When God Talks Back – Part 1: Introduction

I have quite a few irons in the fire these days (including homework for a journalism class I’ll be taking in late October) so rather than writing a typical review of T. M. Luhrmann’s book, When God Talks Back, I’ll be writing a series of posts about it. This is the first.

First a bit about the author and her book. Luhrmann is an anthropologist, and as such she set out to study a particular vein of modern Christianity from within. She attended, studied and interacted with many congregants of a Vineyard movement church in Chicago and another in California and shares very detailed observations from both, but focused primarily on how these Christians claim to have heard from God (audibly at times, in their heads, some say they have been shown images by God) and how they have experienced him. Although she specifically attended two Vineyard churches, others fit this “renewalist” or “new paradigm” Protestantism. She also noted that even many “conservative” churches read books promoting the same concepts (something I’ve personally found to be true).
Lurhmann wrote, “One of the first things a person must master at a church like the Vineyard is to recognize when God is present and when he responds.”

What kind of responses does she mean?

“In a church like the Vineyard, God participates in your mind, and you ‘hear’ what he says as if it were external speech. the general model is clear enough, although no one actually presented it to me as a bullet-point list. God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body …” she said.

If you’ve been reading Steak and a Bible for very long, you may already know that I hold firmly to the principle of Sola Scriptura. I believe the canon of scripture is closed and that extra-biblical revelation (new, direct revelation) is not only unnecessary for the believer and should not be sought after, but is truly dangerous because it cannot be objectively scrutinized (How can you know that what you are “hearing” is from God and not yourself or the devil?) I will not say it is impossible, but even within scripture such interaction with God is the exception, not the rule. (For an excellent book on the subject I recommend Gary Gilley’s “Is that You, Lord?”)

Like many, I grew up being taught that prayer is how I talk to God and the Bible is how God speaks to me and that the role of the Holy Spirit inside me is to convict me and embolden me concerning right and wrong as already laid out in scripture. I still believe this and I’ve been shocked to see the concepts of “listening” for God’s voice and the need for some sort of God-experience flood protestantism in recent years.

So I picked up Luhrmann’s book with deep concerns about this paradigm in Christianity and looking for answers about where this thinking comes from. I was not disappointed.

To be continued…

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