If you’re like me, you use your phone more than you would like to admit. You may even be reading this book review on your phone! Although mobile phones are very useful tools, we often use (and misuse) them without considering the possible implications. While we may know that mindlessly scrolling through social media, among other things, can be a massive waste of our God-given time and undermines productivity, how else does our phone usage affect us?
1. What is this book about?
Tony Reinke (who hosts the popular podcast ‘Ask Pastor John’) explores the danger of using our phones excessively and mindlessly while failing to consider the possible implications. He highlights how doing so can distract our devotion to God, amplify our ‘hidden’ sins, cause us to forget our identity in Christ and harm our relationships with others. While the issues raised by this book rightly provokes feelings of godly guilt, that is not its ultimate aim. The author recognises that momentary guilt can be a powerful motivator that prompts changed behaviours, but it does not last. Rather, Reinke properly identifies these consequences as the symptoms of our underlying sinful condition and how the solution lies not in our strength, but the freedom and forgiveness found in Christ.
2. What did I learn?
What we do on our phones under the guise of anonymity and false belief that our online habits have no lasting consequences reveals who we truly are and what we desire most. Smartphones are tools: they can either be used for our good or to the detriment of ourselves and those around us.
On one hand, they can connect people, enhance productivity and entertain.
On the other hand, phones make it so convenient to exercise, enhance or incite sinful desires and behaviours. We become addicted to our phones, neglect our relationship with God and crave human affirmation; only to end up feeling more lonely than ever. We trade devotion for distraction; our identities in Christ for manufactured online personas; God’s secure promises of eternity for constant fear of missing out on the present; careful meditation on God’s Word for convenient skimming; the Truth of His Word for the lies of the world; deep fellowship for superficial ‘friendship’; genuine forgiveness for slander and scandals; exposing personal sin for hiding ‘secret’ vices.
The solution to these sinful desires and behaviours has always been, and will be, found in Christ alone.
3. What did I enjoy?
The book is biblical, thoughtful and pastoral.
Firstly, it is not a self-help book. It highlights our helplessness and the sufficiency of God’s grace. Reinke carefully diagnoses the origins of each sinful desire/behaviour, how it is manifested in our phone usage and outlines the lasting consequences if we continue our current trajectory. This book seeks to build strong, biblical convictions (about who we are in God, how we are commanded to live for Him and the beauty of His promises) as foundations that birth new priorities empowered by our new life in Christ.
Secondly, it is insightful and realistic, yet short and concise. The short 213-page book is jam-packed with biblical truths, statistics, facts and real-life examples to highlight the issue of mindless phone usage. It helpfully categorises the potential implications of phone usage and encourages us to be careful and disciplined in the content that we consume and create in light of these implications.
Finally, it addresses a broad readership, provides practical guidelines and carefully applies biblical truths to our individual circumstances. Reinke does not heap judgement on his readers but writes grace-filled words of encouragement as a fellow phone user.
4. Why should other people read it?
Everyone should read this book because most, if not all, of us use mobile phones. Some of us may have never deeply considered whether and how phones can impact us. Others may have been aware that phones possess this potential, but could not pinpoint specific implications it carries (or cared enough to act on it). Some might believe that they don’t use their phones enough for it to change them. No matter who you are, if you use a phone, it can change you.
As Christians, we must be mindful of the content we consume and create. If left unchecked, our sinful online behaviours can damage our relationships with God and His people. As with all aspects of our lives, we are to glorify God, love His people and witness faithfully to His world. This most definitely includes how we use our phones and guard ourselves against being mastered by them.