One of the ongoing struggles of evangelicals is to rid themselves of fundamentalist notions of “being separate” from the world. In the past, especially in the wake of public, humiliating losses in the public square on the issue of creationism (e.g., the Scopes Monkey Trial), fundamentalists essentially retreated from any engagement with the rest of the world and called other believers to “Come Out, and Be Separate.”
On the other hand, sometimes Christians are now so concerned to avoid the appearance of fundamentalism that they go too far to the other extreme, living in a way that is virtually indistinguishable from the world. This is a difficult line to walk.
In preparing for my New Testament Theology final, I was reading Frank Thielman’s (Dr. Thielman is a Presbyterian Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School) chapter on 1 Peter in his Theology of the New Testament, where he writes, “Peter reminds his readers that as God’s specially chosen people, they are ‘holy’–separated from the societies in which they live by their manner of life” (576, my emphasis).
I had never thought of the issue in quite that way–the error of fundamentalists is that they insist on separation in geographic terms, trying simply to stay away from the rest of the world. Certainly, we should completely separate from the rest of the world, but not by staying away from them; rather, we should separate in the way that we live. Our lives should be utterly holy–completely set apart for God’s purposes alone–which means that we should be totally distinct from the world even as we interact with them.