Beyond “Neutral Zone” Thinking: A Spiritual Foundation for Technology Use by Adam Holz

Star Trek fans out there know what the “Neutral Zone” is. The Star Trek Database defines it as “an area of space between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire that measures approximately one light year and serves as a ‘buffer’ zone. Any incursion into the Romulan Neutral Zone is considered a hostile act.”

The Neutral Zone, then, is a lot like the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. It’s a place where two warring powers agree not to go, leaving it as a “safe space” of sorts between them. Now, you might be asking, what on earth (or in space!) does this have to do with technology and the entertainment media that flows through it? Great question! I’m glad you asked.

As Christians, I think it’s easy for us to drift passively, almost unconsciously, into something I’ve dubbed Neutral Zone thinking when it comes to the bombardment of media and technology we face today. We know the big things that we want to help our kids avoid: pornography, graphically violent and sexual entertainment, etc. We recognize that these things are at war with the convictions we hold as Christ followers. But when it comes to lots of the other “little” things, well, we can almost unconsciously tend to treat them as if they’re neutral, when in fact they might very well be communicating—albeit more subtly—messages and worldviews that are very much at odds with our Christian faith.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly challenges the mentality of Neutral Zone thinking (though, of course, he didn’t actually have Romulans in mind!).

“Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (CSB). Ephesians 5:15-17

Paul understands that the culture we live in influences how we live. So he tells us to “pay attention,” a phrase that the King James Version translates, “walk circumspectly.” In other words, don’t just mindlessly absorb and consume what you’re walking through. Instead, look up, look around, and be aware of the influences that seek to shape our hearts and minds in ways that are at odds with a biblical faith and worldview.

And this is not a casual suggestion from Paul, either, who goes on to say “the days are evil.” If we’re not paying attention and seeking to “understand what the Lord’s will is,” he tells us, we risk being sucked into the gravitational pull of a worldly way of life that’s opposed to the Gospel. He reiterates the same idea in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” The contrast here is clear: being shaped by the world or being transformed by truth as we walk with God.

It’s critical, obviously, to understand what’s happening in the world of technology and media influence if we hope to limit and counterbalance potentially harmful influences in those arenas—which is exactly what we hope to do in the balance of the Plugged In Parent’s Guide to Today’s Tech.

Still, we must begin with a spiritual foundation. Helping our children use technology (and the media that streams through it) wisely involves more than screen-time limits or filtering programs that limit our exposure (as important as those concrete tools might be). It also involves helping them to grow in spiritual discernment, discipline and character, so that they will increasingly be able to practice Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8: “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (CSB).

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