Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.Psalm 119:37 (ESV)
The age of the spectacle is here, Tony Reinke reminds us in his new book, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age, and there is no going back. “New images ask us for all sorts of things – our time, our attention, our outrage, our money, our lust, our affection, and our votes. Is it possible to resist them? Should we try?” And more importantly, Reinke asks, “in this ecosystem of digital pictures and fabricated sights and viral moments competing for our attention – how do we spiritually thrive?”
This book is divided into two parts, with the first part being devoted to describing the reality in which we live, an age dominated by a whole digital world that vies for our attention, and often succeeds. He explores what this looks like in social media, gaming, advertising, politics, and many other areas of culture where spectacles dominate and demand our attention.
One of the highlights of this section for me was Reinke’s discussion of how all of this affects our lives of prayer. Before this digital age, Reinke points out that it would be typical for Christians to turn to God in prayer in the transition times in our day. Whenever we found ourselves with a few quiet moments, it would be somewhat natural to spend a little time in prayer. Now, what do we do when we have a quiet moment? These moments are “plundered and carried off by digital media.” Reinke describes his own spiritual life in this digital age in a way that sounds very familiar: “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.” Am I not doing the same? Going on social media or picking up my phone in the transition-times in my day, rather than turning to my Lord in prayer? Reading this has led me to take another look at these “cracks of time” in my day and make sure that I am not filling them all with digital distractions.
The premise of Part 2 is a simple but compelling one that gave this book its title: “What if, for Christians – especially in the digital age – we no longer live in a theater of mutually exclusive spectacles … What if we live in an age of competing spectacles?” There is a spectacle “devised in the mind of God and brought about in world history” that is the grandest of them all, and that is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is the greatest spectacle, revealing the glory and love of God to us, only this spectacle “can reach to the bottom of our loves and longings with power to shape us into something whole and beautiful.”
And this is where the church comes in, the “perpetual resistance movement” in this digital age. “Matched to the multi-million dollar CGI spectacles of Hollywood, the church’s interior spectacles seem dull. But they are beautiful and profound. Each week the local church reenacts the same things – Bible preaching, the Lord’s Table, water baptism – all of them faith-based, repeated, microspectacles (unlike the sight-based and unrepeated, expiring spectacles of the world).” This is so true, and one of the reasons why worship, prayer, and spending time with God’s word is so important to me. They serve as habitual reminders to turn away from the worthless things of this world toward those that are truly eternal. Reinke quotes Psalm 119:37 very appropriately in this context: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” This seems like the prayer for our time, for this digital age in which we find ourselves.
“In sum,” Reinke writes toward the end of this book, “all my concerts and 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.” This is a very simple and helpful way to check on how we are doing in our spiritual lives in this digital age: Are we bored with Christ? Are we more eager to check our phones than to spend a few moments in prayer? Are we more excited about an upcoming game or movie than about what we read in God’s word or about an upcoming worship service? It is a simple but effective question, isn’t it?
“Lingering long on the spectacle of the cross awakens us to injustices, gives us fresh words to speak, and renews our energy to serve,” Reinke writes. “When we turn our attention to Christ – our ultimate Spectacle – all the flickering pixels of our culture’s worthless things and beloved idols grow strangely dim.”
In this age of competing spectacles, Reinke offers a powerful reminder, to me and to all Christians, to turn our eyes away from these flickering pixels and turn our attention back to Christ. He challenges us to make sure that we are not spending all our quiet moments with digital distractions, but instead filling these moments with prayer and with wonder at the great and glorious spectacle of Christ’s dying and rising again. In the light of that great and glorious Spectacle, all these other competing spectacles will grow strangely dim, to the glory of God.
Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is written by Tony Reinke, the communications director for desiringGod.org and the author of several other books, including 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Crossway Blog Review Program to facilitate my honest review of this book. You can find Competing Spectacles at Amazon.com or Bookshop.org.