Message Received.

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Receiving clear and direct feedback is necessary, especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pondering how I can build a readership, serve my audience, and use my writing to build up others, especially fellow Christians. Thanks to Jeff Goins’ recent series about email lists and Seth Godin’s book Tribes, I had a flash of inspiration a few weeks back: What if I put together an email newsletter?

I could focus the content toward guys like me–lay pastors who want to grow as teachers and communicators and faithfully lead their families and churches. I’d be writing as a peer, not as an expert, and would focus on encouraging the brothers. Maybe I’d even throw in some writing advice or Scriptural encouragement.

I was instantly excited about this idea, so I decided the best way to gauge potential interest in this project would be to ask my Twitter follows; after all, they’d be my core audience for such a venture.

I put the question out there as a poll, with the plan that, if I got at least 20 or 25 “yes” responses, I would start brainstorming for an early 2020 roll-out.

I certainly got an unambiguous response.

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In the words of Alex Hitchens (Will Smith’s character from Hitch))… 

I’ll admit, my pride took a bit of hit. When a brother started asking very specific follow-up questions about what exactly I would include in such an email, I started to get defensive, mainly because I hadn’t thought it all through yet. I had an exciting idea but no plan of how to get there, and no real clear goals. Truth be told, I may have been more enamored with the idea of having an email list than actually serving my readers, which would have been almost instant death to any goodwill if anyone had signed up.

What’s more, this clear response said something else I wasn’t eager to hear: An email audience is earned, and I hadn’t put in enough work to earn that level of trust.

Let’s be real: of the 170 or so “followers” of this blog, there are maybe 20 of you who actually read my posts. (In fact, do me a favor: if you’ve made it this far, reply in the comments with your favorite ice cream flavor. Just humor me–or Good Humor me, if you prefer.) Most of my blog follows are other bloggers looking for follow-backs, or folks looking to sell me something. If I tracked actual engagement via likes and comments, the number is much, much smaller.

As Jeff Goins puts it, joining someone’s mailing list means giving them specific permission to get into your “space” and speak to you directly. This is a closer level of access than a blog post that can be ignored. For an email newsletter list (of any kind) to grow, readers must believe I have something worth saying that is worth their valuable time to read. It’s clear I haven’t done enough to prove that yet.

It may not have come the way I wanted, but I’ve heard my 2020 challenge loud and clear: I need to give my audience a better reason to listen.

AND I need to have a better answer for the inevitable “why” question. Maybe that starts by deciding why I’m really interested in the idea of an email newsletter at all.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be creating an email newsletter in 2020. I’ve heard you loud and clear, folks.

Now, a podcast, on the other hand–there’s an idea…

Shareable, skimmable, skippable.

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I’ve been trying to catch up on my RSS feed’s “Read Later” tab. (After a few weeks of effort, I started the day at around 270 bookmarks.) I farm my RSS feed for links to share in my #FridayFeed posts (which seem to be most of my posts these days–I’m working on that!).  But I noticed as I mechanically cycled links this afternoon that I was merely skimming to see if the post was worth sharing, instead of reading to see if it was beneficial to me. I wasn’t reading; I was just curating.

Reversing the roles, I’d probably be disappointed if readers were only skimming my posts to weigh if they were “good enough” to share or retweet.

I have to admit, the pressure to put *something* up on the blog makes it easy to slip into that role of curator instead of creator

So I decided to chop my voluminous “Read Later” list down to things that I [gasp!] actually wanted to read later, even if doing so cut against my info-hoarder tendencies. The list is now below 150. Even if a link touched a topic I might want to read at some point, if I didn’t want to read it now, I deleted the bookmark.

Here’s my point: As much as you are able, only read what you actually want to read. There are no prizes for reading the most blog posts or news feeds, beyond the prize of what you actually retain. So read what you like, read what feeds your brain and heart and soul, and skip the rest. (And hopefully, I’ll create some of that good stuff for you along the way.)

Side-note: It’s also fascinating how little the BIG NEWS COMMENTARY of 6 months ago matters now. It’s almost as if, I don’t know, the 24-hour news cycle produces a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing in about a week. Hmm.

“I ain’t gonna work on Susan’s Farm no more…”

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So…how much is your time worth?

Last night, while looking at a freelancing site, I was shocked how many people underestimated the time and effort required to complete the jobs they posted. In one instance, a poster offered $5 per 4000 words proofread, and flatly stated that if the price wasn’t right for you, then you weren’t the right person for the job. (This comes out to a fraction of the average burger-flipper’s hourly wage.)

I was both amused and offended. “You need to value my time better!” I smirked.

Then the irony dawned on me: I don’t value my own time even that much.

I had just spent 2 hours watching Youtube videos as I finished the dishes and sat down to unwind at the end of the day (not an uncommon occurrence).

Youtube sells its users’ attention/eyeballs to advertisers. Essentially, we’re the product being sold. And I gave Youtube a few hours of my time to sell for…what? Fractions of pennies?

I enjoy content creators on the platform who cover geek culture or video games. But after giving away hours and hours of my attention for a trifling bit of amusement (“a-muse”=”not-thinking”), I start to wonder if $5 per 4000 words might be, comparatively, a princely sum.

I use Youtube for lots of things: music, information, but mostly distraction. It’s often background noise while I work or do chores–a sometimes distracting video-podcast. To be honest, I was afraid to look up how many hours of partial or full attention I’ve given away to a platform that seems to be more interested in reshaping my worldview than supplying my entertainment needs. But I went ahead and did it just now.

26+ hours in the last 7 days.

More than an entire day in the last week. Almost 4 hours a day of this ubiquitous screen demanding my partial or full attention. I’m…mortified.

It’s time for me to step back from Susan’s Farm, find another source for my daily music listening, and (crazy thought) go without a daily distractor for a few weeks. I don’t like being a product. Beyond that, I don’t like that I’ve consumed all this media without producing much of anything. This feels really out of balance.

If Youtube is the way you unwind, I get it. It’s cheap, and there’s lots of options. I hope it benefits you.

But looking at those numbers, I have to wonder if, for me personally, there may be a better way to spend these fleeting moments, even in leisure. (Perhaps I need to re-read Digital Minimalism or Competing Spectacles for inspiration.)

Friday Feed: 07/26/2019

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Happy Friday! I’m back today with some interesting and (hopefully) beneficial links for your weekend review (including some links pulled from my Feedly app’s “Read Later” list that I’m reading *much* later).

Let’s get to it!

  • Maybe you’re someone who wants to read more but just can’t seem to find the time or the will to make it happen. Jordan Taylor can relate. He can also show you how to address that.
  • I had never before heard this story of the price that Pastor (and author) Randy Alcorn paid for his convictions about the life issue. What a profound example of humble, daily faithfulness.
  • As you may know, we welcomed our second daughter recently. This post by Matthew Tuck is a great encouragement about how important simply reading the Bible to your kids can be.
  • Along those same lines: If you have wanted to begin a practice of family worship in your home, this piece from Things Above Us is instructive and practical. Check it out.
  • From last year, here’s a Crossway blog post about 5 tips for Bible memorization. I don’t pursue this discipline as I ought. These reminders/encouragements are worth a look.
  • Christian, rethink your public speech. Amen.
  • If you’ve never heard the story of Charles Spurgeon and the “Downgrade Controversy,” this is a nice summary. It’s a story worth digging into.
  • I am looking for a way to get organized, mentally as much as schedule-wise. I may give bullet-journalling a try this weekend. 
  • Finally, this post about the ignoble tasks of pastoral ministry was a challenge to the creeping selfishness in my heart, and a reminder that I should be grateful for the elders I serve with and the ones who have cared for me over the years.
  • Update: Actually, one more link–this post from Tim Challies about being your own content curator. As I noted above, I use Feedly, at Tim’s recommendation, and I think it’s a great resource. If you use an RSS feed now, or if you are considering using one, could I perhaps encourage you to add this blog to it? That is one of the best ways to know when I’ve posted new content, as I’m obviously still trying to figure out a consistent posting schedule. (Another great way is to sign up for updates on the sidebar to the right (or below, depending on your device). Thank you!

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I hope this was a help to you. If any of these topics interest you, be sure to click through, and maybe drop me a comment below to let me know which of these interested you. Thanks!

#BoycottHashtags

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Before you post on social media with that hashtag of disapprobation, I would humbly submit the following questions, intended purely for your consideration and self-reflection:

  1. Does this particular “outrage” actually affect your life directly and personally? If so, how? Be specific.
  2. If it does affect your life directly, is a social media post or hashtag campaign the best and most productive approach to addressing this issue? In other words, are you trying to “cancel” this person or group, or are you seeking real restitution/recompense of some kind? If seeking restitution, how will this social media post accomplish that? Would contacting them directly be more effective?
  3. If you are seeking to “cancel” your target, what is your ultimate desired outcome? Be specific. Does that outcome seem appropriate, when compared to the offense in question? If you explained this situation to someone who isn’t on social media, would they understand where you are coming from or would they look at you like you had grown another head?
  4. If the outrage affects your life indirectly at best, what is your goal in using the social media hashtag approach? Be specific. (Note: “Raising awareness” is not an answer. We’re all aware.) Again, apply the “random person who doesn’t use social media” test. Would this explanation make sense to your neighbor? Your boss? Your elderly grandmother?
  5. If you are using social media to call for or perpetuate a boycott of a certain business or product for ideological reasons, please consider how many times you have paid actual money to purchase this particular product or service in the last week? Month? Year? If it is a frequency greater than once a month, do you feel that diverting your custom to another business will accomplish the goal of your boycott? If so, how? Be specific.
  6. Are you using a social media hashtag to protest a widespread corporate policy or the actions of a local employee? If a corporate policy, how do you hope your use of a hashtag on a social media post will change this policy? Be specific.
  7. If an individual employee, what is your goal for publicly shaming this individual through the use of this hashtag? How do you want them to be brought to account? What do you want their punishment to be? How should this single decision affect the next 5-10 years of their life? Be specific.
  8. Final question: If you, having learned of this outrageous statement or action by an individual or corporation, made the decision to post nothing, to say nothing, to move on with your life, would it result in a net-positive, net-negative, or net-neutral change to your life?

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So what’s my point? Is this just more self-righteous social-media-bashing from your buddy Dave?

No. Here’s my point: While there are real issues of injustice and inequality that should call for our voices, votes, and vigilance, so much of our trendy outrage (whether on social media or even broadcast media) is exactly that: a trend. It’s not real–it’s fashion.

I know I’ve already talked about this a bit, but it’s on my mind again tonight.

Good grief, just tonight, there was a Twitter trending topic about Jason Momoa (Aquaman), and how a few random people on social media critiqued his slightly-less-chiseled body while he was on vacation. There were hundreds, even thousands, of tweets in response, almost all commenting on the “controversy” in disbelief. I’m embarrassed to admit, I contributed to that number.

It’s a silly example, but this is the very epitome of “fake news.” It’s not real information. It’s stupid. It’s a fart in the wind. It affects my life absolutely ZERO. Yet, I’m thinking about it right now.

A slightly less-recent but more well-known example: A customer at a SINGLE STARBUCKS LOCATION in Arizona asked the manager to ask some police officers to leave because the person felt uncomfortable. The Starbucks manager, put in an awkward position, asked the officers to leave. Should he/she have told the person making the complaint that the officers have the same right to be there as they do? I think so. But instead, the officers were asked to leave, and there was a NATIONAL TRENDING HASHTAG to “dump” Starbucks as a result. Because of one customer and one employee. That’s like boycotting all Honda vehicles because my van’s seatbelt “tongue” piece keeps slipping down to the floor ever since the little plastic button broke.

Perspective, people. That’s all I’m saying. Have a bit of perspective.

#FridayFeed: 06/28/2019

Happy Friday, friends! Here’s another bushel-basket of links and videos I found interesting this week. Hope you find a few fun items for your weekend amusement and edification!

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  • Seth Godin is a mastermind of business, marketing, and thinking outside the box. His bite-sized blog posts are short and insightful–like Zen koans about sales and professional relationships. Even if you’re not a sales or business person, each of his posts are worth a read, including this recent post about memorization vs. story-telling.
  • Okay, one more Godin post to check out that I really liked: “investing in slack” (as in margin, not the app-based business product).
  • This story from The Verge is very hard to read, but I’m glad it’s being told: 3 Facebook content reviewers break their NDA’s to talk about the horrible working conditions at Facebook’s content-review subcontractors and the painful emotional and psychological toll of reviewing vile and disturbing social media content 8 hours a day.
  • My friend Marian has some challenging words about how Southern Baptists can unintentionally signal their view of women’s contributions to church life through the questions they ask and the questions they don’t ask.
  • Kevin DeYoung provides some Proverbial insights on social media usage, courtesy of Solomon himself.
  • I dig artistic and unique music videos. This latest offering from my buddy Trevor’s band Fight the Fade is visually and lyrically intriguing. I love the industrial sound that FTF has found with this recent single. Check ’em out.
  • Some of you will really hate this article by David French, in which he argues that (some) evangelicals who supported the President’s election (and re-election) seem to be doing so out of fear instead of faith. While I don’t think he can make a blanket argument about all evangelicals, it could be applied to a not-insignificant slice of the president’s base.
  • I had a blog post idea on the back burner for the last month or so to look at 4 pictures of “toxic masculinity” in II Samuel 13-14 (the rape of Tamar  and the subsequent murder of Amnon). But then Michelle Lesley went and pretty much covered what I was looking to say. So maybe just check out her excellent post about “bad-dad David.”
  • A friend recently challenged me on Twitter by arguing that those who seek to be  complementarian in a Biblically-faithful way need to overcome the stereotypes and bad examples by presenting a clearer, nobler vision of this approach to gender roles. I agree heartily. This post from Hohn Cho over at Pyromaniacs is a great step in presenting that clearer vision.
  • With the upcoming birth of Daughter #2, this new Kirby Krackle tune about a super-heroic father saying goodbye to his daughter hit me squarely in the feels.

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Programming note: We have some big events coming up in our household this coming week (including the birth of the previously-mentioned daughter!). I’m going to try to schedule some posts this weekend to run over the next week or two, but if I can’t get that done, just know I’ll be back sometime after the July 4th holiday. Thanks for understanding.

Have a great weekend!

Friday Feed (6/21/2019)

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Happy weekend-eve, y’all! Here are some interesting links I’ve found over the last few weeks. Hope you enjoy!

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That’s all I’ve got for today. See you next week! 

 

If you’ve come across any interesting links lately, post them below!

Policy shift.

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I was in the middle of writing a different blog post when I realized it was probably a waste of your time, so I deleted the whole thing.

It was an anecdote about how a passing acquaintance whose writing and ministry I appreciate didn’t recognize me in the airport, and how that disappointed me until I realized it had been 5+ years since our paths last crossed. I had planned on stretching that weak premise into a 500-word post about the illusion of relationship that social media fosters and how we undervalue being known by God, until I realized that I’ve probably written that post 3 or 4 times over and even I’m bored of it.

As a matter of principle, I don’t want to create content just to chase your clicks, but I also don’t want to waste your time. Moving forward, if I realize I’m basically writing a filler post, I’ll toss it rather than cluttering your reader or email box. Scout’s honor.

My hope is that some of the regular features I’ve been posting lately (book reviews, #52Stories, #FridayFive, and the Friday feed) are actually beneficial to you, or at least entertaining. Aside from your likes and occasional comments, I can’t really be sure. I could put in the work to find out, but during this season of my life, that time is better spent elsewhere. (We’re having a baby in 2 weeks and a few days. That puts things in perspective.)

Here’s my bottom line, and then I’ll shut up and leave you to go about your evening: This blog isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too. And I’ll keep that front-of-mind as I create content for you to enjoy.

And if you have suggestions for new posts, I’m all ears. (Yes, I’m still percolating a few of your past suggestions, just you wait!) Even if I don’t take your advice, I will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to send me feedback. That’s a really cool thing.

Happy Monday to ya. I’ll have a #52Stories post up on Wednesday, and either a personal #FridayFive or an entertaining #FridayFeed at the end of the week.

#FridayFive: 5 Takeaways from #SBC19

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Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.

This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?

Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:

  1. The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
  2. We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
  3. True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
  4. The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
  5. There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.

There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.

…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!

  • I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
  • Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
  • Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
  • That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
  • The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
  • One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
  • I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
  • One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
  • JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
  • Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
  • Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
  • I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
  • You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.

I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.

Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!

If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well. 

Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back next week with new content!

The4thDave Reviews: “Competing Spectacles” by Tony Reinke

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In a culture wholly driven by the moving image, we feed on spectacle every moment of the day. We are awash in the blue glow of screens almost from the moment our eyes open in the morning, until we collapse into sleep at night. While a library of books has been written about the good and bad (mostly bad) of a digital or image-driven culture, there have been considerably fewer authors in the last half-century who have focused on the deeper spiritual ramifications of constant spectacle.

In recent months, I have enjoyed (and discussed) books by Andy Crouch, Cal Newport, and Senator Ben Sasse, regarding the need for distance and perspective when it comes to digital media, but these arguments have been overwhelmingly pragmatic and relational. As I noted in my review of Digital Minimalism, I was keenly aware of Newport’s lack of spiritual perspective; that is, he had a good sense of the effect of digital obsession on the mind but no sense of how it bends the soul.

This is why I am thrilled to recommend Tony Reinke’s latest work to you: Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.

In Competing Spectacles, Reinke fills in that missing piece in the important discussion of screen addiction and digital distraction by focusing on the cumulative effect such diversions can have on our spiritual life and growth.

In this follow-up to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke examines the prevalence of “spectacles” in our culture, and how spectacle saturation affects the spiritual appetites. The good news is, he doesn’t simply take the anti-tech position of “screens bad, stay away!” Rather, in the first section of the book, Reinke examines the nature of spectacle in several facets of cultural life, the power that spectacles have on us, and the way our appetites for such entertainment are developed.

In the second section of the book, Reinke considers what Christianity has to say about spectacles–particularly, which spectacles can and should capture our eyes and minds. This section really sings, as he applies the transforming truth of the Gospel gently but directly to our tendency toward amusement and distraction.

Near the end of Part 2, Reinke provides “Summations and Applications” that help the reader think through how we can put these truths to work in our hearts and daily lives. He concludes with a beautiful vision of what happens when our gaze is rightly fixed on a Spectacle worth observing.

Throughout the book, I was struck by by Reinke’s eloquence, recalling the proverb about words fitly spoken being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Had I been reading a paper copy, there would be several sections with entire pages highlighted, underlined, and starred. Once in a while, I had to just stop for a moment to appreciate a perfectly crafted sentence. Reinke outdid himself in the mechanics and construction of his prose in this book.

Final Recommendation

In the very first chapter, Reinke calls Competing Spectacles “a theology of visual culture,” and the description is apt. This isn’t just a book about screen time and self-control, social media addiction and the degradation of societal decorum. This book is inherently and blessedly theological in scope, and as such, it fills a glaring gap in this important discussion.

I heartily recommend Competing Spectacles to all my readers, and particularly those who (like me) have been wrestling with the effect of digital media and entertainment on their hearts. This book should be part of every Christian’s library, where it can be revisited from time to time for reconsideration and reflection.

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Note: I have been provided an advance copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are entirely my own.