Reading this book brought a smile to my face because I realize the journey in this doctoral program has afforded me the opportunity to appreciate a well-written book, regardless of the denominational influences (or biases). Luhrmann introduces each reader to the world of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a denomination the author believes represents a shift in the American Imagination of God because “these Christians speak as if God interacts with them like a friend” (243, Kindle). However, readers like myself probably started reading cautiously to determine if some level of self-righteousness or arrogance is on the cusp of exposing itself. Personally, I thought Christians, in general, were ordinary people with maybe a little misguided reverential fear of God. The author continued by suggesting that the Vineyard is ‘arguably’ the most successful example of ‘New Paradigm Protestantism’ (254, Kindle).
As you read with a cultural posture, the author is not promoting a denomination, rather, the idea that we should give care to our inner awareness. Christianity has a significant impact on culture, but the reverse is also true. The greatest challenge is in our posture when culture collides with Christianity. There was a moment where “in the mid-twentieth century, most social scientists thought spiritual faith would simply disappear” (pp. 301-302). However, the American culture that many criticize as losing Christian values has “enormous growth in belief in a personal God” (p. 301). Notice how I never said America was a Christian nation? Having a personal faith in any god, allows Christians to engage in a meaningful religious conversation. We all have our doubts in different areas, which also involves our spiritual journey and this is expressly the case with having unwavering faith. The author suggested that faith includes “a decision to live as if a set of claims are real, even when one doubts: in the Christian case, that the world is good; that love endures; that you should live your life as if the promise of joy were at least a possibility” (p. 112).
This week in one of my family devotions, I asked both my boys to explain to me why they believed in God or even the idea of going to heaven. Our 19-year-old gave a religious answer about Jesus dying on the cross, but our 12-year-old son said, “I’m destined to go to heaven.” At that moment, I realized how far the church has shifted in how we want people to understand our faith. While I grew up horrified about going to hell, “each generation meets God in its own manner” (p. XV). What concerns me with the author’s findings, is that there is total reliance on “inner healing” and recognizing God’s voice primarily in an audible way. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to hear His voice, but sometimes God allows us to see His works as a response or confirmation. The children of Israel consistently saw God’s work through His miraculous works but mainly heard Him through the prophets. They would doubt God if His works were absent from reality.
According to the author’s findings, God is not imagined as a person whom you have a conversation and that people should master the ‘skill’ of recognizing thoughts in our minds (p. 39). I grew up in an era where the church had “tarrying” (as we call it in Jamaica) and even “deliverance” services, but I still never understood why we couldn’t rely on God to respond immediately. We imagined God as a real person, which is why we waited at the altar for Him to respond. However, I’ve learned to understand that God doesn’t always speak in an audible voice that can be heard or even recognizing thoughts; I’m not sure I’d go to another “tarrying” service. When Moses used His rod, God was speaking to confirm His desire for Israel’s freedom. When we pray for someone’s healing, we don’t naturally look for a confirmation of God’s voice, rather, a confirmation of His works.
Let’s be clear, God speaks to me constantly but not in the same way. Like many people, I see “scriptures not as texts of an ancient people, but as if the events had just happened, as if John the Baptist were a family friend” (p. 32). Since scriptures represent God’s words (highlighted in red), He is speaking, and my action (or response) could also reflect the other side of the conversation. Maybe I grew up in a mystical era where we bought the Bibles with Jesus’ words highlighted in red. Once we saw those highlighted words, the reverential fear kicked in to respond to His “written voice.” Why do we pray for healing? Is it because of His audible voice in our head or the written one?
The author provided excellent insights in investigating the church’s (evangelical) relationship with God from an anthropological and psychological perspective to show that different faith or influences sees and hears God differently. One of many importance I find from the investigative work in this book is to listen intently to ensure that we hear God when He speaks back; communication flows both ways. Regardless of our religious tribe or our conviction of how people should listen, we should have “an intense desire to experience personally a God who is present now as when Christ walked among his followers in Galilee” (p. 13).