Compressing Spiritual Growth in the Age of Acceleration

Last week I spoke at Texas A&M on smartphone use and abuse. After the event, a young man approached me with a personal concern. Digital media was getting in the way of his schoolwork and responsibilities on campus.

This student’s situation is common, but he wasn’t distracted by Instagram and Snapchat or Fortnite — he was distracted by the many sermons and Christian podcasts he was trying to ingest all week. He’s a well-intentioned young man, and he’s not alone.

I applauded his taste for edifying content. Surely he could harbor a craving for worse things! And then I reminded him that his struggle predates podcasts. More than a century ago, this same impulse led people to church-hop and celebrity-chase the most popular preachers in London. The Puritans tried to tamp down this trend, as did Spurgeon, but the spirit of the hunt lives on in the digital age. Without prayer and meditation, feeding on daily sermons would do little good, said Spurgeon. The spiritual life has an implicit pace of progress, measured not by the speed of exposure but by the speed of internal processing.

In our brief interaction, I reminded this young man that when God wants to warp-speed our sanctification, he has a plethora of tools at his disposal to do so — mostly in the form of personal suffering.

The opinion of this young man, and of our age, is that super-spirituality is most attainable by those who ingest the highest quantity of edifying media. But this impulse, which can drive us toward a mountain of good and helpful content, is also fueled by one of the great dynamics of our age, detailed in German sociologist Hartmut Rosa’s book, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (2015).

Rosa’s basic argument is that our western experience is a forever-accelerating economic system, reinforced politically and socially. Said another way, acceleration is the desire we feel to collapse life into a series of discrete moments and experiences — email to email, tweet to tweet, text to text, snap to snap, meeting to meeting, image to image, and video clip to video clip. All of life, even real experiences with hard edges, are rendered into moments or incidents. Like LEGO pieces, the moments of our lives are made into discrete bricks, stacked end to end, in order to be compressed into a smaller time-cost.

As we pack more of these moments into our lives, and as we increase the number of experiences per minute, we feel like time is speeding up. We feel as if our lives move at warp-speed, while the clock ticks away at its same old pace.

Acceleration is a much larger story, where the mutually reinforcing changes of media and technology and economics and politics and society and the workplace all converge. But the bottom line is that this promise of ever-compressible experiences tempts us to pack ten lives into one lifetime. In our age, we think that success is the hoarding of digital spectacles, work achievements, and personal experiences before we succumb to the darkness of mortality.

Inside a society of acceleration, says Rosa, we put greater and greater hopes in technologies, like our smartphones, to give us more productivity, more experiences, and also more free time.

Does it all work?

No. Most of us feel like we have less marginal time. In response, we accelerate even faster, we compress moments even tighter, all in search of more margin. But the hunt is elusive. Instead of an abundance of free time, we’re met with a growing sense of burnout.

This is because the smartphone takes more time than it saves. As life seems to speed up, we keep returning to our technologies in order to find productivity and more free time. And as we turn to those technologies, they cost us more time than we save, because those technologies introduce us to new products and ideas and experiences in the world that we didn’t know existed previously.

In other words, let’s say you have a bucket list of ten things to see and experience before your life ends. Then you go out and get a smartphone with Instagram, and your bucket quickly grows from 10 things to 100 things (and likely before you’ve had a chance to cross off one thing on your list). For every single experience you’re offered 100 other equally alluring (or better) experiences.

Inside the acceleration society, how do we approach this expanding bucket list?

We continue to compress each experience into smaller and smaller available time slots. We try to speed everything up through new technologies. We get more apps. We listen to podcasts faster. We move everything faster. We keep spinning the self-reinforcing cycle of hastening.

Rosa says that the whole system continues moving faster and faster until that acceleration is met by one of two things that help reset life — nervous breakdowns or economic recessions. Those resets return balance to life and society. But as these de-celerants are thwarted and postponed through economic and medical intervention, as we “advance,” natural breaks are bypassed and the whole system accelerates ever faster with unlimited gas and no brakes. Rosa says the whole thing eventually flies apart.

I’m more hopeful of our future. But this social dynamic is something of what drives us onward in the quest for more media. We listen to sermons at 2x speed. We no longer read horizontally, we read vertically. We scan articles. We scan everything. Nothing grabs our sustained attention, because the promises of acceleration keep us jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink with the hyper-speed the name implies.

We think that like everything else in our lives, we can attain hyper-sanctification. And within our acceleration society and the wealth of our digital tools, we get easily tempted towards a holy-looking fear of missing out (FOMO). But it’s still a FOMO, and FOMO always carries with it the stench of spent jet fuel of promise inside the acceleration society.

In reality, God’s work in us smells more like rich manure, and moves at the pace of sowing and reaping. Sanctification is the slow and steady horticultural hope for a distant payoff, never measured in terms of the most immediate apparent wins, only recognized in its eventual harvest, the fruit of long patience (Gal. 6:6–10).

When Should I Read Quickly or Slowly?

In my book Lit! I talk about reading with a transmission. “Reading is like driving a moving truck through mountain highways. There are times to chug uphill in a low gear, and there are times to coast downhill in a high gear. Each book has its own terrain” (111).

Another helpful way to think about it comes from German sociologist Hartmut Rosa in a recent Q&A session —

There are two forms of reading. I’m a very slow reader and now I think that’s quite good. If you read slowly your mind wanders around and you don’t really know what the result is. And then there are many technologies of speed-reading — very focused, very attentive. So you get the information but you block being touched by something. You don’t want to be touched. You want to be efficient and focused. And my claim is that if you have to be fast you develop a kind of instrumental stance towards the world, a muted relationship which makes you very efficient. It doesn’t mean that you’re not attentive, but the quality of attention changes because it becomes directed and intentional. And it becomes very difficult then to get into a mode of resonance because resonance is a state of relating to some person or something, like a book or it could be a piece of music, which affects you, you let yourself be affected, which also means you are vulnerable. And you never know when it happens and what the outcome of it is and how long it takes. So if attention needs to be very focused and very instrumental, the quality of attention changes from the resonant towards a mute form of relating.

Both are useful but for different aims:

  • Quick reading — efficient sifting with the mind (muted instrumentality)
  • Slow reading — inefficient soaking with the affections (heart vulnerability)

The World’s Most Famous New Years Song (A Hymn)

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The world’s most famous New Years song is a hymn: “Amazing Grace,” penned by pastor John Newton and unveiled for the first time to his Olney congregation on January 1, 1773.

The entire hymn is inspired by 1 Chronicles 17, a chapter that speaks of King David’s past, present, and future. Newton does the same, reflecting on past grace, present grace, and the hope of future grace — a progression you can watch unfold in the hymn itself.

Newton’s original title was more accurate to this purpose (“Faith’s Review and Expectation”), but today it is more widely remembered by its catchy first two words.

Setting the text of “Amazing Grace” alongside 1 Chronicles 17 will show just how deeply Newton’s hymn soaked up the rich biblical theology of this chapter of Scripture. We see direct lines of contact made by the terms house/home, word, and forever. Also notice the corresponding tenses of the hymn echoed in 1 Chronicles 17: past (verse 7: “I took you from the pasture”), present (verse 16: “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”), and future (verse 26: “O Lord, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant”).

While writing my book on Newton, I made this colorized chart to trace the correlations between Newton’s hymn (left) and the inspiring themes from 1 Chronicles 17 (right):

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Paradoxically, the final verse (“When we’ve been there ten thousand years…”) originated in the Afro-American worship tradition, not by the former slave trader. Of all places, the added verse made its first formal appearance within “Amazing Grace” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

Reflecting his personal practice on New Year’s, Newton’s hymn itself provides a doxological moment in time to stop to thank God for his past mercies, his present mercies, and his future mercies.

The scope of the Christian life can be found in Newton’s hymn:

  • salvation (“sav’d a wretch like me”)
  • trials (“many dangers, toils, and snares”)
  • struggles with doubts and need for divine promises (“his word my hope secures”)
  • protection in spiritual battle (“he will my shield and portion be”)
  • aging and facing death (“when this flesh and heart shall fail”)
  • hopes for re-creation (“earth shall soon dissolve like snow”)
  • anticipation for the beatific vision (“A life of joy and peace”)
  • and treasuring God forever (“But God, who call’d me here below, / will be for ever mine”)

From the beginning to the end of this autobiographical hymn, we are introduced to the unwavering grace of God throughout the Christian’s immortal, eternal existence. Newton communicates this vision of the Christian life in catchy language very easily read and sung. About 85% of the hymn is comprised of monosyllabic words. Newton was committed to clarity and simplicity, traits that spill over into all his pastoral work and explain his enduring place as a spiritual luminary so many centuries after his death.

Of course, nothing from the pen of Newton endures like this hymn. Amazon.com currently sells the song in 12,700 different versions. It has been recorded in every genre, including jazz, country, folk, classical, R&B, hip-hop — even heavy metal! The popularity of the hymn is obvious at sporting events and political rallies, among other settings. It endures as one of few religious songs that can be sung impromptu in public because many people (if not most people) can recite at least the first verse by heart.

The hymn is, first, brilliant biography (of David) and, second, brilliant autobiography (of Newton). Newton is the wretch, a term he often used to allude to his own sin and to a period of physical captivity he endured before his conversion. But most brilliantly of all, the hymn functions as a collective autobiography for every Christian. “Amazing Grace” is perceptive biblical theology, embraced by one man deeply moved by his own redemption, articulated for corporate worship. And it is the perfect hymn for New Year’s Day.

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For more on Newton’s life and pastoral legacy, see my book on John Newton here.

Books of the Year 2018

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For thirteen years, I have compiled a list of the best Christian books across multiple publishers and genres. Reading books is a priority for me, so I make time to read a wide variety of Christian books throughout the year. Here’s a list of my top 10 favorite non-fiction Christian books of 2018.

1. Jonathan King, The Beauty of the Lord: Theology as Aesthetics (Lexham). Without debate this is the best book I read in 2018. At the center of our faith is not merely believing — but also tasting and seeing the beauty of God. How do we quantify the beauty of God? “Beauty is a quality of God’s glory and thus the display of God’s glory is always beautiful, always fitting, always entails an aesthetic dimension to it” (326). Or, to put it another way, “everything God does is beautiful in its God-glorifying nature” (298). King’s book is one of the most expansive and ambitious theological achievements that I’ve ever come across, a rare book which offers a treasured doctrine of Reformed theology in fresh articulation on every page. Not merely the best Reformed definition of aesthetics (long overdue and sorely needed), this is Reformed theology at its beautiful best. … King’s book is part of an impressive series from Lexham: Studies in Historical & Systematic Theology. See also Timothy Padgett’s Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937–1973, an engaging look at how Evangelical writers and columnists processed WW2 and then Vietnam.

2. John Piper, Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship (Crossway). What makes John Piper the preacher tick? This is the answer. Piper applies Christian Hedonism to the task of preaching, and adds a uniquely valuable book in the suite of Piper offerings. Expository Exultation is the third in a trilogy that covers how we can trust the Bible (A Peculiar Glory) and how to read the Bible (Reading the Bible Supernaturally). … Also noteworthy is Joel Beeke’s book on preaching: Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People, a book that builds off Piper’s “expository exultation.” Says Beeke: “We might add that it is expository admiration for God, expository adoration of God, expository affection toward God, and expository subjection unto God. Indeed, sometimes it is expository lamentation over our sins against this beautiful and holy God. But real preaching is always a flame of worship arising from the wick of the preacher’s soul immersed in the oil of the Spirit in the lamp of Scripture.”

3. Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home (B&H). Throughout your life, you will disappoint your family, and your family will disappoint you. But throughout the disappointment, the gospel remains. “In reality, every family is, to some degree or other, a broken family.” But you are not your family. “You are not your genealogy. You are not your family tree. You are not your family. After all, if you are in Christ, you are a new creation. You are not doomed to carry on the dark family traditions that would harm you or drive you away from God or other people.” This latest book from Dr. Moore will serve families in every stage of life.

4. Jackie Hill Perry, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (B&H). We all know that Jackie can write lyrics. Her memoir proves that she can write prose. It is a magnificent first book of what I hope will be many more to come in the future. It’s relevant for those who are same-sex attracted and those who are not. “This is a book with a lot of me in it but with a whole lot more of God,” she says. “He is what the soul needs for rest and what the mind needs for peace. He is the Creator God, the King of Glory, the one who, in love, sent the Christ to pay the penalty for and become the sin that we are all born with. It is the words from and about this resurrected Lamb of God that I hope will lift off the page and into the heart. This book is a lifted hand, a glad praise, a necessary hymn, a hallelujah overheard and not kept quiet.”

5. Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Brazos). I really enjoyed Karen’s previous work, Booked, and this book was a fitting follow up. Karen helps sharpen our appreciation for fictional literature, highlighting the virtuous themes in a dozen great works which advance one main virtue: cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, courage); theological virtues (faith, hope, love); and heavenly virtues (chastity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility). Spanning from Bunyan to Austin to Cormac, this book is a literary feast!

6. Joe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Crossway). As we expect from Joe, this book is a careful reading of Lewis and application of his wisdom to the questions of today. Another gem!

7. Richard P. Belcher Jr., Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature (IVP Academic). An engaging and illuminating theology of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, I will return to this book over and over.

8. N. T. Wright, Paul: A Biography (HarperOne). Wright has problems, but he remains one of the most engaging, theologically-driven writers of our generation. His books are a model of form and his style is especially suited for biography. As to be expected, Wright returns to his work of attempting to undermine the Reformers on justification, and this emerges in the final chapter (15: The Challenge of Paul). But the discerning reader will pick up loads of interesting gems about the life and ministry of Paul in this volume. … For a better look at justification, see Michael Horton’s two-volume masterpiece (here and here). … And for an anticipated volume on Paul’s life and ministry, be watching for John Piper’s Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons, due out in January (Crossway).

9. Peter Leithart, The Gospel of Matthew Through New Eyes, Volume One: Jesus as Israel (Athanasius). Of interest to me is how a notable Bible teacher’s legacy gets passed along to the next generation, and here’s one answer. From the lineage of James Jordan comes a commentary series taking his vision of the Bible and working it out, text by text. Leithart has covered the epistles of John and now the first 12 chapters of Matthew. Readers won’t agree with everything, but as with all of Leithart’s commentaries, this book is a feast for the mind and heart. … In 2018 his Revelation commentary was finally released, in two volumes (chs 1–11 and 12–22). … And along this same James Jordan-inspired trajectory, see Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson’s Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture (Crossway).

10. Hans Boersma, Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition (Eerdmans). A wonderful historical survey of the doctrine of the beatific vision in all its glory (and debate) over the centuries. We need more lively doctrinal surveys like this one.

Previous Books of the Year

2017: Herman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography (Crossway)
2016: The six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible (Crossway)
2015: Randy Alcorn, Happiness (Tyndale)
2014: Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton)
2013: Tom Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker)
2012: Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo)
2011: Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker)
2010: Don Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway) and The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Baker)
2009: Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale)
2008: The ESV Study Bible (Crossway) and Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker)
2007: Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan)
2006: Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Reformation Heritage)

#IsaiahChristmas 2018

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Download the printable #IsaiahChristmas 2018 reading schedule here and join the conversation on Twitter beginning December 1.


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 reflection on God’s plan of redemption. 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 don’t read devotionals. 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 again invest in a slow read through the prophetic book of Isaiah.

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. This history is the background that unlocks the glories of Christmas. 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, but one rooted deep in this 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. This is my fourth year.

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:

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bookI pulled this helpful chart from Andrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. 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.

Again, the schedule (download here), which you are free to print out and slide into your Bible. I divvied up the book into 24 readings, spanning from December 1 to December 24.

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.

Thank You, David Foster Wallace


David Foster Wallace died ten years ago today. He once joked that his midlife crisis at twenty didn’t bode well for his longevity, and he was right. He ended his life at forty-six. It was enough years to become a celebrated avant-garde novelist and postmodern experimentalist and to fill a 1,000-page reader. He seemed to compress life into fewer years.

A youth jock turned collegiate nerd, he took to math and philosophy, but could teach himself nearly anything. He taught others to read and write. He loved language, like his mom, who once reflected that “David seldom met a word he didn’t enjoy playing with, making it jump through flaming hoops and perform feats of derring-do.”

He had the presence of a soft-spoken, unshaven friend you’d binge a season of The X-Files with, at your place of course (his televisual addiction forced him to ban the TV from his own house). Surprisingly well, he seemed to balance the roles of jock and prof. With the makings of a cult hero, he was beloved by pop audiences who voiced their praise by spawning sales numbers in the millions, as he was simultaneously celebrated by lit critics who spoke sonorous laudations into public radio mics. He was a man of divergence.

I speak as if I knew him, but I didn’t. I never met him. He was gone before I ever read his mammoth novel Infinite Jest. Gone before I listened to hours of his audio and video interviews. Gone before I belly-laughed through his essay about traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruise liner for the first and last time. Gone before I came to appreciate his self-conscious awareness of a soul living in an age of American culture roughly similar to my own experience.

Robert Penn Warren once said, “Any act of pure perception is a feat, and if you don’t believe it, try it sometime.” DFW tried it, he fell in love with it, and the perception he offered in both fiction and non-fiction was nothing sort of sublime. He lived with a sense of pure awareness of the visible world around himself. It was the gift he wielded and the curse he bore. He could see past facade into the hollow world of society and past self-protective Kevlar into the fleshy world of his heart with similar clarity. He was perceptive of addiction and depression, seeing brokenness with the kind of clarity and transparency that eventually becomes a crushing curse in the absence of a savior.

Wallace was one of the most sensitive souls of a generation raised on pop-TV, a man who could step back from his pure addiction to the screen to explain the corrosiveness of the habit on the soul. He came to see that a diet of sarcasm was a diet of poison, and that a whole generation raised on Letterman and the Simpsons and SNL (“that Athens of irreverent cynicism”) were toxified until everything in life was rendered down to the butt of an insider joke. In cynical culture, the beauty of nature disappears like a green screen.

Wallace could feel the sandpaper of sarcasm rubbing on his nerve endings, as he would say sometimes, a man with a super-sensitivity to pop media. Or perhaps, as I would prefer to say it, he felt the rub of mass commercial entertainment on the nerve endings of his soul. He warned us about TV’s “sheer ability to deliver pleasure in large doses.” And he called it a problem, a spiritual problem.

David Foster Wallace articulated, perhaps better than any Christian author or preacher, the challenges of life in the digital age. DFW is the Neil Postman for my generation, even if most Christians have never heard of him.

So when a publisher approached me to write a full-length book appreciation of Wallace, I knew that such a work would be incredibly fun (but I also knew that no one would read it). But DFW does inspire me to labor hard at perception in articulating the challenges of the media age he predicted long ago. In recent years, as my attention has turned to mass media and digital technology, Wallace feels like a cobelligerent in aims — not in the ultimate end (I don’t believe) of delighting the soul in God, but in the place of cobelligerents against the influence of excessive media on the soul.

In a real sense, the life and words of David Foster Wallace provided the genesis that later became my new book — Competing Spectacles (April 2019), about how the Christian soul best navigates the age of pervasive digital media. The spectacles of this age are so good, so thrilling, so captivating, that they threaten to take our eyes off eternal realities. By glutting our eyes, we starve our souls.

The new cover ties into my previous book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You.

Wallace would snark. He’d call the cover “Kafka-esque” maybe, some realized nightmarish dream of eye-totalizing in an age of visual addictions, a life banned from sleep and blinking only to fill itself on the visual without end. I’d probably say his snarky observation was a good precursor for the book. I would try to convince him to say something like it on the back cover.

But as the new book goes through final edits this week, it prompts me to stop and thank God for a man who, no matter where he was as in his relationship with Christ (and his eternal state remains a mystery to me), was acutely and articulately sensitive to our media bombardment and its influence on the soul.

If DFW were alive today, I would write him a personal note to thank him myself — for what his writings and perceptions have meant for me, a man looking to others who have better articulated the weight of the media age on the undisciplined will. In many ways Wallace leads the way, not to the conclusion, but to a path out of the depths of the problems with a clear map of the costs and consequences of a world in which only a Savior could prove sufficiently redemptive.

On days like the ten-year anniversary of his passing, I am reminded of the great debt I owe to a man of my generation I never met but for whom I feel led again to say out loud: Thank you, David Foster Wallace.