Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age – Tony Reinke

specTony Reinke, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 154 pp.

We live in an increasingly visual culture. As a pastor, I hear the relentless sound of the postmodern drumbeat: “The average person cannot sit through a forty-five-minute sermon,” I’m told. Yet that same person will sit in a dark room for nearly four hours and watch Lord of the Rings. I am convinced that the aversion to listening to a sermon has more to do with affections than ability. That is, we are drawn to what we love. And we are increasingly captivated by the visual – screens, televisions, video games and an endless array of visual stimuli. A visual smorgasbord surrounds us and offers a rich array of pleasures and satisfaction. But do these visual delights (or spectacles) come with a hefty price tag?

Tony Reinke examines the visual dilemma in his new book, Competing Spectacles. A spectacle is anything that garners attention from the eye, be it good or evil. Reinke is chiefly concerned with answering one question: “In this ecosystem of digital pictures and fabricated sights and viral moments competing for our attention, how do we spiritually thrive?”

Anyone who thinks that Reinke is over-reacting should etch this statement on their minds and tape it to their televisions:

The spectacle’s goal is to make spectators and to keep them spectating.

Taken from this perspective, most would agree that the goal to keep spectators spectating is succeeding. Our visual world is sucking people in and it appears that turning back is not an option. The net result is a people who appear satisfied but are dying on the inside.

Briefly, Reinke diagnoses the problem of spectacles and challenges readers to be aware of the ever-present tension. Indeed, the spectacles in the world lure unsuspecting eyes and promise a full array of benefits, yet in the final analysis, is found wanting. On the other hand, the supreme Spectacle offers eternal joy and pleasure (Ps. 16:11).

But the author goes further. He argues that the supreme Spectacle is more comprehensive and enchanting than we ever dreamed: “The local church is where we go to find the Lord’s Table and baptism and the preaching of the Word, where those repeated spectacles call us again and again for a response of worship and repentance and joy.”

The Challenge of Competing Spectacles

No one can point a judgmental finger at Reinke – for he steers clear from all brands of legalism. He urges evangelical eyes to be disciplined and discerning: “Each of us must reckon with this radical eschatological promise of Christ in our personal media diets.” The challenge is to reject the profane and to “develop personal disciplines to resist the impulse to fill our lives with vain spectacles.”

The most urgent and penetrating aspect of this book concerns those who are bored with Christ and his gospel, a problem that appears to be an epidemic in this media- saturated generation. “In the digital age,” writes the author, “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,” Reinke adds:

Over time, spectacles taken in unwisely will make our hearts cold, sluggish, and dull to unseen eternal delights.

Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin.

Reinke takes a page out of the C.S. Lewis playbook: “The worst trade in the universe is playing in the shallow pools of the world’s spectacles instead of diving deep for the treasures of eternal worth.” So while Lewis’s “mud pies” attract the masses, most people turn a cold should to the “offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is a timely book that is thought-provoking and deeply challenging. Reinke’s diagnosis and description of the visual dilemma is clear and sobering. The prescription he offers is convicting and compelling. The prescription for this visual tug-o-war is nothing less than being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ Jesus. The author concludes:

The Christian’s battle in this media age can be won only by the expulsive power of a superior Spectacle. Christ is our safety and our guide in the age of competing spectacles, the age of social media. He is our only hope in life and death, in the age to come, and in this media age.

Competing Spectacles is a stunning book that will open many eyes. My prayer is that as the Spirit of God educates people through Reinke’s excellent work that they would, in turn, exalt the superior Spectacle, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. Then and only then will “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.


12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You – Tony Reinke

iphoneTony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 224 pp. $11.51

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You is the title of Tony Reinke’s latest book. Anyone who owns a smartphone understands the power and productivity of such a device. But along with these gains come several shortcomings that Reinke addresses in his book.

After initially reviewing the table of contents, I automatically assumed that Reinke would encourage users to ditch their smartphones. The author writes, “Our joy in God is at stake. In our vanity, we feed on digital junk food, and our palates are reprogrammed and our affections atrophy.” But Reinke is merely alerting his readers to the implicit dangers of smartphones. Like anything else, a smartphone may be used for the glory of God or may be used for evil purposes.

Much of the book is devoted to surfacing idols of the heart and making necessary adjustments. For instance, the author challenges his readers to carefully evaluate every tweet and post online:

  • Will this ultimately glorify God?
  • Will this stir or muffle healthy affections for Christ?
  • Will this merely document that I know something that others don’t?
  • Will this misrepresent me or is it authentic?
  • Will this potentially breed jealousy in others?
  • Will this fortify unity or stir up unnecessary division?
  • Will this build up or tear down?
  • Will this heap guilt or relieve it?
  • Will this fuel lust for sin or warn against it?
  • Will this overpromise and instill false hopes in others?

The heart must be ruthlessly and relentlessly evaluated or the smartphone may render a given user a fool. Unfortunately, this clever device has made idolatrous inroads into the hearts of many people and the result is nothing less than tragic: “Submission to a created thing, such as a smartphone, is idolatry when that created tool or device determines the ends of our lives.”

Reinke encourages careful contemplation as well as disciplined restraint:

“So as Christians, we push back our phones in the morning – in order to protect our solitude so that we can know God and so that we can reflect him as his children. And we push back our phones during the day – in order to build authentic eye-to-eye trust with the people in our lives and in order to be sharpened by hard relationships …”

In the final analysis, Reinke neither condemns or condones smartphone use: “It is just as idolatrous to blaspheme a phone as it is to worship a phone,” writes the author. “The solution is for us to wisely enjoy the smartphone – imaginatively, transcendentally, as something that should deepen wonder.”

At the end of the day, we face a two-fold challenge in the digital world. Reinke asks readers to consider:

  1. On the external front: Are we safeguarding ourselves and practicing smartphone self-denial?
  2. On the internal front: Are we simultaneously seeking to satisfy our hearts with divine glory that is, for now, largely invisible?

I was personally moved and challenged by Reinke’s book and commend it to others to read and absorb.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship


LITSeveral years ago I read, How to Read a Book by Mortimier Adler, a classic in its own right.  Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke picks up where Adler left off.  The biggest difference – Reinke writes from a uniquely Christian angle.

In part one, the author articulates a theology of books.  Chapter five proves to be particularly helpful, as Reinke lists several benefits of reading non-Christian books:

1. Non-Christian literature can describe the world, how it functions, and how to subdue it

2. Non-Christian books highlight common life experiences

3. Non-Christian books can expose the human heart

4. Non-Christian books can teach us wisdom and valuable moral lessons

5. Non-Christian books can capture beauty

6. Non-Christian literature begs questions that can only be resolved in Christ

7. Non-Christian books can echo spiritual truth and edify the soul.

Of course, all truth is God’s truth.  Therefore readers should not shy away from benefitting from good writing that comes from the pen of one who has been endowed with common grace.

Part two surfaces practical advice on book reading.  While part one worked hard to set forth the author’s philosophical foundations for reading, part two provides help for efficient and skillful reading habits.  Readers would do well to dig into Reinke’s book and surface these helpful principles.

4.5 stars