When God Talks Back
Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
T. M. Luhrmann
Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95, 436 pp.
The historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith has noted that to believe in God used to mean putting faith and trust in a being who was assumed to exist, whereas now it means having the opinion that he exists. Meanwhile, it seems as though the divide between those who have that opinion and those who don’t is getting bigger all the time. Is there any way to make it smaller—to make religious belief more intelligible in a secular age?
T. M. Luhrmann, a psychological anthropologist at Stanford, sets out to answer those questions by talking with Evangelical Christians, specifically those in the Association of Vineyard Churches. This group is not, strictly speaking, part of the Bible Belt. It originated in California during the 1970s as the mainstreamed child of the Jesus people—hippies who turned from drugs to an adapted form of Pentecostalism. Although many of its tenets and practices would scandalize some Evangelical groups such as the Southern Baptists, its approach to God has much in common with that of many other Evangelicals. With at least 25 percent of Americans following a faith in which “the Christian God is understood to be intimately and personally present,” the Vineyard is as good a group as any to help a scholar get at what makes the American Evangelical mind tick.
Vineyard Christianity preaches a loving God intimately connected to the particulars of one’s everyday life. This is not...