Reading When God Talks Back: Understanding The American Evangelical Relationship With God, by T, M, Luhrmann is very inspiring. The author writes about The Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a new denomination, a few decades old, and which the author believes it represents the shift in the American imagination of God (Loc. 219). According to the author, this church does a good job teaching their people to attend to their inner awareness, training in prayer and practice. The stories and experiences of God that Luhrmann explains are common ones, especially among charismatic churches in my country. It is also encouraging to hear there is “enormous growth in belief in a personal God” in America (p. 301), which contradicts what “in the mid-twentieth century, most social scientists thought spiritual faith would simply disappear” (pp. 301-302).
A couple of insights I found helpful from this book: One, Doubt is expected— This is true not only for nonbelievers who find it difficult to believe in the realness of God but for Christians too. As the author says, “Christians of all ages [such as Augustine, Anselm, Jacob in Hebrew Bible] have wrestled with the difficulty of believing that God is real for them in particular, for their own lives and everyday, as if the promise of joy were true for other people—but not for themselves” (Loc.108). In my own journey with God, I have no experience of doubting God’s reality but there have been times when I’ve doubted my calling and some of the decision I made in life. But, when the feelings of uncertainty creep in, the only thing I can do is reach out to God. Whenever I come to God in prayer with all my doubts and uncertainty, I sense His nearness and faithful presence in spite of my doubts. At times, He seems distant and silent to our prayers, but the Spirit helps us trust and pursue Him more.
Second, Faith is hard—“because it is 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). With all the horrific things happening around us, it feels like the world is not a safe place. How can we identify God in the midst of all of what is happening? No one knows where things will lead. However, as followers of Christ, we believe nothing is hidden from our God’s eyes. And the kingdom of God is not in trouble. God is with us in the midst of all of complexity in our world. We will continue to pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Rom 14:19). For we walk by faith, not by sight…
Third, Everyone’s experience of God is unique— As Luhrmann states, “Each generation meets God in its own manner,” there is no uniformity in the ways we experience God. Our stories and faith journey may differ but is is the same God we all worship. However, as the author describes, most Christians tend to view their fellow believers’ experiences of God better than theirs’ or vice versa. The danger of this kind of attitude is that it inhibits us from seeing God in others or in our own lives. In real humility lies respect for one another’s faith experience even if we do not understand and disagree with it.