When I picked up When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God by T.M. Luhrmann I was expecting a hit job on evangelicals. Not sure why, just was. What I found was a deeply thought out discussion of the implications of hearing God speak.
Luhrmann discusses her experiences within The Vineyard denomination, which, to my embarrassment, I had never heard of until last year when I began the LGP program. I enjoyed the historical trip through the beginnings of The Vineyard as a denomination. I also enjoyed Luhrmann’s use of real world examples in what it means to hear from God. The first thing one needs to do in this discussion about hearing from God is to define what one means by hearing. There are several options but Luhrmann focuses on an actual audible hearing, and the inner voice directing.
I grew up in many different church settings, Methodist and Episcopalian were the two that dominated most. My mom also took a swim through charismatic churches where speaking in tongues and ecstatic speech and motion where common place, I will be honest with you, for a 10 year old boy, they scared the crap out of me. They made me not want anything to do with Christianity growing up. The funny thing is, there is scriptural precedence for speaking in tongues, yet, those whose churches eschew speaking in tongues would call those who do at best misinformed. In a 2005 article from the Baptist Standard reads, “The International Mission Board no longer will appoint Southern Baptist missionaries who use a “private prayer language”–a controversial practice related to speaking in tongues and previously practiced by board President Jerry Rankin.”  They had already blocked people from serving who spoke in tongues publicly using the secessionist argument but now they attacked those who did it in private. They even brought people off the field who refused to sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which said tongues were no longer used. This caused quite a fight within Baptist circles, pitting pastor against pastor. The church I was interning at had several leaders leave the church over this fight. This went on for 10 years, and then in 2015 there was a change. “After decade-long resistance, the Southern Baptist Convention will admit missionary candidates who speak in tongues, a practice associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches.”  They still will not affirm that speaking in tongues is a prerequisite for being a believer but allow it now. In fact a survey of SBC pastors showed 50% believe that tongues is still is practiced.  While the percentage versus Non-SBC Protestant Pastors, there is a trending up of those who believe in it.
I know that is a rabbit trail that I chased, but it is part of my path I have traveled in listening to God. I do not speak in tongues, I have never been given that gift. I do hear God speak, in many different ways though. I have heard the audible voice (I admit it scared me the first time) and he has spoken to me through his word, he has spoken to me through others and in a still small voice on the inside. The first time this happened I wondered if I was going crazy. I had just become a Christian and audibly heard God one day while I was driving to go to Seminary. It startled me because I heard it while no one else was in the car (I don’t believe in ghosts). It was clear as day, “turn here and seek what I have planed”. That is why I was intrigued by Lurhmann’s chapter “But Are They Crazy”. In her book Luhrmann states “To many people, hearing a voice when no one is there is a sign not of God but of mental illness. So does it follow that actively try to hear God’s voice might lead the way to madness?” She goes on to line out the difference between hearing voices/schizophrenia et al. and hearing from God. The biggest differentiator is hearing voices is a “continuous..the disturbance persist for at least six months.”  and has destructive qualities versus hearing from God is the voice is not destructive, there is not a loss of control and “congregants are acutely aware of what their audience might think of their experience.”  I rarely discuss hearing God’s voice, but I do rely on hearing from him in other ways. God has used circumstances, other Christians and his word to speak to me.
I love what Luhrmann wrote at the end, “the very features that seem so irrational to skeptical observers–God’s right-here immediacy, the insistence that the worshipper should pray specifically and that God will answer every prayer…actually help Christians to manage their own doubts”. To me, as a Christ follower, I am not above doubting some times. Not that God exists but what he is trying to tell me. That seems to me the cornerstone of my relationship with God. The doubt is part of my eyes opening to what he has called me to be and to do.
 Marus, Robert. “International Mission Board Seeks to Tie Tongues.” Baptist Standard. December 02, 2005. Accessed February 13, 2019. https://www.baptiststandard.com/archives/2005-archives/international-mission-board-seeks-to-tie-tongues/.
 Horton, Greg, and Yomat Shimron. “Southern Baptists to Open Their Ranks to Missionaries Who Speak in Tongues.” The Washington Post. May 14, 2015. Accessed February 13, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/southern-baptists-to-open-their-ranks-to-missionaries-who-speak-in-tongues/2015/05/14/1fddd28a-fa7e-11e4-a47c-e56f4db884ed_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6958dc9aca98.
 Lovelace, Libby. “LifeWay Releases Prayer Language Study.” Baptist Press. June 01, 2007. Accessed February 13, 2019. http://www.bpnews.net/25765.
 Luhrmann, T.M. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2012. 227.
 Ibid. 229.
 Ibid. 232.
 Ibid. 301.