It’s always been a natural thing for me to pray. I’ve done it my whole life or for at least as long as I can remember. There is a sense that God listens and responds when I pray. I listen for what I consider to be the voice of God guiding me and helping me through life, not just in trying times but at all times. Because of that, I would say, “Yes, God speaks to me.” However, I can say that I have never heard an audible voice. There is a knowing, a tacit knowledge that God is speaking and guiding. I can understand that from a perspective of someone who either does not believe in God or who have no experience praying that it might sound somewhat strange to say that “God talks to me.”
In this way, Luhrmann’s great question joins the song of Tylor who asked the question, at what point did humankind no longer look to a higher authority for the answers to life?  Luhrmann’s part in the chorus is the question, what about those who still do? What about those who not only believe in God but talk to God and God talks to them? If God is speaking all the time, why can’t I hear him? More specifically, how it is that American evangelicals, in particular, can talk to God and He talks to them. 
At this point, I would say that I think it is appropriate that Luhrmann has significantly narrowed her base of research to focus on the Amercian Evangelical church. As vast and as varied the Amercian expression of Evangelicalism is and even though Evangelicalism is a global movement  Amercian evangelicalism is not necessarily an expression of evangelicalism around the world. Although the increase of American churches starting satellite churches in other parts of the world may influence that. Regrettably, these satellite churches are more times than not, short on missiological practices and principles as they tend to mirror images of the American church not only in theology and structure but in worldview and political leanings. This is made possible by the fact that in many instances the pastor’s weekly sermon is videoed and shown the following Sunday in the satellite church—with translation. In these cases more is transmitted than the message for the day. The culture, political dispositions, and Americanisms are often transferred as well. But I digress!
To find the answers to these and many other questions, Luhrmann embedded herself in a Christian community in both Chicago and California. Her research has drawn a lot of attention. It has been covered by all of the major news outlets, NPR and combined hundreds of articles and reviews. As is usually the case, some reviews are positive and some not so positive. I am one who found her research both respectful and encouraging. All too often researchers try to tear down belief or otherwise call attention the “uneducated” people who are “duped” into worshiping God. However, Luhrmann approaches the research—although not a believer herself but with some background of Christianity—with an open mind and heart. I don’t sense that her purpose was to tear down but to better understand, and in her understanding be better able to “explain to non-believers how people come to experience God as real.” 
According to Luhrmann, the results of her research indicate that the practice of prayer is developmental training that opens one up to sense the presence of God. “The more people practice, the more likely they are to say that they had one or two of these experiences, the more likely they are to say the experience is powerful.” She states: “I will argue that people learn specific ways of attending to their minds and their emotions to find evidence of God, and that both what they attend to and how they attend changes the experience of their minds, and that as a result, they begin to experience a real, external, interacting living presence.”  In short, hearing from God is a learned behavior. The more it is practiced, the more acute the believer becomes at sensing that what they may be feeling is God speaking to them. Luhrmann is not saying that God exists. That is not the purpose or within the boundaries of social science research.  She is, however, saying that something happens and that something is interpreted by the praying as the voice of God.
What am I to do with this information? Am I duping myself into believing that I hear from God? Is my faith only “imagined” based on a community of people who believe as I do? Are we really and truly all alone in the universe spinning out of control? One of the most moving parts of the book,—if one can say that “research” is moving—is Luhrmann’s closing thoughts. I would add, they are difficult to argue.
“I have said that I do not presume to know ultimate reality. But it is also true that through the process of this journey, in my own way I have come to know God. I do not know what to make of this knowing… In the end, this is the story of the uncertainty of our senses, and the complexity of our minds and world. There is so little we know, so much we take on trust. In a way more fundamental than we dare to appreciate, we each must make our own judgments about what is truly real, and there are no guarantees, for what is, is always cloaked in mystery.”  These words are reminiscent of the Apostle Paul—“for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Does God speak to me? Yes.
- Charles Taylor. A Secular Age. 1st ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007.
- T. M. Luhrmann. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Vintage, 2012.
- Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2014.
- Luhrmann, xv.
- Ibid., xxi.
- Ibid., v.
- Ibid., 325.