Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

"...but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." - Mark 4:19

Tony Reinke is a senior writer for Desiring God, author of several books, and host of the popular Ask Pastor John podcast. His latest book is about how our smartphones are affecting us.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because almost every single reader of this blog uses a phone. You're probably reading this on your phone right now! This affects all of us. Do you realize how your phone is using you? Do you realize how it's changing you? Do you recognize the impact it's having on your spiritual life, even on your capacity to remember the gospel and keep fighting against sin? Do you realize that some of your sins are fueled and resourced BY your phone? This issue could not be more relevant in our technological age. The fight of faith can be undermined by a hundred swipes and a thousand notifications that dull and distract us from what truly matters.

But the problem is not the phone. The problem is the person using the phone: you and I have a heart full of sin, and an inclination to turn away from the Lord and focus on trivial things. That's why the phone is used for sin, both proactively and passively. The phone merely reveals and exposes the heart of the user. Therefore the solution isn't to ditch the phone, the solution is to redeem the heart of the user. And that requires the power of the gospel. When joy in Christ is at the center of a woman's heart, she will use her phone (and everything else) to fuel that joy. Holiness and love will be the overflow of that joy! Then the tool of the phone will be used for the glory of Christ and the good of others, instead of used as a tool for further sin and self-glory. Only the gospel is the effective solution! Then flowing out of that solution (to the real problem of the human heart) we can begin to craft a wise strategy of methods and boundaries for how we use our smartphones. So we must start with the gospel, then move to application: Remember the gospel, and keep using your smartphone wisely. 

Here's a few highlights and ideas from the book:
  • God is not anti-technology: God set up the trajectory of man to use tech so that “the untilled garden would become a glorious city" from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22. The question is how we USE technology. It's a tool, and can be used for good or evil. It can drive us to greater knowledge and worship of God, or it can distract us and blind us spiritually. The technology of paper and printing can be used to publish the Word of God, or to publish pornography. A knife can be used to cut up onions or to kill a man. How are you using your phone? What are its fruits in your life? 
  • Distraction: The smartphone is the pinnacle of distraction! Watch out. Consider in Mark 4 in the parable of the soils, the 3rd one is the “distracted soil”. This type of heart has so many distractions. God is squeezed in there next to a hundred other things vying for attention and time. Jesus spoke that parable 2000 years ago, and do we have more or less distractions today? Oh man...  The phone presents unlimited distraction: games, texts, articles, videos, snaps, and perhaps even phone calls. “God has given us the power of concentration in order for us to see and avoid what is false, fake, and transient—so that we may gaze directly at what is true, stable, and eternal. It is part of our creatureliness that we are easily distracted; it is part of our sinfulness that we are easily lured by what is vain and trivial.” We must gaze at Christ and remember the gospel. We must be often in prayer. But how can we do this with so much distraction? We must discipline ourselves to avoid distractions.
  • Behold Christ: Jesus is better! We become what we worship. If we behold Christ, we will become like Christ. If we behold the endless stream of what’s trending on Twitter, that will be what we become, that will begin to capture and inform our perspective, THAT will be what we think about. So what do we do? The first step is we have to behold Christ. Do you spend time beholding Christ? Or do you spend much more time beholding whatever banal or discouraging things are trending online? Wars and celebrity gossip and political gear-grinding and whatever hashtag campaign is SUPER INTENSE IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW but then gone tomorrow? Colossians 3:1-4, let us set our mind on things above, on CHRIST who is seated in heaven, and you can use your phone as a TOOL to help you behold Christ. Beholding Christ will make us delight in him, which will lead us to declare him. The alternative is to behold what’s trending, being forced to delight in banal and dark things, and inevitably declaring them in our retweets, comments, and shares. 
  • Reading the Word: One of the most powerful ways to behold Christ is to see Him presented in the Bible. Our attention and literacy is at stake when smartphones eat up all our time and focus. We just don't have the depth of mind or the attention span to be able to feast on the Word of God. Proverbs 27:7 says "One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet." We're too busy nibbling on the sickly-sweet candy of social media. So when we open up the Bible, we're just bloated and full of junk in our souls, so there's no hunger for the Bread of Life. We can't hear from God because our ears are deaf from the nonstop shouting of our timelines, texts, trends, and tweets.
  • Secret Sins: “Smartphones make it possible for users to help themselves to fresh forbidden fruit at any moment of any day, and thereby destroy themselves in secret.” Our phones open up new doors to dark worlds, especially porn. Our phones become the gateway, supplier, and "drug dealer" for a whole host of our addictions: pornography, approval from people, our pride in always being in the know, control over our lives, comparison & jealousy, relationship idolatry, and in general the god of entertainment. How is your phone making provision for the flesh? But maybe even worse, phones also offer a promised anonymity to shield our secret sins and keep them hidden. Richard Baxter spoke to the danger of this in the 17th century, "Concealment is Satan's great advantage." Open up to some brothers in arms, and pull those secret sins out into the light. 
  • Remember the Gospel: “All spiritual growth is rooted in remembering what Christ has done in me.” This is a key concept! And it is the foundation of The Relentless Fight. In order to be motivated and empowered to fight, we need the power of the gospel. We must REMEMBER by faith. Reinke writes, “To remember God is to satisfy the soul and to recalibrate our always-shifting perception of reality. But to forget God is to forsake God. This spiritual plague of forgetfulness is not physical forgetfulness or mental dementia. Spiritual forgetting is sin, a sin that plagues youth and infests every demographic.” And he concludes, “Remembering is one of the key spiritual disciplines we must guard with vigilance amid the mind-fragmenting and past-forgetting temptations of the digital age.”

Our phones reflect back to us glimpses of our hearts. What we tap on shows what we love. What we gaze at is what we long for. Our smartphone habits expose our hearts. This can be devastating, as we see the dark depths of soul, but it can also be a springboard to the gospel. It shows our GREAT need for Jesus, because the Cross is for failures! Do your smartphone habits show that you are weak, sinful, prideful, and distracted from what really matters? Then there's good news for you!! Jesus came to help the weak, the sick, the broken. He came to DIE for you, to rescue you, and to bring you back to wholeness and give you new life in Him. Be encouraged. Your failures with your phone are not the last word. Jesus is GREATER, and His gospel gives POWER. You CAN change, because there are way more than 12 ways that JESUS is changing YOU! This is so encouraging!

In summary, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is highly recommended for anyone who uses a phone. If you love Jesus, you are called to use your phone as a tool to stir your affections for Him. Resist the temptations to distraction, to anonymity, and to feasting your eyes on silly things rather than on Christ. If you're convicted as you read this review, and God is showing you that your smartphone habits need repentance, check out Tony Reinke's followup article: 12 Steps to Digital Detox

Note: Crossway provided a free ebook copy in exchange for this honest review, as part of their Blog Review Program. Win/win!