T.M. Luhrmann, a social scientistand psychological anthropologist, drops her readers down a rabbit hole and then challenges them to utilize their theological theories to climb up from the darkness. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God presents an argument that is built on the facets of a Luhrmann’s four-fold theological viewpoint, which includes, original sin, man’s ability to choose, transformational conformity and a high emphasis on pneumatology. It’s also evident that Luhrmann’s personal experience with religion colors her perception and her portrayal of Christianity, the supernatural and the voice of God. The author suggests that God’s voice is felt, heard and seen through the training of one’s mind and absorption, which “helps the Christian to experience that which is not materially present.” Luhrmann believes that hearing God’s voice is not only contingent on seeking his Word, but training our minds to go against evolutionary tendencies.
According to her TEDx Stanford talk, “Many Americans are involved in a renewalist spirituality. A kind of spirituality in which they want to experience God intimately, personally, and interactively. They want to reach out and touch the Divine here on earth.” She goes on to suggest, “…coming to a committed belief in God was more like learning to do something than to think something.” Therefore, according to the author, Christianity is something that one experiences through disciplined practices, rather than personal belief.
Luhrmann’s text is not simply an anthropologic perspective, but a theological argument that dares one to question the omnipresence of God and the person of the Holy Spirit. She reveals, “Some people told me that I should come to the second of the two Sunday morning services because more Holy Spirit builds up the longer people pray.” The author is suggesting that the Holy Spirit is somehow moveable based upon the voracity of one’s prayers. How can the Holy Spirit build up when the Spirit of God is omnipresent? Worship enables one to become aware of God’s Spirit, but it doesn’t conjure something more than what already is; which is everything.
The author describes an experience where she was told how to be a conduit for the Holy Spirit. She was advised to:
Look for indications of the presence of the Holy Spirit (crying, peace, warmth, tingling, muscle spasms). The idea is that you make yourself ‘available’ for the Holy Spirit to work through, and the Holy Spirit will enter the other person through your prayer and (often) make them cry.
Luhrmann describes prayer as an automatic reaction from God that’s contingent on one’s perceived emotions. If one doesn’t cry, does that limit the potency of prayer? If one is not healed, does the limit the power of God? According to the author, God’s voice is present through the supernatural; however, what about the mundane?
Belief is no longer about a moral state but an epistemological conviction. It is my belief that the God of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has become imagined as magically real because that way of imagining God helps those who wish to hang on to God to manage the doubts that surround them.
T.M. Luhrmann speaks from a place of authentic experience and preference; however, I can’t help but wonder if her perception is tied to her generational leanings and personal preference towards emotive experientialism. I found it interesting that she stated that “95% of Americans say that they believe in the existence of ‘God or a higher power’ a percentage that has remained steady since Gallup began polling on the eve of the Second World War.” This differs drastically from more recent polls. According to a recent study by Pew Research:
When asked to choose their preference between a church sanctuary and a church auditorium, 77 percent chose sanctuary. When shown four different kinds of church windows ranging from modern and least “churchy” to traditionally ornate, over a third of all respondents chose the most ornate stain glass window common to chapels.
Many Millennials are finding God’s voice within ritualism. They find the presence of God through old hymns, stained glass windows and traditional service. Luhrmann talks about the importance of hearing God’s voice and training one’s mind to enter into a place of supernaturalism; however, according those surveyed by Pew Research, Millennials and Generation Z are gravitating to churches that are traditional, applicable and steeped in advocacy.
Luhrmann presents a valid argument within her text; however, if taken to the extreme, one could easily create God in their image and view their poor choices as God’s sovereign will. If one trains their mind to hear God in all things, then all choices mankind makes apart from God can easily be blamed on God. This gives people the ability to escape consequences and not take ownership of their choice.
I’ve seen God sober someone within seconds after speaking the name of Christ and see them on their knees asking to know Jesus; however, I’ve also seen God speak through apologetic reasoning. Yes. Miracles are for today; however, God speaks in multiple ways, not just through the supernatural. Luhrmann speaks to the effectiveness of the supernatural that occurred during the Jesus Movement; however, I found that her preference towards charismatic belief and behavior colored her presentation of God’s diversity in expression. My greatest frustration with the text, is that it left readers seeing the voice of God as one dimensional and Christian maturity tied to one perspective.
T M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), xv.
T M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012),xxi.
Stephanie Samuel, “Study Shows Millennials Turned Off by Trendy Church Buildings, Prefer a Classic Sanctuary,” www.christianpost.com, November 14, 2014, https://www.christianpost.com/news/study-shows-millennials-turned-off-by-trendy-church-buildings-prefer-a-classic-sanctuary.html.