Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: Competing Spectacles

"Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man." - Proverbs 27:20

Tony Reinke is a senior writer for Desiring God, author of several books, and host of the popular Ask Pastor John podcast. He wrote a fantastic book two years ago called 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. His latest book asks, "What images should I feed my eyes?"

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because we need this clarion book. In our cultural soil of entertainment there grows an endless number of distractions from Jesus. We need to wake up to this insidious undertow, and fight to make Jesus our treasure. If we fail, we will be smothered not by the grossest explicit sins, but rather the deluge of high-quality, captivating, awe-inspiring ocular delights.

Here's a few highlights and ideas from the book:
  • The Cross is the ultimate Spectacle: Of all the spectacles across history, and of the thousands that vie for our attention right now, the ultimate and greatest spectacle is Christ on the Cross. It is the divine Spectacle, the centerpiece of the Bible and of human history, and in heaven we will all see Christ and give Him worship as the Spectacle of our eternal delights. "Christ's glory is the spectacle of all other spectacles, and its power is most clearly seen in how it equips and motivates and animates our faithful obedience in all other areas of life." (page 90) The glory of Christ is preeminent, it gives us the highest delight, but it also motivates our obedience. If we remember the gospel, we will keep fighting. 
  • Focusing on Christ will be a fight: The Spectacle of the Cross has many competitors for our attention. We will not be captivated with Christ as the default, and our attention will be ripped away with competing pleasures and delights. Therefore we must fight to look at Jesus! We should pray that God gives us faith to "see" the glories of the gospel. We must mount the counter-attack and fight to believe that Jesus is better"Each of us must learn to preserve higher pleasures by revolting against lesser indulgences." (page 122) Does Jesus interest you? If not, you must fight for joy. We must fight relentlessly to remember the gospel, and "the recelebration and rearticulation of the glory of Christ must be set before us, over and over, and fed to our souls day by day." (page 91)
  • Practically, learn to say no to competing spectacles: In this media age, perhaps repentance looks like digital detox and closing our eyes to the glories of entertainment. "Attention is the new commodity of power; the viral spectacle is the product. Which means that when we ignore a spectacle, we unplug its power." (page 126) When we give our attention to a thing, by default we must say no to a hundred other things. It's part of our limitation as humans, our attention is precious and can only be given to one thing at a time. To say yes to Christ means saying no again and again and again to hundreds of sparkling, attractive, shouting competitors. It will be a fight! Expect great difficulty. In Mark 4, Jesus tells a parable of thorny soil that chokes out the Word and makes it unfruitful. We live in an age of thorns; everywhere in our attention economy, our eyes are being bought and paid for. We are being marketed to and seduced and screamed at. When we hear the Word, it’s amidst the cacophony of louder noise of the cares of this world, and riches, and desires for other things (consumerism). So we can’t even hear Jesus anymore. He’s one voice, out of thousands. We must learn to say no to competing spectacles, so we can say yes to Jesus. What do you need to do differently this week, in order to hear Him? What event will you say no to, to say yes to church every Sunday? What entertainment will you say no to, in order to say yes to Bible study? What phone notifications and news stories and music will you have to say no to, in order to create the quiet and space in order to say yes to praying? How can you develop habits of saying no to competing spectacles? Perhaps you will fast from a certain viral movie or TV show that everyone is watching, and you want to watch too. This will strengthen the muscles of saying no. Perhaps you will delete the social media apps on your phone to limit your enticements. Maybe you'll delete your Netflix subscription. Do whatever it takes to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh
Reinke concludes with this key point, "In sum, all my concerns are dwarfed by this one: boredom with Christ. In the digital age, monotony with Christ is the chief warning signal to alert us that the spectacles of this world are suffocating our hearts from the supreme Spectacle of the universe." (page 143) Amen. If we forget the gospel, it will not be because we don't have access to Christ. But it's because our attention has been so diverted, so disintegrated, so fractured, that we have but slivers to give to Him and His Word. It's the thorny soil choking the Word so it proves unfruitful. And when we forget the gospel, we will stop fighting our sin. "Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin." (page 144)

In summary, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is highly recommended because our culture is guilty of worshiping the god of entertainment. This book wakes us up and shows us the exit ramp of repentance. May God help us fight to remember the gospel.

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