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143 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Source for Discussion
I am the current Lead Pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of the Peninsula (VCFP), which is one of the two churches Mrs. Luhrmann attended while researching and experiencing what eventually became this book. I am grateful for the perspective of someone coming into our church, who does not identify themselves as a Christian, and sharing with us (VCFP) what they...
Published on April 10, 2012 by Alex Van Riesen

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An anthropological case study of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship
Before buying this book, do read the other reviews. The subtitle overreaches. This is not a sweeping, insightful study of American Evangelicals, but rather bears more semblance to an academic case study--an exploratory study of a particular group--of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. In that latter effort, the book is successful.

This is NOT intended to be a...
Published 9 months ago by Carolyn Kost


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143 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Source for Discussion, April 10, 2012
I am the current Lead Pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of the Peninsula (VCFP), which is one of the two churches Mrs. Luhrmann attended while researching and experiencing what eventually became this book. I am grateful for the perspective of someone coming into our church, who does not identify themselves as a Christian, and sharing with us (VCFP) what they experienced. I think there is a lot for us as a church to discuss, in terms of what those who visit our churches experience and what it says to them both about our church and about God. I also find Mrs. Luhrmann's observations helpful in having a more robust conversation about what experiencing God is like, or can be, in our culture today. While I do not identify with everything she describes, nor would I always define things the same way, I find her observations and insights engaging and enlightening. I would love for every church in the Vineyard movement to discuss this book and how it either does or does not reflect their congregation, but then ask the bigger questions of why or why not. In that process we can all have a more clear understanding of why we do what we do, and possibly - hopefully - even have a better understanding of what those who do not follow Jesus experience when they visit our churches. I think that should matter a lot to us. Finally, I consider Mrs. Luhrmann a friend and enjoy my conversations with her. I appreciate most that she is asking questions and looking to learn and grow. This book displays her sensitivity, compassion and kindness - as well as her intellect - in very clear ways. I recommend this book highly.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Model of Christian Practice for both believers and nonbelievers, May 24, 2012
By 
Jeremy Garber "urbanmenno" (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
An excellent, sympathetic, yet well-researched and objective look at how "revivalist evangelicals" train their brains to literally experience God. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, spent years with Vineyard Christians as a participant-observer to explore how they maintained faith in a God that was not directly available to their ordinary senses. Luhrmann also devised a sophisticated experiment that connected various forms of prayer with the psychological tendency to "absorption," that is, becoming totally enveloped in a particular activity. She concludes that prayer in an evangelical sense is not centered on belief - especially not on unwavering belief - but rather on cognitive techniques that allow one to become "absorbed" in reconstructing a world in which God exists. The "kataphatic" tradition, or visualizing oneself in connection with Scripture and God, provided particularly striking results. Luhrmann's style is simultaneously intensely readable and intellectually rigorous. She lays out a way for both believers and nonbelievers to understand Christian practice in a 21st century world. A paradigmatic example of participant observation at its best.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Insighful and Mind-Opening Study, May 7, 2012
By 
Tom Dylan (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
Even though I do not believe in a supernatural God, I am always fascinated by my religious friends' ability to have faith. This book gave me much more understanding how the human mind can make something unreal seem alive and real for these people. I always thought religious people are borderline insane. But so many supposedly very smart people (I have deeply religious friends who are physicians, even genetic biologists). This book also made me much more feeling sympathetic to these people. Because we are humans capable of rational (or irrational) thought, we all desire to be loved, to be cared, to have a social companion.

Some of the psychological studies are also interesting. Such as the test given to evaluate mental insanity conducted on these Vineyard specimens. The study seems to indicate these Vineyard religious people relate to God positively, when asked if they feel to have been followed or spied upon, they said no. But they always feel the presence of God not associated with negative, but with love and care. If a person feel some hostile force following them, they are likely to react violently, but if they feel a benevolent force following them, they feel much more at peace.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evangelicals erhnographed, May 21, 2013
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Evangelicals Ethnographed

In her intriguing "When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God," Stanford University cultural anthropologist Tanya Marie Luhrmann sympathetically but objectively examines the religious psychology and practices of American evangelicals, in the spirit of William James' 1902 classic "Varieties of Religious Experience". In her previous books, Luhrmann presented fascinating ethnographic studies of modern witches and ceremonial magicians in contemporary England, the once prestigious and privileged Parsis in post-colonial India, and the training and ideological indoctrination of young American psychiatrists. In "When God Talks Back", her latest book, she analyzes the growing movement of evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic Christianity.

Luhrmann specifically examines how evangelicals come to experience God as a close, intimate, and invisible but very real friend and confidant with whom they can communicate on a daily basis through prayer and visualization, clearly recognizing His voice. She is not quite a believing evangelical herself, more a sincerely interested, warmly sympathetic student of an important human activity in the manner of William James. In the tradition of James, and before him of the 18th century German Lutheran theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, she treats religion as a matter of psychology, feeling, and personal experience, rather than of dogma or doctrine, as emotionally and emotionally enriching rather than as rationally convincing. She addresses religion's educated modern potential sympathizers as Schleiermacher addressed its skeptical Enlightenment "cultured despisers."

Luhrmann investigated the new evangelical movement as a participant-observer. She attended services and small group meetings for several years at local branches of the Vineyard, an evangelical church with hundreds of congregations throughout the country and the world, and had hundreds of conversations with evangelicals, learning how they believed themselves able to communicate with God, not just through one-sided prayers but with discernible feedback--some seeing visions, others claiming to hear the voice of God Himself.

After countless interviews with Vineyard members reporting either isolated or on-going supernatural experiences with God, Luhrmann concluded that the practice of prayer could train a person to hear God's voice--to use their mind differently and focus on God's voice until it became clear. A subsequent experiment conducted between people who were and weren't practiced in prayer further confirmed and illuminated her conclusion. For those who have trained themselves on their inner experiences, she found, God is experienced in their brains as an actual personal social relationship: His voice was identified, and felt to be real and interactive.

In an autobiographical note, she asks if God is real or present, and how do we know. She grew up with those questions, she notes. Her mother was the daughter of a Baptist minister, her father (a doctor) the son of Christian Scientists. When she was young, they lived in a neighborhood with Orthodox Jews. She "grew up among many wise people who thought differently about the world," and she was curious about "how they made those decisions, and what an observer could say about the ways they used and experienced their minds in making those decisions." She notes:

<>
She declares that "I am an anthropologist, and in all likelihood I chose my profession because I have lived these questions." She adds, <>

In her final chapter, "Bridging the Gap," Luhrmann concludes:

<<And there is another factor that shapes the way the individual experiences God. That is the real presence of the divine. I have said that I do not presume to know ultimate reality. But it is also true that through the process of this journey, in my own way I have come to know God. I do not know what to make of this knowing. I would not call myself a Christian, but I find myself defending Christianity. I do not think of myself as believing in a God who sits out there, as real as a doorpost, but I have experienced what I believe the Gospels mean by joy. I watched people cry in services, and eventually I would cry in services too, and it seemed to me that I cried the way I sometimes wink back tears at children's books, at the promise of simple joy in a messy world. I began to pray regularly, under the tutelage of a spiritual director, and I began to understand parts of the church teaching not just as so many intellectual doctrinal commitments but as having an emotional logic of their own. I remember the morning it dawned on me that the concept of redemption from sin is important, for example, because we cannot really trust that we are loved until we know that we are loved even with our faults. >>
The God of the Vineyard churches, groups, and members she has known, Luhrmann repeatedly reiterates, is an unconditionally, infinitely loving and forgiving God. The Vineyarders' God is "not only vividly present but deeply kind," "no longer the benign but distant sovereign of the old mainstream church; nor...the harsh tyrant of the Hebrew Bible" but "personal and intimate" (p. xvi). The Vineyard, she emphasizes, does not go in for the graphic, terrifying hellfire and brimstone sermons of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" or Stephen Dedalus' retreat in James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man." Sin is "understood not as forbidden behavior but as an inner state of being separated from God." That "may be caused by doing something of which God disapproves, but the problem is not that *God* has withdrawn" but "that the sinner cannot be close to God."

The Vineyard, as portrayed by Luhrmann, also does not seem to engage in political campaigns against abortion, pornography, homosexuality, or Darwinism, and not to have produced any figures comparable to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Many readers, however, may fault her for ignoring or downplaying evangelical political activism, by the "Religious Right" but also by liberal evangelical groups and figures like the "Sojourners," former President Jimmy Carter, and the late Senator Mark Hatfield. Ignoring passionately Bible-quoting evangelical campaigns against evolution and gay marriage, she seems to consider their fervent belief in Biblical inerrancy as something of little concern for outsiders, like fasting at Lent or avoiding pork and shellfish.

Nevertheless, given this caveat, Luhrmann's approach offers a hopeful alternative to our bitterly polarized religious-political "culture wars." Along with other recent and contemporary heirs if Schleiermacher and William James like Aldous Huxley, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Ken Wilber, Huston Smith, Ninian Smart, and Karen Armstrong, she expresses an irenic "third force" between the militant secularists and the shrill fundamentalists, pro-religious and pro-spiritual but non-sectarian and non-dogmatic.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snappy Writing with a Fresh Perspective., April 13, 2012
Luhrmann is an interesting person. I appreciate her openness and candor. Her interview on Fresh Air was worth listening to as well.[..]

Luhrmann says about community..."The community is crucial, snarky as its members can be. It is tempting to look at this modern evangelical experience of God and see it as profoundly individualistic: me and my relationship with God. And that view certainly captures something real. But it takes a great deal of work for the community to teach people to develop these apparently private and personal relationships with God. The community can help someone to stick it out and keep them at it, just as community can help to keep someone sober and to get them to the gym. It may take a kick in the rear to get people to the gym in the first place... but it is the friends they work out with who keep them there. " p. 279.

Luhrmann is a snappy writer with a fresh perspective. Well done.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour of many forces, April 16, 2012
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A tour de force, as were her earlier books, Luhrmann has, like a not-so-secret agent, penetrated the "societies" of witchcraft, the Parsis (Parsi friends were amazed at her work) and, even, Psychiatrists. Unusually, she combines skills that are rarely joined in one person, a discerning choice of topic, empathy with the subject, at the same time the objectivity to record experience, and an understanding of other disciplines that bear on the subject. In this case those include evolutionary psychology and old regular psychology. And, she is a teriffic writer. Here she presents a worldview living aside the rational that has taken millions of adherents, and yet is completely unintelligible to most of the rest of us. "Evangelicals" calls up, to the receptive mind, either missionaries, or the Christian moralist, socially-engaged. But these aren't the evangelicals of William Wilberforce, but people looking for an inner voice "of God". It's a daily search for them, to feel a closeness with a divine presence right here and now. Luhrmann is compelling in describing these intimacies. Overall, it is not a heavenward or otherworldly pursuit but quotidian to the core, even sometimes shockingly so, asking God for, not only a car (vide Janis Joplin's "Oh Lawd wontcha buyme a Mercedes-Benz") but a red one specifically. We come to follow their pursuit intimately, a look not before, I think, ever presented. The author shws us, closely, this quest. Very valuable.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining Why So Many Christians Pray So Vividly, June 25, 2012
It's easy to mistake this new book by Dr. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist with training in psychology as well, for a book that tries to "explain away" religious experiences. She spent four years researching men and women in congregations that could be described as evangelical or Pentecostal. She was looking closely at the reasons these people develop such vivid, expressive prayer lives. How do they come to feel God is so alive in their relationships each day?

Read the entire book to understand the breadth and many nuances of her research, but the bottom line is this: For various reasons, people decide to train themselves on a daily basis to become more attuned to God. After diligent attention to this training, over time, their senses and their minds do indeed pick up convincing assurances of God. They might even pick up actual messages from God.

Is Tanya trying to argue that her research proves that God is real? No, she pointedly argues that the evidence in her book should not be used either to prove God's existence, or to disprove it. The New Yorker magazine in its review underlines the importance of her research. This is scholarly work that most writers would never touch, the New Yorker reviewer concludes. And, for that, Luhrmann deserves thanks.

I read this book and am recommending it to readers in the same season that I am recommending a new collection of the greatest works by Christian D. Larson, "The Optimist Creed (Tarcher Success Classics)." That's relevant to this review because, if you are drawn to Luhrmann's work, you should be aware of the century-long tradition of such science-meets-religion efforts in book form. Christian Larson didn't originate the idea. William James was delivering the first lectures that formed his classic, "William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience (Library of America Paperback Classics)," in 1901.

Obviously, a century of advancement in science and a deeper awareness of the varieties of religious experience make Luhrmann's stories and conclusions a far cry from works by Larson and James. But the basic notion of this twin inquiry connecting science and religion remains the same. Thank goodness for Dr. Tanya Luhrmann's fresh approach and for this book, which is a highly readable story of her research.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book on many fronts, July 13, 2012
By 
J. Gochenour "spirituality scholar" (in Place, i.e. where I've always been) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
One of the best books available for anyone inside or outside of Christianity who wants a clearer understanding of Evangelical Christians and the landscape of their faith. I almost didn't buy this book because the title and table of contents does not do its content justice. But missing out on this book would have been a great loss. Luhrman's work is accurate, objective, well-researched, well-written, substantive and yet also very accessible. This is one of the few books that manages to be equally valuable (for different reasons) for interested lay persons, church members, professional clergy, and academics. As a strong advocate for religious tolerance, I would highly reccomend "WHEN GOD TALKS BACK" to anyone who finds Christianity puzzling, offensive, or their spiritual home. I was particularly grateful that there is no proselytizing OR bashing within these covers. I am convinced that no matter who you are or what your beliefs, readers will come away with both new insights into and a theoretical/nuts-and-bolts knowledge of one of the fastest growing religious expressions in the world today.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Limited, April 14, 2012
Luhrmann apparently set out to conduct what could only be characterized as an anthropological study of her subject. Instead of surveying hundreds of churches in different denominations, she concentrated on two Vineyard congregations. So the knowledge gained is deep rather than broad. Both approaches have value. The problem is wanting to have it both ways. I'm not sure that the Vineyard is representative of American Evangelical denominations (probably no one group is), but more significantly, the two churches she attended may not be representative of the Vineyard movement itself. I have some familiarity with the group as I know many people from the local Vineyard, and have participated in several of their community service activities. This is one problem I have with the book - Lurhmann criticizes the group for not having much of a social service presence. But this is emphatically not the case with the local Vineyard I am familiar with, which is involved in many different projects.

I also find the local Vineyard approach to Biblical analysis to be almost Talmudic, incorporating original meaning, historical context, symbolism, and intention - not limited to the purely personal application that Luhrmann observed. I'm fairly certain that this approach is not typical of most Evangelical denominations.

Both the broad and the deep study of a topic are each valid in their own ways. William Least Heat-Moon first came to prominence with his book "Blue Highways," a journal of his travels on the back roads of the United States. This was followed by "PrairyErth," which examined a single county in rural Kansas in minute detail. These are perfect examples of the two approaches, which should not be confused with each other as Luhrmann seems to have done here.

Leopold Bloom "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, of what use am I? And if not now, when?" (Hillel)
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling and delightful, March 31, 2012
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This review is from: When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Kindle Edition)
This remarkably excellent book has created quite a splash in the publishing world. I hope the publisher continues the marketing effort. Look on newyorker.com for Joan Acocella's excellent review.

I'm glad I spent $16.99 on this delightful Kindle book. I already finished it and I am rereading with pleasure. I'm learning a lot about some of my fellow Americans who just love God. Tanya Marie Luhrmann's sentences are tasty and meaningful. She explores and explains the concepts of Evangelism and gently contrasts them with the traditions of mainstream religions.

More importantly, When God Talks Back is a source of information about praying and feeling in touch with the universe and everything in it -- including myself. If this is anthropology, I love it!

I am telling my friends about When God Talks Back and urging them to buy it.
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