“The Myth of Magic Neutral Time” is the sort of goofy phrase you come up with in college ministry to make basic concepts of spiritual life stick for your students. Sometimes you can’t just come out and say stuff–it’s like you have to trick the truth into them.
In any case, this particular neologism struck me in a conversation with my friend Katie. We were discussing the frustrating phenomena of future college freshmen who plan on ‘taking a break’ from their faith to just go off and ‘have a little fun for a while.’ Now, this is idiotic for several reasons. But to see why, let’s first explain the myth of Neutral Time.
The Myth of Neutral Time – I always tell my students that they need to be aware of the myths, the stories, that they tell themselves about reality because the story you think you’re in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:
“I’ve been a good kid in high school. I’ve done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn’t screw around too much or anything. Now though, now I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The ‘college experience’ is calling and I can’t be expected to go to college and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I’ll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You’ll see.”
There are number of assumptions underlying this story, but the main one seems to be that faith is this unchanging, timeless, perennial thing. Your walk with Jesus is something you can just leave alone for a while, and then, once you’ve done your own thing for a bit, you can just pick up again. No big deal. Calling ‘neutral time’ is like calling time-out so you can go the restroom or take a break in the middle of the game—when you come back the score, time, and possession is just like where you left of last.
You can read about the foolishness of this approach by clicking on The Gospel Coalition.