Review of “Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in a Media Age” by Tony Reinke

As a father, and as a pastor, I have a tremendous interest in how iPhones, TVs, screens, movies, video games and social media are impacting us. So when I learned that Tony Reinke was coming out with a new book, “Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age” I knew this was a book that I needed to read. I want to say upfront that I strongly recommend this book.

Spectacles Defined And Described

So the name of this book may cause you to wonder, “what in the world is a spectacle?” Here is the answer:

For this project, spectacles is confined to its second meaning: a moment of time, of varying length, in which collective gaze is fixed on some specific image, event, or moment. A spectacle is something that captures human attention, an instant when our eyes and brains focus and fixate on something projected at us.”

Spectacles can be accidental or intentional-anything that vies for our eyes: a historic presidential inauguration, a celebrity blooper, an epic fail, a prank, a trick shot, a hot take, a drone race, an eSports competition, the live streams of video games fought with fictional cannons. Spectacles are the latest video from a self-made YouTube millionaire sensation, or flash mob meant to appear as a spontaneous gathering in public.

Spectacles are part of our everyday life. The question we must ask and answer is this, how are these spectacles affecting us? What is the result of devoting more and more time to the spectacles all around us in our culture today? The good thing is that Reinke answers this question. The problem is that we may not like the answer!

Why Do We Seek Spectacles?

Why do we seek spectacles? Because we’re human, hard-wired with an unquenchable appetite to see glory. Our hearts seek splendor as our eyes scan for greatness. We cannot help it. “The world aches to be awed. That ache was made for God. The world seeks it mainly through movies.” (Reinke quoting John Piper) -and in entertainment and politics and true crime and celebrity gossip and warfare and live sports. Unfortunately, we are all easily conned into wasting our time on what adds no value to our lives. Aldous Huxley called it “man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.”

Reinke goes on to add that we are being shaped and formed by the spectacles that we watch on a daily basis. “We become like what we watch.”

What Are Some Of The Negative Consequences Of These Spectacles?

Second, we lose the ability to disconnect from culture in order to flourish in communion with God. Prayer requires our divine-centered attention. In prayer, we take a moment (or longer) to consciously pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, through the Holy Spirit-not just in our morning entreaties or mealtime thanksgivings but in brief petitions sprinkling divine life in our days…Prayerlessness may be the fault of my media. It is certainly the fault of my heart. In the little cracks of time in my day, with my limited attention, I am more apt to check or feed social media than I am to pray. Because of my negligence, God grows increasingly distant from my life.

As Christians this should greatly alarm us. I think in the back of our mind we know that we are way too distracted by all of these spectacles. One of the consequences of being so distracted is that we don’t take the time to evaluate what it is doing to us. As parents we fail to consider what it is doing to our children. We just hope the damage is not too severe, but it turns out that it is.

Turning Our Eyes To The World’s Greatest Spectacle

To those familiar with Reinke’s writings it will not be much of a surprise that he describes the greatest spectacle as the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we gaze upon the gospel? We do that through reading, teaching and preaching of God’s Word. He specifically uses Colossians 3:1-4 to explain how we do this:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

As we read God’s Word, as we focus on the gospel, we find the power we need to overcome sin and live a life that is pleasing to God. The great challenge we are facing is overcoming all of the distractions and putting our heart and mind on the truths of the gospel.

It Is Not Just The Obviously Immoral Stuff That Is Killing Us

We might wrongly conclude that we are OK if we avoid porn and other spectacles that are obviously sinful.

Feeding on sinful media will annul your holy affections. Yes. But pampering yourself with a glut of morally neutral media also pillages your affectional zeal. Each of us must learn to preserve higher pleasures by revolting against lesser indulgences. Our shows and movies and games lure us to give ourselves away to the screen, a video addiction Wallace called “a distorted religious impulse,” a giving of the self that must be reserved for God alone, an idolatrous giving away of the soul to the media that will never love us back…Even when our bodies are anesthetized and we “veg out” in a dream-like coma before a screen, we are being depleted. Something is being taken from us. Wallace made a profound discovery when he suggested that our entertainment sucks away our spiritual energy. Overconsuming on amusement drains our soul’s vigor. Just as my time is a zero-sum game, so is my “spiritual energy”-my affections and my bandwidth for awe.

Great And Helpful Quote By David Platt

You don’t become like Christ by beholding TV all week. And you 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 the world. You become like Christ when you behold the glory of Christ, and you expose your life, moment by moment, to his glory,” all through God’s revelation in Scripture.

One Of The Biggest Issues We Are Facing

I don’t find this book to be legalistic at all. Reinke is not saying that it is bad to watch movies, sports or to have an iPhone. His point is that we are over doing it when it comes to all the various spectacles that we are watching in day-to-day life.

I found the chapter “My Supreme Concern” to be very eye opening. Here is what he writes:

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. Media discernment forces us to directly face our soul’s monotony. Calling out to our boredom, this media carnival, this surplus of digital stimuli, makes us indiscriminate with our hearts. Each of us must give ourselves away to someone or something. But in this media age, our loves and affections are frozen by the ice of vain amusements. Our hearts harden as we become nothing but consumers to be manipulated by the spectacle makers.

This topic so greatly concerns me as a father and as a pastor that we are going to take one Sunday here at New Life Church and talk about it on a Sunday morning. We will talk about the dangers of media consumption and remind everyone (myself included!) that we desperately need to immerse our hearts and minds in the glories of the gospel.

treasuring Christ

 

The Dangers Of Living Inside An Echo Chamber

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23

The first thing we need to do is define what an echo chamber is. Wikipedia defines an echo chamber like this:

“An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. By visiting an echo chamber, people are able to seek out information which reinforces their existing views. This may increase political and social polarization and extremism. Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.”

An echo chamber is what happens to a person when they only listen to people who already think the way they do. People stuck in an echo chamber rarely hear an argument from a different perspective (politics, religion, etc.) But this problem is much more insidious than most people are aware of. Did you know that Facebook is keenly aware of the kind of news and information that you like and they begin to highlight these stories and minimize anything that you might disagree with? Watch this brief video to see what I am talking about.

So the echo chamber exists. But is this echo chamber really all that bad for us? If so, how? Let me give you THREE EXAMPLES of how the echo chamber is hurting you (and others):

  • You never learn from anyone that sees the world from a different perspective. Hopefully we have not become so arrogant to believe that we no longer need to learn new things or new ideas. We need to remain humble enough to admit that we simply don’t know it all.
  • You begin to see people that you disagree with as your enemy. Ed Stetzer writes this, “Christians are too good at blurting out what we believe and yelling and people who don’t like it. We’re often too quick to jump to social media to punish our keyboard with our anger and scream at any disagreeing person in our path. Our social media world has this way of making those who disagree with us look like complete idiots.” If you doubt it just think of some of the terms that get frequently thrown around (libtard, conservitard, snowflake, deplorable, and the list just goes on and on). Scripture is clear that those who are on the other side of the political aisle are not our enemy. Paul writes this in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
  • You damage your witness before a watching world. Let’s turn to the apostle Paul one more time. In Romans 12:14 we read this, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Imagine how different social media would feel if everyone obeyed this command? Too often instead of the world seeing the love of Christ in us they get the feeling that the Christian’s primary emotion is anger.

Social Media Echo Chamber

So what can we do about this? I certainly don’t think this is the complete solution, but it sure is an interesting idea. Knife Media is a news outlet that is trying hard to give just the basic facts when it comes to the news. They are trying to stay away from spinning a story in way that reflects their biases. Let me tell what I think will happen if you were to start reading your news from an outlet like Knife Media. You would find it either boring or disappointing. The reason this is true is that many times we are just looking to have our preconceived views about what is going on in the world validated by someone else. Is it possible that we have been so impacted by the echo chamber that we actually want to hear the spin?

Another suggestion is that we detox ourselves for a period of time from the news. (TV, iPhones, laptops, newspapers, social media, etc.) One writer stopped watching the news for a period of time and then recorded how it made her feel. Here are just a few of the changes that she experienced:

  • Had a greater sense of calm and peace
  • Felt closer to God
  • Less anger
  • Slept better

“Apparently studies have shown that the ratio of bad news to good news is about 17:1, which means that 95% of news is negative.” -Lisa Mainwaring

Perhaps the best idea is that we open ourselves up to people who think differently than we do. Listen more than we talk (or type). Try to see things from the another person’s perspective. This does not mean that we compromise the truth or that we become intellectually soft. No, it means that we humbly admit that we don’t have all the answers and we still want to learn and grow.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about how we can deal with the echo chamber that is closing in on us.

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This is crazy. You can go HERE and see your ad profile on Facebook. It will reveal to you how Facebook tailors ads based on their understanding of who you are. It will also show you if Facebook thinks you are liberal or conservative (or somewhere in-between) when it comes to politics. Facebook makes these types of determinations based on what you click on and what you ‘like.’ Fascinating and a bit frightening. Big brother is watching.

Above pic taken from feedingonchristdotcom