who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ fail to apply their Christian faith to every sector of their lives, they will inevitably descend into the world’s way of thinking. They will adopt the world’s values, court the world’s approval, and pursue the world’s symbols of status. The church, consequently, will lose its distinctiveness, the basis of its power.

A Case Study in Not Loving the World: Jazz Music

Wynton Marsalis, one of the foremost trumpeters in the world and jazz afficionado, in an interview about his music, especially jazz, commented:

There is so much in jazz music to be studied and to be learned, and so little education. I could go on and on and on, just about what Duke Ellington did. And also the romantic connotations of the music. The music had the effect of liberating a lot of the people from the Victorian image of sexuality. But for some reason people still think they need to be liberated from that. This is something jazz music was doing around the turn of the century. And now it’s degenerated in the modern era to the type of vulgarity that is represented by rock and roll, which parades under the guise of giving you sexual freedom, which is really, truly, sexual repression. Sexual freedom is found in the sensuality and the romance and the lyricism of the great songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, and of the great instrumentalists like Louis Armstrong. These people had a truly romantic conception that was based on elevation of the relationship between a man and a woman, rather than the denigration of it into just some abusive adolescent sexual discoveries.

Musicians know the meaning of their music. The music is a language, which communicates explicitly with notes, melody, harmony, and rhythm. Like written or spoken communication, which use letters and punctuation and inflection, the music can be used to express something edifying or filthy. Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:29:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

He also wrote in Colossians 3:8, “But now ye also put off . . . blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”

Words, like musical notations, will be assigned meaning. The meaning of the words and their combinations can either glorify God or dishonor Him.  Also with music, the goal is to evaluate the style with Scripture to discern whether it is a musical form that can honor God. Much of other modern music style conveys a message, like jazz, which contradicts the nature or attributes of God. We repudiate and avoid those aspects of the culture of this world for the glory of God.

Even if it’s eating or drinking, that is, the most mundane activity, all is to be the glory of God. Since our lives are a perpetual offering to God, everything in our life is to be acceptable to God. For that reason, God wants us to discern what is Godly in our culture and hold on to that, and to ascertain what is profane and worldly and to eschew one’s self from that.   The culture of this world is what’s not to love.   On the other hand, our unique Christian culture is the distinctiveness, the savor, by which believers can preserve society.

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  1. February 27, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Excellent!

  2. February 28, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Thanks Lance.

    Everyone,
    I wonder if people reading these articles on culture either are (1) not reading them because they’re too long; (2) already agree with everything, so there is no comment other than “atta boy”; or (3) People disagree but they don’t want to argue about it. We are foundationally making our case for separation over the cultural issues.

  3. C Looman
    February 28, 2008 at 11:25 am

    It may also be a fourth option. They read and think that they understand, but somehow the logical practical application escapes them. The very definitions of worldly, culture, seperate, etc. carry different meanings to different people, which is why they could applaud your post but be appalled at the way you apply it.

  4. February 28, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Speaking for myself, I am still busy trying to put together a more coherent and Scriptural written “Missions” philosophy and policy for our church after last month.

    I believe that the posts this month are so true that they are not even rendering the occasional rebuttal from well-meaning but wrong-headed people.

    The number one battle I face as a pastor is trying to convince our people that this culture is our enemy. I really appreciate the posts.

  5. February 28, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    I understand Art. Thanks for the input. I hope the Missions philosophy and policy thing goes well. I hope our posts on that can be a contribution.

    C. Looman,

    Are you yourself appalled by the application? I haven’t actually applied it that much yet, just snippets of application. I believe we have historic understanding of how the passages apply. We are going to be spending two months on this topic, so I have four more to go that will get more into the application.

    Only recently have I even heard the term “worldly” being used by evangelicals and it has come as a response to the emergents. They have used some of the same verses we use, but with little explanation or application, almost apologetic about having to bring them out. I will talk about this in the next month as well.

  6. February 28, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I find that on my blog, people who disagree with me seldom continue to read what I post. Those that do are the “Choir” and there is little response or contributing extension or discussion because there is agreement.

    Of course, Kent, your articles are like those of most good pastors. They try to think of every argument against what you will be saying and heap Scriptural evidence upon Scriptural evidence to answer those arguments before hand. For many people, they just are not willing to invest the time to present an argument against the weight of inductive evidence of exegesis presented.

    Some will not read long articles because they are looking for snack food on the blogs, not meat. Sadly, so many Christians of today are milk and cookies Christians.

  7. Gary Johnson
    February 28, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Kent said
    “I wonder if people reading these articles on culture either are (1) not reading them because they’re too long; (2) already agree with everything, so there is no comment other than “atta boy”; or (3) People disagree but they don’t want to argue about it.”

    Or the weather turned nice in Arizona and everyone is down here enjoying the outdoor jazz concert and they did not take the time to read JackHammer.

    Seriously, this is hard to argue if your position is liberal, and many liberal types that read what is posted here would quickly note that a liberal feel good post will be answered with scripture and leave them no where to stand. Good standard rule, if the majority like it, it probably is not right with God. Luke 16:15

  8. February 28, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I think it is true, Lance. Most people’s minds are not trained to stay with the development of linear thought. I think this is a major Satanic attack in our culture. The Bible deserves and requires thought, but they can’t sit and think. You obviously have to do that to write your articles, which are meat. I actually liked C. Looman coming on and saying that she thought the application was appalling, but I want to know what is appalling about it. I am having my young people read my stuff here, because I want them prepared to defend what they believe and practice when they are under attack in the world.

  9. February 28, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I think you’re right Gary, and I’m glad that you get some time outdoors to move around while you can still move. I know that the readers of this blog care about these things. I care about it a lot as a Christian, as a man, a dad, a husband, and an American.

  10. February 28, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Brother Kent,

    I have another idea on the concept of “linear thought.” One of the great disasters (yes, I meant disasters) of our IFB churches is the lack of training to think. Our young people do not know how to think logically or Scripturally.

    They are raised in a Christian home where there are rules. Praise the Lord for the rules, but the Scriptural and God-honoring reasons for these rules must be explained to them. These same young people go to Christian school and obey the rules because they are supposed to. However, no one has taught them why the rules may be right or wrong. They go to Bible College and adapt to the rules of that particular organization without knowing the actual Scriptural reasoning behind them.

    The end result is the inability to reason logically and Scripturally about what is moral, immoral, worldy, etc. They know how to repeat “catch-phrases” and “proof-texts” (usually out of context), but they have no way of articulating their positions logically and Scripturally.

    Now, to your posts. Your posts scare these young people I mentioned. They cause them to think both logically and Scripturally about every aspect of their lives, and they just cannot do it. They are unable to digest this real food because they want their cookies, as Brother Lance mentioned.

    I am so glad that my father, who was my pastor, taught me to search the Scriptures myself and THINK! I am probably tighter in my personal and family standards than even my father was, but it is because I have been convinced by the Scriptures.

    I have made jokes about this before, but you guys make us think. That is a good thing for a preacher to do once in a while.

    God bless & keep up the good work!

  11. February 28, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Art,

    I think it is a great thing that your dad taught you and that you are even stronger. I hope my son is that way. My dad was a factory worker when I grew up until he was 35 and we all moved for him to go to Bible college. I’m glad that I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to study Scripture. Part of it was my dad being a Greek major in college and then I imitated him when I was in 9th grade by carrying Greek cards on my belt and going over Greek words and forms at that time, because I didn’t think anything else was as important.

    I’m glad you come and visit here. Keep up the good work yourself.

  12. Bobby
    February 28, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I don’t comment much because I already know I agree because I pretty much taught Kent everything he knows anyway.

    Hehe.

    Really, I read most of the stuff, but I’m presently just not having enough time to get in the discussions. Keep hammering.

  13. February 28, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Well, Kent, maybe the opposition has just decided that if they ignore us, we’ll go away!

    BTW, on hedonism, didn’t you read The Book? Don’t you know that Christians are supposed to be Hedonists now? Man, get with the times!!

    Oh, wait, that’s exactly what you are talking about, eh?

    I have to say that the JackHammer posts this month have to be the best stuff you all have put out so far. Very very helpful. I think I’ll download them permanently and use them in my own ministry, if that’s all right with you. (I’ll even give you proper attribution!)

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  14. February 28, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Don,

    I’m glad you picked up on the hedonism that we are taught against in James 4. I didn’t bring in Piper on that, but I thought about it. I liked your comment over at Chris Anderson’s blog, BTW. I would comment too, and maybe I should, and I’m glad you did, on the Jude passage. I think there is a lack of discernment going on that relates to Piper and the Calvinist new-evangelicals.

    Bobby and everyone,

    Yes, I learned everything I know from Bobby in grueling sessions that I sat at his feet. The smell of the feet made it an even greater sacrifice, but to get the pearls of wisdom…well….you have to know when its worth it.

  15. Anvil
    February 29, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Art,

    I have to say a hearty “Amen” to your post #10.

    I certainly wouldn’t agree with every application taken by the men on this board, but I certainly appreciate the emphasis on the scripture, and on making us think hard about what the Bible is really saying.

  16. March 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I don’t think that Looman was saying that she is appalled at the application. I think she is saying that the opposition is appalled, in her very own special way.

    I know her well enough to know that she is not appalled at our application.

    And since we have said that women should not disagree with us on the blog, I don’t know why we are trying to egg her into stating her disagreement.

  17. March 1, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    OK.

  18. David
    March 21, 2008 at 5:15 am

    COWARDS

  19. David
    March 21, 2008 at 5:17 am

    QUEERS

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