I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14-18 NIV)
I’ve been thinking about the above passage of scripture a lot lately. In Christian circles it is usually summarized as “be in the world but not of the world.” I think the summary is pretty good EXCEPT I have a problem with how I believe we in the Christian bubble often understand it.
I think we in the Christian bubble typically view the “in but no of” phrase as meaning that we are functioning in the world while trying to avoid being contaminated by the pesky little evil parts of the world around us. Kind of like running through a room full of mosquitoes. You don’t really change your behavior in a room full of mosquitoes other than adding an extra layer of protection between you and the blood sucking little pains in the rear. You put on a strong layer of deet to scare the small pests off or you go for full protection and put on a bubble boy suit. The goal isn’t to change or confront mosquitoes but remain unbitten.
I think that is how so many of us in the Christian bubble operate. We just try to Christianize as much as we can. The only difference between the Christian business owner and the non-Christian one is that the Christian business owner doesn’t cuss (much). The only difference between the Christian librarian and the non-Christian one is that the Christian librarian recommends reading “Left Behind” rather than “The Da Vinci Code.” The difference between a Christian employee and a non-Christian one? Well the Christian employee might tithe on his/her income. This version of being “in but not of” is more a stylistic difference than a qualitative difference.
But what if being “in but not of” has more to do with being alien than with simply avoiding pesky things?
I remember watching “Mork & Mindy” as a kid. I loved it. Robin Williams was amazing. Part of what I loved about the Morkster was how foreign everything was to him. Why? Well because he was an alien living on Earth, so everything really was foreign to him. What is a spoon used for? Well we earthlings know it is for eating, but Morkonaut might use it as a writing instrument. He approached everything around him in an intrinsically different manner than the earthlings around him. Heck, when he became a father his baby (Jonathan Winters – who was amazing) even aged different from all the earth babies (he aged in reverse). The above video is an example of everything being foreign to Mork.
What if “being in but not of” means living out of entirely different values from those in the world? What if it means working from a different mindset and for a different purpose (i.e. being foreign). What if our work is no longer about making enough money to meet our needs and perhaps buy a few luxuries, but moves closer to a statement John Wesley made – “make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” What if our education is no longer about helping us to get the best job possible, but about equipping us to be a part of God saving His creation. What if our politics are no longer about making sure our side wins even if it means we have to compromise certain aspects of our faith, but about being a “thorn in the side” of every politician because we follow a King who calls for more than all the political parties are interested in offering. What if our churches start to look and act remarkably different from everything else around them because we are living out markedly different values from all the other enterprises in our communities.
Basically what if “being in but not of” actually led to us being qualitatively different? Being aliens rather than just trying to avoid mosquitoes. I think it would be cool.