It’s no secret that I appreciate the writing ministry of Tony Reinke. His book Lit! helped me grow as a reader. He introduced me to a new friend in John Newton on the Christian Life. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You helped me rethink my phone and social media habits.
His latest book Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is another worthwhile read. In it Reinke helps readers see why our hearts are so drawn to entertaining digital spectacles like TV and movies, social media, news, gaming, and porn. Reinke’s desire for the book is help believers learn how to spiritually thrive in an age of many spectacles that compete for our attention and affections.
“This book is a theology of visual culture, a culture that is increasingly closing in around us,” Reinke writes. “More intentionally, this book is a companion for Christians walking through digital detoxes, the now necessary periods of our lives when we voluntarily unplug from pop media, news media, and social media in order to de-screen our eyes and to reorder our priorities.” (12-13)
Below I share several of the many takeaways I have from the book. [SPOILER ALERT!]
1. Our use of media is so often isolating. Whenever possible, we should consume media in community.
While this wasn’t a main thread of the book, I found it a wise corrective for much media consumption.
“Because we can live entirely inside the world of our images (consumed and projected), we lose our identity and our place in the community.” (21)
“We must be vigilant to discern the spectacles consumed alone in the dark, the movies watched on a single phone, and games played on a solo device. When we watch a spectacle with others, we help one another discern worthless spectacles, and we position ourselves to engage in fellowship.” (138)
2. Our love for some media enflames the love of self.
Reinke specifically highlights how the allure of gaming and social media often draws us in because we can enjoy a spectacle while simultaneously being a star, thus inflating our ego and public persona.
“Whether it’s in the live moment of gaming spectacles or in the slightly time-offset dance of social media, we stand at the center. We become star and spectator. In our most addictive media, we become the spectacle.” (27)
We play videogames so people see how good we are; we carefully craft Instagram images so people share their approval of us with “Likes.” Much digital media enflames narcissism.
Two questions to ponder:
- How can we avoid media shaping us into lovers of self?
- How can our media consumption drive us to serve God and neighbor?
3. Our longing for media spectacles diminish our longing for Christ.
“Fed by a diet of sugary sensational candy and cultural imprinting, we gain new appetites for the world as we see, as we lose our taste for the unseen. And this is no random process. All our efforts and longings are discipled by the world’s spectacles so they can be pacified by an industry that reduces our desires to the newest goods in the next vacation and the latest consumer technology.” (37–38)
“The worst of our compulsive social media habits are filling our days and corroding our prayer lives.” (68)
“Spectacles compete with God for attention.” (70)
4. The cross of Christ is the greatest spectacle worthy of our lives.
“From this moment [the death of Christ on the cross] on, God intended all human gaze to center on this climactic moment. It is as if God says to us: ‘This is my beloved son, crucified for you, a Spectacle to capture your heart forever!’…By divine design, Christians are pro-spectacle, and we give our entire lives to this great Spectacle, now historically past and presently invisible. By faith, this ultimate Spectacle is now the life I live.”
5. Our boredom with Christ feeds our pursuit of spectacles.
“Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin. New distractions, which promise to temporarily alleviate our boredom, hover in our ethical blindspots.” (144)
“You don’t become like Christ by beholding TV all week. Any don’t become like Christ by beholding the Internet all week. You don’t become like Christ when you fill your life with things of this world. You become like Christ when you behold the glory of Christ, and you expose your life, moment by moment, to his glory.” —Quoting David Platt on page 140
If digital media is a big part of your life, I encourage you to pick up copy of Competing Spectacles. You can also listen to a conversation about the book on the Bible Basic Podcast (listen on PlayerFM or this link).