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

Do You Believe?

Written by: on February 15, 2019

Do You “Believe”?

Written by: on February 14, 2019

Before I jump into Luhrmann, I recognize she gives us MANY things we can EASILY discuss. I feel I must start this week’s Blog with the one word that kept coming up in my mind while reading Luhrmann’s, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. [1]

The word is—“believe”. No, I’m not saying God spoke this word to me. But maybe He did…

In Acts 16:16+, missionaries Paul and Silas are involved in a jailbreak earthquake and are asked an incredible question by their suicidal jailor— “Sir’s, what must I do to be saved?” Their response is critical, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” [2]

The most quoted Scripture in America is supposedly not Psalm 23, rather it is theoretically John 3:16 where “believe” obviously comes up again, “…whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” [3] I saw the super bowl and again looked behind the goal post during multiple field goal attempts and saw the now regular sign holders holding up their John 3:16 poster boards. I gave thanks for their ministry!

Our author quotes the staggering Gallup statistic that 89% of America supposedly “believes” [4] and recently I read an article that stated
91% of current US Congress affiliates as Christian (down 3% from two years ago). [5] I am reminded, however, about the warning in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” [6]

So, I got pastoral and looked up the Greek for “believe” and re-discovered the word pisteuo, which is the same word used in the above Scriptures. In fact, my concordance said pisteuo was used 240+ times in Scripture including more than 80 times alone in Gospel of John. [7]

We must have a definition problem. No duh! We are confused by the generic definition of believe—like I believe in life on mars, mermaids, and Bigfoot (for crying out loud).

John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave them the right to become children of God…” [8] There it is again, pisteuo. Once more here it is in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [9]

So what does it mean to believe, pisteuo?

My mentor Fred Nelson taught me, over the past 20 years, that pisteuo means 5 things (of course the Greek is incredibly deep compared to our English). It means: Surrender to + trust in (faith) + rely on + cling to + follow! Wow, does 95% of America truly believe? I think not.

Sorry, I got to preaching there! Didn’t mean to sermonize. Let’s get back to this week’s reading. Luhrmann uses the term “believe” 276 times in her book, according to my Kindle reader search. In my reading before reading I was a little frightened with her previous book’s title Persuasion’s of the Witch’s Craft (1989) about the Wiccan and dark magic. I am not sure why it took her so long to write our book 23 years later, but she readily highlights the term “believe”, and unfortunately does not fill in the gaps about what it means.

The New York Times critiqued Luhrmann in their Sunday Book Review and said this ugly comment, “Secular Americans’ worst fears have come true: there is now scientific evidence that evangelical churches brainwash believers.” [10] Ouch! If that is what this book is about, psychological mumbo jumbo, then I am out…

The Journal of Ethnographic Theory (whatever that is) said powerfully, “…belief, far from being a simple matter of receiving and accepting information, requires complex cognitive processes, some of which can be illuminated by meticulous ethnographic investigation.” [11]

I can’t say I connected our reading this week to our previous readings, other than to say I was impressed to hear her mention Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Divine Conspiracy, What On Earth Am I Here For?, Flow, and the God Delusion.

Now to conclude, Luhrmann in her last chapter, quotes Mark 9:29, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” [12] Luhrmann was honest in saying she was not a Christian [13], and in my opinion, she nailed the problem for her right on the head, when she concluded in the final paragraph, “There is so little we know, so much, we take on TRUST.” [13] (capitals mine).


[1] Luhrmann, Tanya M. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Knopf, 2012.

[2] Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Acts 16:30-31.

[3] Barker. John 3:16.

[4] Newport, Frank. “Most Americans Still Believe in God.” Gallup.com. June 29, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://news.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx.

[5] Bromwich, Jonah Engel. “The New Congress Is 91% Christian. That’s Barely Budged Since 1961.” The New York Times. December 22, 2017. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html.

[6] Barker. James 2:19.

[7] Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

[8] Barker. John 1:12.

[9] Barker. Romans 10:9.

[10] Worthen, Molly. “‘When God Talks Back,’ by T.M. Luhrmann.” The New York Times. April 27, 2012. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/books/review/when-god-talks-back-by-tm-luhrmann.html.

[11] Boyer, Pascal. “Why Belief Is Hard Work.” American Journal of Education. 2013. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.14318/hau3.3.015.

[12] Luhrmann. 325.

[13] Luhrmann. 300.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

14 responses to “Do You Believe?”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Great post, Jay!

    I agree with your assessment of Luhrmann’s analytical data. Yes. The author tantalized her readers with a staggering statistic that painted society as a Christian utopia; however, when you delve further into other polls and research, her definition of belief is not tied to evangelical belief, bit spiritual acknowledgment.

    Wow! It’s interesting that she previously wrote about Wicca. As I delved into her text, I found a lot of her beliefs and perspectives tied to Wiccan beliefs. One of the greatest frustrations that I had with her writing was her presentation of Christianity being something to do rather than to believe. If one does good, without faith in Christ, then they are simply a humanist who favors humanitarian service.

    Did you find her presentation of God’s voice damaging? Did you find that her presentation of mindfulness leaned towards humanistic spirituality and mysticism?


  2. Dan Kreiss says:


    Thanks for the Greek reminder. It is important to maintain the full understanding of ‘belief’ as found in the NT.

    I was struck by her honesty and attempt to maintain academic distance while immersing herself in theses communities. But, she was captivated and had her own God experiences. Our experiences with God are certainly difficult to quantify whether a believer, a seeker, or a doubter. How would you explain your God encounters to believers differently than you would to doubters?

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Great question Dan!

      I would explain (or try to) in this context–before I met Christ I was like this. Since I met Christ, I am like this. It goes back, for me, once again, to the work of transformation of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives. No greater billboard exists for the “experiences” of my walk with Jesus!

  3. M Webb says:

    I was only 12 years old when I believed in Christ as my Lord and Savior and claimed the promise of John 3:16 during a Cub Scout meeting in Otsego, MI. I was baptized shortly after on Dec 7, 1970. I like Luhrmann because she is honest and transparent about her cause. I have seen a lot of people “play Christian” but to her credit, she knows she is not one. I have much more hope for a person like her, than the millions sitting in pews playing Christian that will not admit they do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior. What think thee?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jay Forseth says:


      I struggled with Luhrmann and could not get past it when I discovered her same work with Wiccan. That is why I took my Blog a different direction.

  4. Kyle Chalko says:

    great post. you bring up some disturbing things about our author. thank you for shedding light on that.

  5. I have to say Jay (that rhymes by the way 🙂 ) I loved your little sermon at the beginning of your post about what it really means to BELIEVE! You are right on the money, many of the people who say they believe in God have no real concept of what it REALLY means to believe. I also thought it was interesting how you dissected this word in the reading and exposed how she doesn’t really know what it means either. I was actually interesting to me to read about how a non-Christian anthropologist perceives God moving in people’s lives and hearts. Thanks for your wise words.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks for the word study on pistueo! Belief/faith/trust are synonymous in my view. I agree with your biblical research! My question has nothing to do with your post but I’m just curious your perspective as one who visits many churches. Do you think it’s helpful for Christians to experience worship and prayer from traditions other than what is familiar? For example, for low church folks to experience high church traditions (including contemplative prayer) and vice versa? What do we gain and/or lose from doing this work as Christian leaders?

    • Jay Forseth says:


      One of my favorite parts of my new job is seeing different styles and preferences in worship. I was in 46 different churches last year and it was all worshipful and glorious.

      I also wanted to have my kids see different traditions, and I never will forget being in the Brooklyn Tabernacle with my family, a tradition completely not like our own. They still talk about it to this day.

      If I know you, you are the type of dad that likes to see his kids witness various options of worship. Am I right?

  7. Jason Turbeville says:

    Great post, thanks for the word study on believe. It always helps to be reminded of something we know but maybe take for granted. Do you think that Lurhmann was taking steps towards God or was the book lip service in your opinion.


    • Jay Forseth says:


      I really don’t know Luhrmann’s heart of course, but my suspicion is she wanted to sell books. Having said that, though, I think God pursued her through this process!

  8. Jean Ollis says:

    Jay, preach it! Loved your commentary on this book. I think we had some similar feelings, at the core, of the limited sample of evangelical Christians in this research. I was also taken aback by the “brainwash” comment – but I’m sure non-believers may perceive “us” in that way. In the end, I don’t need any research to prove my relationship with God but it’s fascinating to me that she tried!

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