February 4, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Joy | Sin | Sports | Worldliness
By now most of you have seen the photograph of Olympic superstar swimmer Michael Phelps filling his giant lungs from a bong of marijuana. When the picture appeared in a British tabloid, Phelps acknowledged it was “youthful and inappropriate.”
Now there is no debate over whether the 23-year-old is gifted with athletic greatness. He is. And financially Phelps is set for life, his agent Peter Carlisle estimating his potential earnings will reach somewhere around $100 million.* Which I’m told would equal a stack of $100 bills 360 feet tall!
The photograph of Phelps reminds me of myself prior to conversion, a competitive swimmer (of slightly lesser skill), a sinner (of greater degree), held captive by sin, pursuing the fleeting pleasures of this world. And sadly, in my case, pursuing sin with passion.
So what was Phelps searching for in that bong pipe? What emptiness in his soul was he trying to satisfy?
Once again we are reminded that athletic gifting, championship trophies, gold medals, and million dollar endorsement deals cannot satisfy the soul.
Last year, in the wake of his third Super Bowl championship, disillusioned Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted on 60 Minutes,
Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, “God, it’s got to be more than this.” I mean this isn’t, this can’t be, what it’s all cracked up to be.
I commend Brady for his honesty.
And no doubt some Pittsburgh Steelers players are beginning to have similar thoughts.
But in Phelps’s case, if you listen to the media (with the exception of my man Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post) you hear a common chorus of excuses like “Give Phelps a break, nothing he did was anything worse than happens in an average weekend at a typical college campus.”
But we are not talking about a typical American college student. Phelps is a rich superstar.
This is what I find so striking: A man whose chest has been covered with gold medals, has achieved international fame, showered with awards, and blessed with an incomprehensible amount of money, still feels compelled to press his face to a bong.
It was Augustine who said that the soul is restless until it finds its rest in God. So true. Only God can satisfy the soul. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ provides forgiveness of sin, and therefore it is here in this gospel that we find rest for our restless souls.
Study the unflattering picture of Michael Phelps to be reminded of the deceitfulness of sin and the superficiality of fame and money. But also study the picture to be reminded of the message of Christ and him crucified for restless sinners like you, and me, and Michael Phelps.
* “Phelps Apologizes for Marijuana Pipe” By Karen Crouse, New York Times, February 1, 2009.
The new book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World
, edited by C.J. and coauthored by Craig Cabaniss, Bob Kauflin, Dave Harvey, and Jeff Purswell, was released last month from Crossway. In his foreword, John Piper suggests one way pastors could use the book:
A word to pastors: this book is a gift to you. It will help you help others—by the modeling that’s done here and by the exegetical reflection and by the biblical and cultural insights. I can see whole churches reading this together as the pastor fleshes out the biblical foundations from the pulpit. What a powerful season that would be in the life of the church. (p. 12)
was written with pastors and church leaders in mind. If you want to use the book as Dr. Piper proposes, or in some other church or small-group setting, check out the thoughtful discussion questions in the back (see pages 180–187). These questions are designed not only for personal application, but also to help pastors or small-group leaders guide focused and fruitful discussions about the truths in the book.
In addition to purchasing the book (or if you’re not ready to purchase it yet), you can download extended excerpts from the book for free. Download the foreword by Dr. Piper and the opening chapter by C.J. (“Is This Verse in Your Bible?”) as a PDF here
. And recently we posted a series of excerpts on modesty, from chapter five (titled “God, My Heart, and Clothes”). Read this entire chapter online here
C.J.’s message from the 2002 New Attitude Conference, “Do Not Love the World” (1 John 2:15) is another tool for resisting the sin in our fallen world—and in our own hearts. (This conference message eventually grew into the first chapter of Worldliness
.) You can watch, listen to, or download the message at C.J.’s sermon archive
From the beginning, cultural influences have threatened to weaken the church. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Roman Christians to resist the temptation to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2 ESV). And then he continued to remind his readers of the importance of thinking and discernment. Biblical nonconformity requires that we become aware of the forces in our culture that threaten to press in, confine, and reshape the church.
Last week we introduced Os Guinness (see “Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief”
). The following are five excerpts pulled from Mark Dever’s recent interview
with Guinness helps us better discern the cultural influence that threaten to reshape the church—worldliness, pluralization, secularization, and privatization.
Guinness on Worldliness
The story of [theological] liberalism is the story of adapting, accommodating, and then surrendering to the spirit of the age.
When I came to Christ, evangelicals had a high view of worldliness. Often the things that were considered worldly were rather trivial, so called “no-nos.” But now in some circles we don’t even have any view of worldliness. And you can see that with the rise of the church growth movement in the extremes, the seeker sensitive movement in the extremes, the desire to be relevant, etc. Evangelicalism has its own version of the liberal tendency. And many people are taking on modern ideas, modern practices, without a thought, and it is absolute folly…
Capitalism has trounced all its enemies: socialism and communism and the rest. But it is now at its greatest danger, both as a theory and as something practical in terms of, say, daily consumerism. And we as followers of Jesus must give a theoretical critique of capitalism and a very practical critique of capitalism in terms of shopping malls, etc. And if we don’t, it is going to undermine itself and our culture.
Guinness on Pluralization
Pluralism is just a social fact. There is a diversity, a great many people, a lot of differences, faiths, social backgrounds, languages, cultures, and so on. That is pluralism.…The early church, [although it] was born in a pluralistic climate,…was absolutely faithful to the exclusiveness of Christ. And they would die for it.
Pluralism is different from what the social scientists call pluralization, which affects us psychologically and spiritually.
So for instance, in a simple, traditional, culture, the idea that you had your faith that was for all of life was relatively easy. Like one man, one woman, till death do us part. But I often say, if I had my grandfather’s silk handkerchief and I lost it, I would look for it. It is precious. It is old. It is valuable. It is connected to the family. It would be stupid to look for a Kleenex. A Kleenex is made disposable, thousands of them.
Now in the same way, in a modern world, our relationships have been pluralized. And that is one of the deepest reasons undermining marriage. Every day you are meeting other people. Every woman could see another man she might do better with, and every man another woman he might do better with. And so our relationships have been pluralized, and that is very, very dangerous.
Peter Berger describes modern faith as “conversion prone”—we should always be changing, there is always something else. You could pass down the supermarket of faiths and today I am this, and tomorrow I am that.
One megachurch pastor said to me, “I look into my congregation’s eyes, and I am haunted by the fact that they are always only two weeks away from leaving me to join a bigger church, a better church.”
You can see church-membership shopping, surfing, channeling, and so on. “I don’t like your music. I like the music down there. I like the worship there. They are liturgical, or they are not liturgical,” or whatever.
You can see that a whole generation is pluralized. So pluralism is simply a fact. Pluralization is potentially very dangerous.
Guinness on Secularization
Secularism is a philosophy, the idea that there are no gods, no supernatural: atheism, naturalism, and science. That is secularism: a philosophy.
Secularization is a process, and it should be distinguished [from secularism]. It is the idea that as the world gets more modern, it gets less religious. Now the theory of secularization was actually grossly overstated for the first 200 years, and it has collapsed. It used to be thought [that] the world inevitably gets less religious as it gets more modern. So Europe was the model and the United States was the exception for the moment, but the whole world would eventually go the way of Europe. That’s now being seen to have the bias of a secular philosophy behind it. It is wrong. Empirically it is wrong. Philosophically it is biased.
So the secularization theory is under heavy assault today. But there is some effect of secularization. For instance, in our modern world, most of us, even as Christians, have a tendency to be atheists unawares in the sense [that, like] the modern world, [we put] all the premium on the five senses—what you can touch, taste, see, calculate, measure, weigh, and so on. So [in] many churches the whole understanding is this side of the feeling.
You know, I have rarely been in churches in the United States where sometimes in the sermon or worship the ceiling was punctured and you knew you were in the presence of the transcendent. I have rarely experienced that over here, because it is all this side of the ceiling.
And you look at, say, much of the church growth movement: They know everything about parking lot theory, the color that your tie has to be, and all sorts of things to grow the perfect church. The church could operationally go on for 50 years if the Holy Spirit withdrew altogether, because it is all this side of the ceiling, it’s all worldly operational procedures.
We have actually been much more secularized than we realize. That is why brothers and sisters from Africa or Asia, they know the power of Spirit…for healing or other areas, which many of us in the West simply don’t know. We have words like prayer or the supernatural, but a direct living experience of them we often don’t have.…
Now, with the rise of the Iranian revolution in ’79 and then all sorts of things right down to September the 11th, Peter Berger said famously, “The world is as furiously religious as ever.”…I personally think that when secularization seemed to be sweeping everything, atheists weren’t very strident. They didn’t need to push religion. It was on the way out. But suddenly they realized [that] the world is “furiously religious,” and they see Islamic extremism and look at Christian fundamentalism as dangerous. Now you see the new atheists—Dawkins, Harris, and so on—are strident because they are actually panicking.
Guinness on Privatization
Privatization is the way in our modern world we lose the integration of faith. So go back to a traditional world, small town, village: Where someone lived, worked, and went to church was integrated. You could probably walk around them in half an hour, certainly go around on a horse in an hour. But as the modern world explodes, where people live and often where they go to church is relatively close still (although in L.A. it might be an hour away, traveling 50 miles to go to church). But then where they work is quite different altogether.
So it is called privatization, the way religion and faith in general [get] restricted to the private sphere—the home, the church, the weeknight, the weekend. But the world of work, politics, business, science, technology is another world, with a different way of doing it.
So, as one person says, people have different hats and they have different souls. A non-Christian said the churches in California he studied were privately engaging, publicly irrelevant. That’s another way of saying privatization…
Now up until the ’60s, most evangelicals, a great majority, [were] privatized. Then came the ’60s and evangelicals slept through it. ’73 was the wake-up year—Watergate, Roe v. Wade, OPEC, the oil crisis. Evangelicals started to realize the culture was slipping away.
The tendency then was to make the opposite mistake, to politicize faith, to swing from a privatized faith that lacked integration, the lordship of Christ in every area of life...They swung to a politicized faith, thinking politics was the be-all and end-all, and that lacked independence. No longer was faith primary. Christians became core chaplain to whatever party they supported, more recently the Republicans.
Guinness on Sociology
I was studying at Oxford, and Peter Berger became my mentor. And I realized that most apologetics, most Christian thinking, used the history of ideas, going from thinkers and their thoughts to the impact on the street, church, or whatever. Whereas the “sociology of knowledge,” as it is called, looks to the street, the social setting of people’s lives, and describes how that shapes even their thinking.
And you can see [that] the modern church is affected by crazy ideas. But it is much more affected by the way we live in our modern lifestyles and so on. So I tried to write The Gravedigger File to take ideas that were relatively well known in sociology, but show their relevance to Christians who didn’t understand sociology.
So terms like privatization which are bandied around by a lot of people now—the way, in our modern world, faith easily becomes privately engaging, publicly irrelevant. I tried to explain those and show Christians how they are shaped by faith.
Now when I wrote that, there was almost no one in evangelical circles looking at sociology. Today I am embarrassed and, more than that, disturbed, to say many people pick up sociology but uncritically. They take the latest insights they read from whoever it is and take it as gospel. Sociology is a very useful tool, but a very dangerous master…
Look at the seeker sensitive movement. It looks at the world to try and catch up with it, be relevant to it. Whereas actually, if you look at the world critically, there are things that are good and there are things that are very, very dangerous and to avoid at all costs. Sociology should make us much more discriminating.
[Mark Dever mentions David Wells’s series of books—No Place for Truth (1993), God in the Wasteland (1994), Losing Our Virtue (1998), and The Courage to Be Protestant (2008)—and asks if these books have been successful in uniting theology and sociology.]
Absolutely. I tease my good friend David because early on he was what I would call a “straight theologian.” I told him, “David, you can’t make sense of theology without looking at the modern world.” Now some people say today there is too much sociology. And before his last book…I said, “Come on, we need a bit more theology, not just sociology.” But he is a good example of someone who is doing this well.
Listen to the entire interview, “Life and Ministry with Os Guinness."
Recently on the blog we posted seven consecutive sections from C.J.’s chapter “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” which will be published in the forthcoming book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway). The book was written by a team of C.J. and four other Sovereign Grace leaders—Dave Harvey, Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell, and Craig Cabaniss. John Piper added the foreword.
Though books will not ship until late September, Crossway Books has extended to our blog readers a generous 35 percent discount on pre-orders. For the next two weeks simply go to the Worldliness product page, click “pre-order” and enter coupon code: 8SG1.
And with the completion of the modesty blog series, we’ve created an index of the posts and added discussion questions below (which also appear in the printed book).
For convenience, we’ve compiled the chapter (the full content of the blog posts) and the discussion questions into one PDF (download here).
Modesty Series Index
Modesty: God, My Heart, and Clothes (pt. 1)
Modesty: The Attitude of the Modest Woman (pt. 2)
Modesty: The Appearance of the Modest Woman (pt. 3)
Modesty: A Pastor’s Concern (pt. 4)
Modesty: A Word to Fathers (pt. 5)
Modesty: The Right Adornment (pt. 6)
Modesty: The Modest Woman's Allegiance (pt. 7)
Modesty Discussion Questions
For Your Mind
1) Read 1 Timothy 2:3–10. What do these verses say about the motivation for modest dress?
2) How do we know that 1 Timothy 2:9 does not prohibit women from making themselves beautiful?
3) How do women who dress modestly serve men?
For Your Heart
4) Who are you trying to imitate or identify with through your appearance—godly women, or women of the world?
5) This chapter notes that your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. What does your clothing communicate about your motivations and priorities?
6) Think of a woman who is admired for her godly character and good works. What aspects of her godliness do you particularly want to emulate?
For Your Life
7) What about your wardrobe may need to change so that your appearance can better reflect the transforming power of the gospel?
8) What steps can you take on your next shopping trip to ensure that your clothing purchases reflect humility, modesty, and self-control? (Some ideas: Pray for God’s help and provision in finding modest clothing; check each article of clothing you try on for modesty as well as fit; ask your father, husband, or a trusted friend to evaluate items you’re not sure about.)
9) Mothers, what steps can you take to train your daughters to value godliness over fashion, to nurture humility and self-control, and to wear clothing that reflects these virtues? Fathers, what steps can you take to care for and lead your daughters in humility, self-control, and modesty?