This post is written with the assumption that most evangelicals agree to living "in the world, but not of it." First of all, Jesus said it. Secondly, we turned it into a really tacky bumper sticker abbreviated by the letters, "NOTW." Clearly, we're on board.
Yet while Christians are harmonious in acknowledging the words, I believe there is much tension in the interpretation. How do we live in the world? What does that look like on a Monday afternoon or at dance class? How do we do so on a Saturday morning or on vacation? My experience isn't sweeping but I have been in the church for 24 years (I think that counts for something) and within this experience, I have observed three major responses.
The first response involves a complete removal from culture entirely. An example of this would be making a vow to "never read fiction" in an effort to stay "heavenly minded." Another example would be choosing to disengage from any political event by stating "Only Jesus is a Good King" on your personal Facebook profile, in lieu of choosing Democrat/Republican. Both of these examples are taken from my real life and both of these individuals have been deemed as "godly" in many circles. So while we might roll our eyes or snicker at these rather extreme responses, some of us are still having trouble distinguishing cultural removal or extremity from holiness.
The second response involves what I like to call, "toe dipping" and I think it is where the majority of evangelicals reside. They watched American Idol and possibly The Office. They can recognize a couple of songs from the Top 40. Their kids can dress up for halloween and they know who the major candidates are in running. This camp is aware of the dangers found in legalism and thus try to approach life "with balance." Observing and dipping their toes, not super afraid of the world but not really sure how to engage the world either. Though they see their role on earth as salt and light, evangelism is turned into an event or activity separate from the rest of their daily lives and some hope that their example and clean mouth on the baseball field or locker room, will invoke question from the watching world. This camp tends to gravitate toward "secular made sacred." What do I mean by that? Christian movies, Christian novels, Christian publishers, plumbers, schools and apparel. Rather than excluding themselves from culture entirely, they attempt to live in the world without going too deep, by creating "alternatives." They simply dip their toes and in result, sit on the sidelines of culture as observers and/or critics.
The third response harks back to the saints who went before us in Christendom. This is the Christian cobbler who fulfills his role on earth not by putting little tiny crosses on his shoes but instead making the very best shoe he can, that in turn will serve the wearer. These are the parents who are not simply raising good Christians but good citizens (more on this later). This is the gardener and farmer who fulfill their role on earth by seeking to serve the land, animal, and people with their procedure and produce. They care for creation, beast and man. This is the math teacher who does not simply see her role as an opportunity to share the gospel (though it is indeed that) but she also sees mathematics as reflective of the Creator Himself and can mirror Him in her love for all things orderly and logical. Believe it or not, there is gospel in geometry. These believers are fully submerged in culture. However they are not submerged as simply consumers but creators.
As we dive into this further, I hope you'll join me in reading stuff like, Echoes of Eden, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, A Million Little Ways , Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Notes From a Blue Bike , Saving Leonardo, Total Truth (this is by no means exhaustive but I need to go change a diaper).