Doctor Doctor Give Me the News
Tanya Luhrmann shows how the Vineyard is attempting to create social imaginaries to break out of Charles Taylor’s immanent frame that was created as the secular solution to the problem of how humanity 500 years ago started the transition from not making sense of the world without talking about God and arrived at our current situation where humanity does not need God to explain how and why anything happens here on earth. According to Luhrmann, the Vineyard is attempting to break out of Taylor’s secularism with specific practices and strategies to train the imagination and mind to recognize and sense an invisible and intangible God. For the Vineyard, God is real, God loves you unconditionally, and God is here now.
Reading this book felt an awful lot like when I go to the doctor for a physical exam. Like psychological anthropologists, medical doctors are scientists. It can get a bit awkward sometimes explaining spiritual or unseen phenomena in empirical scientific terms. It is even more awkward for me because, like a physical exam, it is very personal. I have been part of the Vineyard movement since 1983. I felt vulnerable and tried hard not to get defensive as I read the preface and each chapter. I could almost hear Luhrmann slap a rubber glove to her hand and say, “You might feel a bit discomfort.”
Given that, When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann is an important ethnographic investigation from a psychological-anthropological point of view showing how the Vineyard addresses the issue of the presence of God. How does God become real for people? It is quite a task to layout a framework of how a group of people experience the invisible. By all accounts, Luhrmann does a brilliant job at explaining how this happens in a couple of Vineyard churches.
What stood out to me in “The Invitation” is the importance of context. The Vineyard was started from a specific time and place in southern California history and originally developed and organized by a musician. I have often wondered, how the Vineyard would be different if John Wimber was a filmmaker instead of an arranger for the Righteous Brothers. Also, given the hippy counter culture of the 1960s in SoCal, how different would the Vineyard be if it were formed in the mountainous states of Colorado or Montana? My guess would be a lot less Hawaiian shirts would be worn. Luhrmman contends that a desire to have a personal connection with God was already on people’s minds in SoCal so the Vineyard was ripe for creation. My question for Luhrmann here is, What role does the Vineyard kingdom theology play with this desire of connection? She mentions Ladd in her last chapter, but for me she is putting the cart before the horse here. In a sense she is saying the culture was already hungry for personal connection and the Vineyard found a way to satisfy that hunger. Could it be the other way around though? What if there was a theology for this, Ladd’s “now and not yet” or “here and not yet” for example before the “invitation?” Like a doctor who might be right about the diagnoses, but got the symptoms out of order, Luhrmman doesn’t give theology any weight here.
I found it fascinating to read about a couple of my favorite books “Experiencing God” and “Celebration of Discipline” from an anthropological point of view. I kept wanting her to tell me if she thought they were good or bad. Should I be ashamed the my youth leader gave me Foster’s book for my 18th birthday and I read that thing over and over and have incorporated many of the practices described in my life? Should I take back the kinship group I lead through Blackaby? Was it not a good experience? Did we not experience God? Luhrmann suggests that I have developed and trained my mind to experience God. I have room for that. To be honest, the way it is presented feels a bit awkward still but I can agree with her experience. I am not a scientist. I am a Vineyard pastor who prays every day that the people in my church would experience God on a personal and intimate level. Luhrmann points out how bazaar that could sound to an outsider. I can accept that.
The book also reminded me how different every Vineyard is. I know Chuck Smith and the vision for Calvary chapel was that, like Starbucks, whenever you walked into any Calvary Chapel it would look and feel exactly the same as all the other ones. This is not true of the 600 Vineyard churches in the U.S.A. and the over 1500 outside of the U.S.A. Like doctors who rely on test cases and then make sweeping general statements, Luhrmann was part of only two Vineyard churches for a short time and then makes some generalized statements about the Vineyard and American Evangelicals. For example, I have never heard of and have never suggested myself to pour an extra cup of coffee for Jesus. Reading “Let’s Pretend” was like reading about another denomination to me.
Blogging about this book is a lot like telling my wife how my 2 hour physical exam went with Dr. Yu. I could go on and on and tell story after story (John Wimber came to a meeting at my house once when I was a teen), but after the prodding and poking, and blood work of course, and the admonishments to lose a few pounds, lower the cholesterol and don’t forget to exercise, I’m generally healthy.
Probably like every Vineyard pastor who has read this book I was really saddened to read on the last page that Luhrmann does not consider herself a Christian. Even after all her experiences with the Vineyard, Jesus’ kingdom missed her. Maybe she doesn’t have the imagination for it.
8 responses to “Doctor Doctor Give Me the News”
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Aaron, I couldn’t wait to see your response to the book. For me it was an educational read, as it introduced me to the history, practices, and literature produced by the Vineyard. Yet, I wondered what would it feel like if she came to my church for two years and interviewed everybody in my church family. What kind of theological perspectives or practices would she discover? Would it make me nervous? I guess so. Would I find myself defensive? Probably. I agree with you that there are always misrepresentations whenever we make generalizations based on limited exposure. I felt the same way when she made generalizations about the evangelical church in America based on her exposure to only one denomination.
I was also saddened by the fact that she did not embrace Christ after two years of attending the church and reading so much literature. Maybe what she lacked was not imagination but understanding.
Following your imagery of a physical exam, was there any area that she diagnosed accurately? Where there any insights that she shared from her secular perspective that made you re-evaluate certain practices that you find in your local church?
Hi Pablo. I am still processing this book. I think she did diagnose accurately a few things. It is just difficult because in my experience each Vineyard is so different from one another. I trust her writing and her reporting of her experiences, so I have to say she diagnosed correctly what she saw.
Man, what a book to read. It is always interesting to read about faith from a non Christian perspective. It really is interesting to hear things given just matter of fact without context. She brought up some of the language of the church and the “slang” language that the church used about itself. “Name it claim it” was one of the things that shaped my developmental years. I would concur with her that this era of the church was quite confusing. But even with all of that I still believe God speaks today.
Do you believe that God speaks to you? Do you hear from him concerning your local congregation?
Some of the imagery of the meetings and the explanations of things is so vivid for me. What did you hear her say that was spot on in describing your version of the Vineyard church?
Thanks for your insight.
Hi Kevin. I do believe God speaks. I do believe I hear God for the church I pastor. One thing that I am not sure if she is spot on with or not is this idea that my brain has been altered. I am still processing that concept. If true, a cynic would say I’ve been brainwashed. I think I would say, I’ve been filled and constantly re-filled with the Holy Spirit.
Thanks Aaron P .
You may remember a few weeks back in our chat I mention “Experiencing God”, but it wasn’t express the way I was thinking. This is what I meant, God calls people to him, and until you have had an experience (relationship) with GOD you can’t truly follow him. This is where I was suggesting that we must seek out where GOD is doing his works around us. Rather than you saying “I will do this for GOD”.
Have you ever read the book “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God” by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby? It is a great read, the authors would have you first find GOD, let GOD change you through an experience/relationship and then let GOD show you where he is working. That will then be your opportunity to join GOD in his works and grow your relationship further. I truly believe that no matter where you are in your walk with God…this book can challenge you to a deeper understanding and a deeper faith in God.
It was an interesting blog drawing from many sources and experiences. Thanks Rose Maria
Yes, Rose I read that book and lead a small group from church through the workbook. It was a great experience and I honestly believe I experienced God.
You give a great “feel” for the awkward place Dr. Luhrmann seems to inhabit: somewhere between the secular age and the Kingdom of God. She seems to hang on the fringe of faith, or at least she is not hostile to it. And yet I can’t be sure whether or not she’s saying our “hearing from God” is real, or is just a psychologically created phenomenon. And you also created a…palpable image of awkward examination with your rubber glove. (If you have seen “Father of the Bride 2,” there is the moment when Steve Martin is accidently wheeled into the proctology ward, only to run out moments later exclaiming, “Excuse me, do I know you?!”)
It wasn’t as personal for me as for you, but having attended Vineyard conferences since February of 1986 I felt like I, too, have lived through a great deal of what she describes. God revolutionized my life through those times.
You wrote, “I have developed and trained my mind to experience God…”
Tell me what you think of this notion: The transcendent God is imminent, and does put His thoughts into our minds. But in order to hear Him well and accurately we need to develop and train our minds. In other words, hearing God’s voice is a developed skill. That training is what we get at the Vineyard.
True of false?
Marc, I have forgotten about that scene from that film. LOL.
I would say your closing statement is “true.”
Dallas Willard was a member of the Valley Vineyard in Reseda for many years before his death. He wrote a great book called, “Hearing God” that has been helpful with this concept of God placing his thoughts in his followers.