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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Luhrmann did extensive fieldwork in Chicago and Northern California at Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a young “charismatic” denomination that offers a tame, middle-class version of Pentecostal practices that once scandalized most Christians. Members speak in tongues, pray for healing and seek “concrete experiences of God’s realness.” They want “the hot presence of the Holy Spirit to brush their cheeks and knock them sideways.” Some evangelicals frown on the Vineyard’s exuberance, but the denomination has gained outsize influence in evangelical culture, particularly by producing popular worship music. The Vineyard showcases, in amplified form, a style of prayer that has become widespread over the past four decades.
After more than four years of observing and interviewing Vineyard members, and participating in prayer groups, Bible study and weekly worship, Luhrmann arrived at a simple but arresting hypothesis: Evangelicals believe in an intimate God who talks to them personally because their churches coach them in a new theory of mind. In these communities, religious belief is “more like learning to do something than to think something. . . . People train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God.” Luhrmann is hardly the first to interpret religious feeling through the lens of psychology. This line of analysis goes back to William James and the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, and today the scientific study of prayer is a growing field. Yet “When God Talks Back” is remarkable for combining creative psychological analysis with a commitment to understanding evangelicals not merely as a scholar’s specimens, but on their own terms. The result is the most insightful study of evangelical religion in many years.
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