Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Believe in order to understand, or understand in order to believe???

Written by: on April 24, 2015

Reading through “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God” this week left me frustrated and a little annoyed. I’m not sure if it was the style of writing, or the way that the author was describing her experiences and her interpretation of those experiences, but I did not feel as if she was trying to help us understand, but rather, I felt as if she was somehow taking away from the humanity of the people and made them seem almost a little crazy, but not really… I don’t know how to describe it. I just don’t know if it was a fair representation of Evangelicals… it was flat.

With that said, there are a few things that I found interesting… so rather than complain about how annoyed I was, I will talk about the handful of things that I found helpful in my thinking.

Luhrmann on Church: “Church is a class in which you learn how to hear what God has to say.” (p6) Though that would not be first thing that I would say when asked about what church is, I think that it’s an interesting and almost refreshing thought… very different than what Christ had in mind when he established the church, but helpful in the way that we have formed church.

Luhrmann on the pastor: “The pastor understands himself to use everyday human experience to illuminate Biblical truth.” (p11) I really like this description of what a pastor understands themselves to be. I’ve been struggling with my pastoral position and this on understanding that I would be willing to embrace.

Luhrmann on teaching vs. sermon: “A sermon implies that the speaker himself is important.” (p12) It’s the idea that the congregation comes to hear the pastor’s insights on different subjects. “Teaching emphasizes the that the teaching is more important than the subjects.” (p12) This is the idea that the principles described in the Bible are more important than the pastor’s interpretations and thoughts.

Luhrmann on imitation of Christ vs. pretending to be like Christ: We are called to imitate Christ in this world, not to pretend to be something we’re not. “To imitate is not the same as to pretend. To imitate is to act. To pretend is to suspend disbelief…. To imitate is to behave in reality.” (p75) The entire “Let’s Pretend” chapter was really frustrating for me, but I really like the idea of Christians being imitators of God. It’s the highest calling and incredibly difficult. The Christian life is not about pretending to be something we’re not, but walking in the reality of Christ. So beautiful!

Luhrmann on prayer: “Prayer trains people to ignore the distracting world and to focus on their inner experience.” (p189) – I’m curious as to what you all think about this…

About the Author

Stefania Tarasut

6 responses to “Believe in order to understand, or understand in order to believe???”

  1. rhbaker275 says:

    Hi, thanks for your post and expressing your frustrating in this weeks reading. You had several good, helpful concepts that you have taker away from the reading.

    The writers style is an ethnographic writing of her experience with evangelical Christianity – in this case her spending over five years engaging members in several congregations of the Vineyard Church. I do not know how accurate her experience was with the Vineyard Church or her interpretation. It is true that there is no clear definition of “evangelical” or at least there are many different perspectives. Mark Noll, an author we have read, in a recent article states “The evangelical segment of the American citizenry began to interest the nation’s political savants in 1976. Although no one—then or now—has ever precisely defined what makes someone an ‘evangelical’…”

    Having read a number of books and possibly classifying oneself as evangelical, how would we define “Evangelical Christian.” Luhrmaan, as near as I can tell, does not state her definition, except in an effort “to understand how God becomes real for modern people” she notes a brand of “Christianity in which God is thought to be present as a person in someone’s everyday life, and in which God’s supernatural power is thought to be immediately accessible by that person” (xiv). And further American evangelicals “assert that they are part of the conservative Christian tradition that understands the Bible to be literally or near literally true and that describes the relationship with Jesus as personal, and as born again” (xv). Such a definition would make me evangelical.

    Luhrmaan clearly states in a number of places that she does not consider herself a “Christian.” She is a social scientist engaged in the study of the social life of humans. Her study is the “careful observation–participant observation, a kind of naturalist’s craft in which one watches what people do and listens to what they say and infers from that how they come to see and know their world” (xx). “When God Talks” is an ethnographic study of the American evangelical typified by the members of the Vineyard Church.

    I sort-a like it. And I really did come away with many good ideas and concepts in understanding how we live our faith in post-modern Western culture. I don’t have space to say more here – but two threads that run through the book really encourage me: evangelical concepts of “presence” and faith formation through “practices.”

  2. Stefania,

    Actually, I was also quite frustrated with this book. My major concern was the title itself. I do not think that all evangelicals are what Luhrmann says they are, so that was annoying. But her overall approach was also somewhat troublesome to me. I must admit that it pushed some old buttons in me to read this book, and I did my best to keep an open mind. But the thought that her book represented most Christians was troublesome. What about those of us who love liturgy? What about those who are not doctrinally charismatics? I felt that these groups were somehow marginalized and that felt almost offensive to me. I appreciated Bebbington’s approach far better and felt that he took a much more balanced approach to the issue of who evangelicals are.

    Thanks again for your honest post and for pulling more good out of the reading than I was able to do.

    • Liz Linssen says:

      Hi Bill
      Although I could understand and appreciate some of what she was saying, I do agree that it was somewhat limited. As you say, there are many evangelicals who do not fit into this stereotype, and who love the Lord and believe they hear from God too through liturgy and other means. This might be a good book for new Vineyard peeps, but honestly, it’s not a book I’d give to one of my church members.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Stefania
    You highlight some good points 🙂
    You ask towards the end of your blog, “Prayer trains people to ignore the distracting world and to focus on their inner experience.”
    I don’t think prayer should really be about ignoring the world. We can’t really ignore it, but rather pray about what we experience in it. Also, I do find prayer a wonderful ‘therapeutic’ time for me each morning, and so bring my inner person to God in prayer. But although I’m a big practitioner in the gifts, I felt she emphasised experience over Scripture a bit too much. What are your thoughts on this?

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Stefania, your blog is thoughtfully engaging. I agree with you that Luhrmann’s book can be frustrating for many believers at face value. Yet as you point out, there are also some helpful insights.

    I too, liked the distinction between sermons and teaching, plus the difference she makes between imitation and pretending.

    Thank you

  5. Clint Baldwin says:

    I felt that this text was fascinating in many ways, but also felt it had a sense of the “flat” quality you note.
    I think it is vital to have “outside” perspectives in order to better obtain a more healthy, holistic, interpretive view of ourselves, but certainly we shouldn’t hook-line-and-sinker change our ways based on such sharing.
    Surely this is a valiant offering and I think the author went as far as she was able in attempting empathy, but there were some basic aspects that I found exceptionally oddly interpreted for a person that had spent as much time studying the context as this author had.
    So, yep. Good, but a bit flat.

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