When God Talks Back presents a convincing thesis: with a boost from the cultural stew of the 1960s, many U.S. Christian evangelicals teach themselves to experience a feel-good God by practicing the feeling through prayer practices. That is, their God experience is all about feeling and practice.
Luhrmann shares years of respectful participant research. She treats her subjects as sympathetic, intelligent people. The result is interesting, but the book left me with lots of questions.
- Does it ever bother any of these people that their image of God seems to be unequivocally masculine, always "he"? Luhrmann doesn't address the question, a common one in other contemporary faith explorations. And most of these evangelicals she describes seem to have been women -- though this may reflect that their culture is homosocial, so she had more access to women.
- Does it mean anything to these Vineyard Christians that one of the founders of their denomination was gay? For the record, this inspired hippie was named Lonnie Frisbee.
- How could U.S. culture have become so ahistorical, so intellectually solipsistic, that it is acceptable to educated adults to read the Bible without thought of its historical context? I'm just too much the historian to be able to imagine this.
But do these cherished Bibles change them -- or merely comfort them, merely serve as talismans denoting their essential lovableness? If the latter, contemporary complacent Christianity has birthed a strange fruit.