The annual liturgical calendar gives us seasonal excuses to set aside focused time to re-celebrate pinnacles of the biblical storyline, and to look at the same old, beautiful stories of redemptive history from different angles and using different lenses.

Ever since biblical theology found a happy home in Handel’s Messiah, Christmas has taken its rightful place as one of the most precious seasons for this type of reflection. And Advent itself has notoriously been targeted by publishers of devotionals and seasonal books for good reason. But as I’ve said over the years, I’m not much of a devotional-book reader. I much prefer to find my way directly to the pages of Scripture myself, and whenever I can intentionally focus my attention on a section of Scripture for a seasonal purpose, I take advantage of the opportunity. And that’s why this Christmas, I plan to invest extra time in slowing reading through the prophetic book of Isaiah.

It was something I did last year online, and a few dozen of you joined me on Twitter, and even more of you said they wanted to join along in the reading this year. So, welcome!

Why Isaiah?

Isaiah is a book specifically dedicated to Israel’s history — their past redemption, present disobedience, and the future promises of God’s deliverance. Isaiah is a stunning book, and not only is it essential to our faith — some calling it the fifth gospel — but it’s also a historically magnificent work to help return our redemptive gaze back to the highlights of God’s activity among his people. But it’s not an abstracted involvement. It gets very personal, as we’ll see in a moment.

If you thought our world was a mess of dissension and idolatry, enter the world of Isaiah. It’s (arguably) the darkest book in the OT and (inarguably) the second most concentrated book of “joy” mentions in the OT (only behind the Psalms), making it a perfect set-up read for Christmas, and one rooted deep in a broken world.

Immediately obvious are the important prophecies for the Christmas season — passages like Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 stand out. But the entire book offers key background that frames the majesty of Bethlehem. That’s why for the month leading up to Christmas I’m dedicating my devotional readings exclusively to the book of Isaiah.

What makes this opportunity so precious during advent is the reality that Isaiah separates into three sections, and each section develops around one particular character whom God promises to send. In the first 39 chapters, God promises a Davidic Ruler, a new king, will emerge. In the next 16 chapters, he promises a self-giving Servant will arrive. In the final 11 chapters, he promises a Messenger, a prophet of God’s redemption.

Breaking Isaiah into three sections is not unique; students of the Bible have been making these breaks for a long time. What’s unique is that the trio of sections is here studied with particular emphasis on the central character in each of the section breaks, making the overall reading experience more personal (literally).

The threefold distinction of these characters is illustrated in one handy chart from a new book:


bookI pulled this helpful chart from Andrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. It was one of my favorite reads in 2016 and it’s one of the most relevant texts for the Christmas season.

To this end I want to use the month leading up to Christmas to read through Isaiah, look for these three characters, and recognize all along that these three characters are not three people, but rather one Messiah — God’s incarnate Son.

I’ll give you the specifics of my reading schedule in just a moment, but first here are two important paragraphs from Abernathy’s book to set the stage for how Isaiah develops these three characters. Here Abernathy also provides a caution about what not to do in our reading, and instead what we should be looking for as we read Isaiah.

Here’s the first important excerpt.

“Isaiah does not envision only one lead agent; instead, there are at least three distinct lead agents whom God will use in each of the major sections of the book: (1) the Davidic ruler (1–39), (2) the servant of the Lord (40–55), and (3) God’s messenger (56–66). While Christians profess that Jesus ultimately embodies what the book of Isaiah envisions for these lead agents, I am not certain that these agents are necessarily understood to be the same individual throughout Isaiah. The book of Isaiah contains a range of expectations pertaining to the various roles God would need his lead agents to fulfill in the course of time. Instead of forcing all of these lead agents into one mold, it is better to allow the uniqueness of each figure to emerge. The common denominator, however, between these lead agents is that they are the divine king’s agents and feature into his plans within his kingdom. In fact, God’s Spirit empowers all three of these agents for the task assigned to them. These agents, then, are distinct, but are also united under God as king and overlap to some extent due to shared participation in God’s mission” (120).

The royal, the prophetic, and the priestly — three characters in three persons in the Isaianic storyline. Before we run them together, based upon what we know from later revelation, we should first let the book of Isaiah develop the three characters individually in the full richness of the expectations of God’s people.

Here’s the second paragraph from the book I want you to see.

“The Davidic ruler, the servant, and the anointed messenger are distinct figures in the outlook of the book of Isaiah, for they have fairly distinct purposes and operate in differing contexts. The Davidic ruler will be God’s agent in maintaining justice within Israel in the aftermath of deliverance from their oppressors. The servant will be God’s instrument among the nations in reconciling Israel and the nations to God through his suffering so that they may dwell with God, the holy king, in his holy city. The anointed messenger will emerge on the brink of the eschatological in-breaking of God’s coming as the warrior king who will reign in Zion to declare the gospel to the disheartened faithful. It is not unexpected for Isaiah to envision multiple lead agents in the light of other prophetic literature. As Boda [another scholar] argues, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi envision royal, prophetic and priestly figures who will all play an important role in the establishment of God’s kingdom. The claim here also does not undermine the New Testament’s application of all three of Isaiah’s figures to Jesus; instead, it displays the grandeur of Jesus and the surprise of recognizing how one person, Jesus Christ, can take on the role of all three figures, while also being the very God of these agent figures” (169).

As we work through the three figures in Isaiah, and as we approach Christmas, the connections between them in Christ should become clearer and clearer. As we work from the details of our personal reading, and as we come together in Christmas worship, we will see all three strands, all three characters, come together in our magnificent Prophet-Priest-King born in Bethlehem.

Finally, the schedule, which you are free to print out and slide into your Bible. I divvied up the book into a calendar, scheduled for weekdays, running from Monday, November 27 to Friday, December 22).

I would love for you to join me this year as we prepare for the birth of our Savior. May we together worship him in the full majesty of what his coming means for the world, and may we together praise him for his fulfillment of the multifaceted expectations of the prophetic anticipation.

☐ Nov 27	Isa 1–2
☐ Nov 28	Isa 3–6
☐ Nov 29	Isa 7–9
☐ Nov 30	Isa 10–13
☐ Dec 1		Isa 14–16
☐ Dec 4		Isa 17–21
☐ Dec 5		Isa 22–24
☐ Dec 6		Isa 25–28
☐ Dec 7		Isa 29–30
☐ Dec 8		Isa 31–33
☐ Dec 11	Isa 34–36
☐ Dec 12	Isa 37–39
☐ Dec 13	Isa 40–41
☐ Dec 14	Isa 42–43
☐ Dec 15	Isa 44–47
☐ Dec 18	Isa 48–50
☐ Dec 19	Isa 51–54
☐ Dec 20	Isa 55–58
☐ Dec 21	Isa 59–62
☐ Dec 22	Isa 63–66


Reading Richard Hays Backwards

Richard Hays is a professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, a distinguished theologian, a prolific author, and a skilled stylist of theological prose — a rich combination of strengths.

There are a lot of reasons to read his books, and I have profited from four of them in particular: Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016), an incredible book I took on summer vacation last year for a season of focused immersion on the life and words of Christ, and Reading Backwards (2014), a smaller version of the 2016 book. Also of benefit are his older books The Conversion of the Imagination (2005), and Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1993).

To make the best use of Dr. Hays’s books, I think it’s helpful to keep a pair of qualifications in mind at all times. By airing them in the open, I think it will help timid readers read with greater aspiration and discretion. (A friend recently asked for my thoughts and encouraged me to share these thoughts online, so here it goes.)

Qualification 1

Hays is fervently committed to preserving ethnic Israel. Israel has yet to play a role in God’s redemptive plan, and this correct impulse leads him to make some horribly incendiary statements that subvert the authority of John’s Gospel when it depicts the unbelief of Israel.

Specifically, this becomes problematic when Hays addresses John 8:39–47. From this text, in his 1996 book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Hays comes right out and accuses the Gospel of John of anti-Semitism, saying:

Nowhere in John’s Gospel does the superheated animosity toward the Jews come to more vigorous expression than in chapter 8. . . . The dialogue [of John 8:39–47] is the most deeply disturbing outburst of anti-Jewish sentiment in the New Testament. . . . John makes a fateful theological step: from the empirical fact of the unbelief of the Jews . . . . The Jews who do not believe must be children of the devil. . . . The conclusion of verse 47 articulates the chilling logic of this position: the reason they do not hear the word of God is that they are not from God. . . . One shudders to contemplate the ethical outworking of such a theological perspective on the Jews. . . . The Gospel of John really does adopt a stance toward Judaism that can only engender polemics and hostility. (426–429)


Now, he does tone down this language a little in his later books (compare to his 2016 book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 350). But he has never, to my knowledge, rescinded these bold accusations made in 1996.

Like Hays, John Piper (as one example) is also fervently committed to preserving an ongoing place in redemptive history for ethnic Israel — but never, for Piper, at the expense of disparaging divine revelation. Says Piper, “This is a great sadness that ordained Christian teachers in the church [referring to Hays] should slander the word of God in this way.”

You can see more on this point, and Piper’s thoughts, in his sermon “The Truth Will Set You Free,” for a better approach in preserving ethnic Israel’s place in God’s future plan, without diminishing the catastrophe of Israel’s unbelief in the face of her Messiah.

Qualification 2

The second qualification is less offensive and far more pervasive, and it’s this: Hays seems to operate from a less-than-robust definition of typology.

So what is typology? Theologian Graham Cole defines typology as the phenomenon that OT persons (like Moses), and OT events (like the exodus), and OT institutions (like the temple) can — in the holistic plan of God — prefigure and set the stage for a later development in that plan, to provide key preliminary concepts necessary to understand God’s divine intent later in the story. With typology in place, the coming of Christ becomes the new Moses, to bring a new exodus, himself becoming the new temple. That’s typology, and the relationship from the OT to the New Testament is an organic one in the mind and plan of God.

In contrast, we already get a sense of how Richard Hays will approach typology in the title of his book: Reading Backwards. But here’s explicitly how he defines it elsewhere: “Typology is before all else a trope, an act of imagination correlation” (Echoes of Scripture in Paul, 100).

For Hays, typology is first an innovative literary move by the interpreters (the Apostles).

By contrast, I’m persuaded, with Cole, that typology is — before all else — a divine glory made clearer in time as it emerges. The links are organic. The mystery in the Old, planted like a seed, is there to be seen (but very subtly), until it grows into an explosive divine glory for all to see in the New.

In other words, Hays thinks that typology is a literary trick of reading backwards, not forward. And he ends up reading his Bible backwards.

By contrast, it is the “mystery” language of the New Testament that helps unlock this forward-reading, as Don Carson helpfully explains. “You find again and again in the New Testament, [mystery] is bound up with something in some measure hidden in times past and now revealed, but the nature of the hiddenness is often bound up with typology. It’s hidden in the past in some form of typological structure, which is now unpacked forcefully in the New Testament” (lecture; June 17, 2005). “Things are genuinely truly there [in the OT] but regularly not understood and, thus, overlooked, precisely because of the degree of God-granted hiddenness to them, which we nevertheless should have seen” (lecture; March 26, 2004).

In the Law, Prophets, and Psalms, the stage is set for typology to celebrate the interconnections of the divine mystery that will come to full maturity in Christ. The interpretive key to typology is “the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Christ is the interpretive key, the centerpiece of the “mystery,” as he himself explains in Luke 24:44–47:

[Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Jesus is not using a mere literary trope, he’s present inside the OT.

So according to Jesus himself, the seeds of Christ are planted deeply throughout the OT. We aren’t left to read Christ’s works into the OT; rather, the reader must see how the old-covenant types of Christ grow and unfold in the glories of Christ revealed in the new. And it’s clear, in reading the Epistles, that the apostles took this commission with great seriousness.

Hays seems tempted to reduce typology down to the innovative tropes of the Christian imagination, imposed on the Jewish OT, a literary trick of the apostles to read Christ backwards into the previous Scripture. Rather, as Jesus himself leads me to believe, it’s far better to see typology as an organic relationship where new-covenant glories are present in the old covenant as seeds, waiting to mature and spread their branches.

Tolle Lege

Nevertheless, Richard Hays clearly believes loads of subtle types, or figurations, wait to be discovered in OT/NT links — a motivation for all his labors, and what makes those labors so rich and valuable. He sees the links, even if he downplays the organic nature of those links. And he is mostly careful with Scripture, which is essential if one wants to even attempt all this without stepping on all the many landmines of over-confident allegorical and typological presumptions which will ultimately derail and undermine a whole project like his.

So what all this leads to is the point that Hays is often profoundly good in pointing out the textual types themselves, and good at making OT/NT connections with great skill. But Hays seems to be constantly working backwards, which means he needs to be read backwards, which then again sets us reading the Bible forward.

Bible readers must always celebrate the organic dimension of those links in showing the brilliant unity of God’s sovereign plan of redemption as it marches forward, “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:9).

So, for whatever it’s worth to you and your reading, those are two qualifications I keep in mind as I read and benefit from the works of Richard Hays.

Tony Reinke

For the sake of clarity and charity, I sent these critiques to Dr. Hays for his response, which he kindly returned to me, and which I post here.


Dear Mr. Reinke,

With apologies for the delay, I’m now writing in response to your kind invitation to reply to your critique. Thank you for engaging my work thoughtfully and saying some kind things about it. I take seriously your instruction that this should be “a very brief response.”

To your first qualification: Your citations concerning the Gospel of John are drawn from my book The Moral Vision of the New Testament, published in 1996. The bits you quote come from a chapter that focuses on the issue of how the NT speaks to “Anti-Judaism and Ethnic Conflict.” In the quotations you have extracted, I was highlighting the very real problems that John’s Gospel poses for Jewish-Christian dialogue and for Christian attitudes towards Jews. These problems cannot be wished away by appeal to a high-level doctrine of revelation. Instead, we have to engage the problems in detail, at both the exegetical and the hermeneutical levels.

My 1996 book was a first attempt to grapple with the issues. The force of my argument in context, even in that earlier book, was to show the tensions between John and other canonical witnesses, and to argue for: (1) a gracious and hopeful posture towards Jews; and (2) a trust, based especially on Romans 9–11, in God’s ultimate redemptive purpose for Israel. Most importantly, for readers who want to understand how my thinking about the Gospel of John has developed, and how my hermeneutical perspective has changed, over the past 20 years, I especially urge a careful reading of my most recent study, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, especially pages 302–308 and 354–356.

To your second qualification: I would insist that your reading of my treatment of typology (a term I rarely use — I much prefer “figural interpretation”) is a misreading. I have been at some pains to clarify this point. I do not think that figural interpretation is “a literary trick of reading backwards.” Quite the contrary: the Evangelists’ act of “reading backwards” is an “Aha!” experience in which they return to read Israel’s Scripture in light of Jesus’s life death and resurrection. When they do that, they discover a mysterious, previously unrecognized, divine unity in the story as a whole. I strongly urge readers to read carefully pages 358–366 at the conclusion of my book. I quote here just a couple of short excerpts:

. . . [T]he Evangelists received Scripture as a complex body of texts given to the community by God, who had scripted the whole biblical drama in such a way that it had multiple senses. Some of these senses are hidden, so that they come into focus only retrospectively. . . . This hermeneutical sensibility locates the deep logic of the intertextual linkage between Israel’s Scripture and the Gospels not in human intentionality but in the mysterious providence of God, who is ultimately the author of the correspondences woven into these texts and events, correspondences that could be perceived only in retrospect. In short, figural interpretation discerns a divinely crafted pattern of coherence within the events and characters of the biblical narratives. (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 358–359, italics in the original)

So, when you quote Luke 24:44–47 and say “Jesus is present inside the OT,” you are not at all disagreeing with what I have written; you are exactly restating the point I labor to demonstrate throughout my book.

I hope that your readers will follow your encouragement to take up my work and read it.

Blessings to you in your work.

Grace and peace,

Richard Hays


Grateful for the kind response here from Dr. Hays, I do continue to harbor both of my original concerns, but with better focus on my part.

I continue to maintain that John Piper’s sermon offers a superior approach to John 8, a response thoroughly driven by exegesis, not merely a defensive rebuke to preserve the integrity of the text, but following the flow of it and reckoning seriously with Jesus’s words to his Jewish listeners.

For a more detailed critique of Hays, I have been made aware of Andrew Lincoln’s groundbreaking book, Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel, that explicitly answers Hays’s charges about anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John. See these two sections: “The Trial Motif and Anti-Judaism” (397–404) and “Faithful Witness and the Dialogue with Judaism” (485–497).

In any case, I do hope Hays will one day retract his statements on John 8:39–47.

On concern two, the clarification is helpful. In principle, I think we are closer to agreement, though in practice the distance remains. I still fear that readers, especially of a book like Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, will be left with the impression that Hays sees the types (or figurations) of the Gospel writers as owing more to the interpretive imagination of the Apostles than to the OT’s brightness with a peculiar glory of Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that he says this explicitly throughout, but in practice the reader is left assuming this until the end.

I’m grateful to say that I think we may agree in final principle over what he says on the final pages of ESG. So begin there. First read pages 358–359, then start at the beginning. (Again, read Hays backwards.) And then, whenever it seems that Hays is giving undue credit to an apostolic literary trope, if you sense this, I give you permission to write in the margin: “Jesus is present inside the OT,” by way of reminder. Again, I’ll reiterate that I think this principle gets obscured in the abundant details of Hays’s writings.

In the end, my message remains the same: Now go and read Richard Hays with delight!

Tony Reinke

PS: My apologies for the style of this piece, which one kind friend has called, quote, “an interesting strategy in presentation: drafted article, rejoinder, surrejoinder.” I think what my friend meant to say was, “What on earth are you doing here?!” To be fair, the written-quarrel genre is messy business. As Chesterton once said of debate, “Writing to a man is like firing at him with a revolver; talking to him is like spraying at him with a garden hose.” In the first case, it’s a hit-or-miss endeavor; in the second, a man can correct his line of water. So the reader will see that I have taken the liberty of adding a couple re-focused points here at the end. Perhaps my “interesting strategy” will catch on. Or not. At the very least, I think the content of this email duel is instructive enough to be online.

Free Study Guide for 12 Ways

This summer, my book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, was released (Crossway). It has been received well in the States, and seven international publishers are currently working on translations (Dutch, French, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish).

Part of my encouragement comes from the many parents who are using the book in their family devotions, and many pastors who are using the book in family discipleship and teen training contexts. I wrote the book as a tool to equip parents and pastors, those Christians on the front lines in a new awakening to the cataclysmic personal and spiritual changes in the wake of the digital age. In turn, those parents and pastors are strategically positioned to get the book into the hands of the youth and teens of the iGen, and for this I am deeply grateful.

Today I received a copy of the following family discussion guide, written by pastor Chip Cowsert. He serves as the director of student ministries at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Meridian in Mississippi.

I’m posting the guide here with his permission, and with the prayer that it will serve other parents and leaders. Feel free to copy and paste and adapt it to serve your needs.


Family Discussion Guide:
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

The following questions are based off Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I am challenging each family in our student ministry to put this family discussion guide to work! There are a few open-ended questions and a passage of Scripture for each topic.

A few ways this resource could be used:

1. Work through one topic each week as a family devotion.
2. Pick a few questions to ask and discuss at the dinner table.
3. Buy the book, read along, and ask your family these questions.

Introduction and Chapter 1 — We Are Addicted to Distraction

What is technology? (Share your own definitions, but feel free to look one up.)

What are some good ways technology can be used? What are some harmful ways that technology can be used?

What are some ways that technology (phones, letters, cars, etc.) can improve our relationships?

What are some ways that technology can detract from our relationships?

What are your favorite things to do with smartphones?

We check our smartphones 81,500 times each year, or about every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. Do you think that’s too much, too little, or about right? Why?

Why do you most often check your phone? Read Psalm 109:2–13.

How do smartphones resemble the hand-carved idols of ancient people?

Chapter 2 — We Ignore Our Own Flesh and Blood

46 of 50 states have outlawed texting and driving. Why do you think that people still do it? How does this practice show a disregard for the people physically closest to us?

Read John 1:14, John 6:51, and 1 Corinthians 15:42–43. In what ways does the Bible speak highly of our physical bodies?

Read 2 John 1:12. Do you think that spending time with someone in person is even better than communicating via technology? Why or why not?

How might our phones prevent us from interacting with the people around us?

Jesus came in the flesh, and commanded us to meet together, to eat the Lord’s Supper, and to be baptized with water. Why do you think that God calls for so much of the Christian life to be done with our bodies?

How might smartphones cause us to ignore our bodies?

Chapter 3 — We Crave Immediate Approval

What are some ways that a teenage girl might seek approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?

What are some ways that a teenage boy might try to gain approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?

Does life online feel socially safer than real life? Why or why not?

Do you feel more comfortable knocking or someone’s door or sending them a text? Why?

What are some awkward, boring, or uncomfortable “real life” environments for you? How might these environments be good for you?

Are people more comfortable arguing online or in person? Why do you think that is?

Do you ever find yourself trying to impress people online? How? (This might be a topic for parents to model vulnerability and confession!)

How does knowing Jesus address our deep need for approval? Can you think of (or look up) any verses that address this?

Read Isaiah 43:1–2. How does knowing Jesus reduce our social anxiety?

Chapter 4 — We Lose Our Literacy

What is the best book you’ve ever read? What did you like about it?

Christians, on average, read slightly more books per year than the general population. Why do you think that is?

A fairly large number of Christian smartphone users are beginning to read more books, but more commonly, smartphone users are reading fewer books than ever. Why do you think phones may help some people to read more, but others to read less?

In this chapter, Reinke claims that “by seeking trivial pleasure in our phones, we train ourselves to want more of those trivial pleasures.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Reinke also argues that reading on our phones is training us to skim quickly (a good skill), but that we may be losing our ability to concentrate on a text or a story. Why might these habits be detrimental to our spiritual health?

As a family, read Psalm 1. What do you think it means to “meditate on the law of the Lord day and night”? What does God promise for those who do?

Chapter 5 — We Feed on the Produced

What celebrities do you like to read, watch, or learn about? What makes them so interesting?

Would it make you uncomfortable to have a really fun day, in a really cool place, and not be able to post a picture of it online? Why or why not?

In this chapter, the author argues that our desire to photograph our most powerful experiences may dull the actual experience and our memory of it. (In other words, we miss out on the depth of an event when we’re busy photographing it.) Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

In this chapter, the author also argues that when we obsess over capturing moments, we are subtly believing that we may never be this close to glory again. How might a Christian worldview challenge that belief?

On the nine-month anniversary of her social media sobriety (from Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter), the author’s wife said, “Compulsive social media habits are a bad trade: your present moment in exchange for an endless series of someone else’s past moments.” What do you think she meant by this? Do you agree?

Read Psalm 19:1. What is one way that you could enjoy God’s creation (without your phone) this week? Ask God to help you see his glory in creation this week.

Chapter 6 — We Become What We “Like”

What is something that a lot of guys in your group of friends wear (a brand, a style)?

What is something that a lot of girls wear?

Why do you think we dress like so many of our friends? Who is someone that you’d like to be more like?

Inevitably, when we worship someone (or find them worthy) we will become like them. By worshiping dead idols, we become spiritually dead. By worshipping trivial comforts, we become trivial (and maybe comfortable). In what ways do you think your phone might be changing you?

Read Isaiah 44:9–20. What are some things (maybe even good things) in your life that may compete with God for the ultimate love of your heart? (Mom and Dad may have to model and explain this.)

If life is about more than what goes on in our smartphones, then how might we practice “digital repentance” in your life? (Some possible examples: Having a ‘no-phone’ Bible reading time on your schedule, going back to a flip phone, deleting a certain app, removing push notifications on your email, only checking email twice a day, having a drawer in your house that your phone goes in during “family hours.”)

Chapter 7 — We Get Lonely

What are some ways that technological advance has worked to isolate us? (For example, the fireplace where families used to gather gave way to central heat; milk delivery replaced by refrigeration, etc.)

Smartphones make for easy social shields. We don’t have to talk in elevators, on buses, or even to our closest friends when we don’t feel like it. How might this be detrimental to our growth as human beings?

Smartphones make it easy for us to “feel connected,” even when we’re by ourselves. How might the absence of regular times of true solitude affect our emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual lives?

Read Psalm 46:10.

Why is it important for Christians to spend time in quiet, isolated communion with God? How does this benefit us?

John Piper identified three “candy motives” and three “avoidance motives” that act as lures to checking our smartphones during times of solitude.

1. Novelty candy — we want to know what’s new in the world and among our friends. We don’t want to miss out.
2. Ego Candy — we want to know what people are saying about us and how they are responding to things we’ve said and posted.
3. Entertainment Candy — we want to be fascinated, impressed, weirded out, or shocked.
4. Boredom Avoidance — we want to put off the day ahead, especially if it’s boring or routine.
5. Responsibility Avoidance — we want to put off the burdens of the roles God has called us to as fathers, mothers, employees, bosses, and students.
6. Hardship Avoidance — we want to put off dealing with relational conflicts or the pain, disease, and disabilities of our bodies.

Which of these attractions to smartphones are you most prone to? What are some spiritual truths that could help you gain freedom from that attraction? (Parents, this is a great chance to share gospel truths with your kids. The only way to defeat a desire is to replace it with a more satisfying desire!)

Chapter 8 — We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5.

How does a love for Jesus transform us?

What sins in your life are made more easily accessible by your smartphone? Read Mathew 5:27–28.

In this verse, Jesus challenges us to fight our sin, even if the sin is more comfortable to us than the fight. Have you ever considered radical measures to fight secret sin in your life?

Are there any steps that you could take to fight your sinful habits? Confessing them to a parent? Giving up your smartphone? Giving your parents access to your social media? Keeping your smartphone out of your room? Read Hebrews 12:1-2.

This verse invites us to “look to Jesus” as we run our race. How does looking to Jesus help us “set aside the sin which clings so closely”?

Two questions for self-reflection:

1. Am I safeguarding myself from smartphone sin and practicing smartphone self-denial?
2. Am I simultaneously seeking to satisfy my heart with divine glory, even if it is (for now) invisible?

Chapter 9 — We Lose Meaning

The average output of email and social-media text is estimated at 3.6 trillion words, or about thirty-six million books — typed out every day! How do you think this constant flow is affecting the value of these words to us?

“Neomania” is an addiction to anything that is new within the last five minutes. What are some ways that smartphones produce neomania? In what ways does this cost us?

Read Lamentations 3:22.

Do you think an unhealthy desire to stay current could prevent us from experiencing the timelessness of God? Why or why not?

Read Job 28:1–11 and list the accomplishments of technology that you see. Read Job 28:12–28 and discuss the limitations of technology.

Pray that God would fill your family with great and godly purposes.

Chapter 10 — We Fear Missing Out

Check out this new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary: “FOMO—Fear of missing out, anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Now ask this question. “Why does social media seem to be increasing our FOMO”? Why does it hurt so much to feel left out?

Why does it feel so good to flaunt our fun experiences online?

How realistic are the “personas” of the people you follow online? Why? Why could Adam and Eve’s first sin be described as FOMO?

Read Hebrews 4:1 and note that there is one kind of FOMO that God wants us to have (the fear of missing out on eternal rest). Now read Hebrews 3:12–19 and list what actions and habits should accompany this fear.

How does knowing Christ remove the fear of missing out (FOMO) on eternal life?

Chapter 11 — We Become Harsh to One Another

Read Matthew 15:15–20. How should this passage shape the way we think about online disagreements?

Describe a time when something you saw online made you angry.

Why do you think there are so many harsh comments online? Do you think that people are just as harsh in person? Why or why not?

How does James 4:11–12 govern the dirt that we have on other people? What would be some good questions to ask ourselves before posting?

How does a relationship with Jesus transform us into kinder, patient, more optimistic, and more loving people?

Chapter 12 — We Lose Our Place in Time

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 and imagine trying to emotionally engage each of those occasions at once. How deeply can we possibly feel multiple emotions at the same time? Do you ever feel numb as you scroll through tragic news, great accomplishments, trivial jokes, and meaningless updates?

Read Ephesians 5:15–18. What are some things that you’d like to spend more time on? What’s keeping you from doing so?

What are some of the times in Scripture that we are called to “remember”? How could life in the digital age make it difficult to remember what God has done in the past and what he has promised to do in the future?

Do you think it’s a good idea to use several hours each month browsing? Do you think you’re entitled to this time? How does the idea that you’ve been bought with a price affect the way you view your time? Does it?