After believers learn to converse with God and recognize his voice, they must learn to interact with him as a person. She draws on evangelical favorite, C.S. Lewis’s chapter in Mere Christianity titled “Let’s Pretend” to illustrate how these believers develop a sense of God’s presence. People ask God what to wear and they speak to God as if he were occupying an empty chair at their table. Experiencing God as real is a marker of spiritual maturity.
Learning that God is love is a process. Luhrmann again reminds readers that this love doctrine is new in the context of a history of fear and worry about the wrath of the Almighty. A part of spiritual development is a reworking of a person’s God-concept so that people learn to trust God. She emphasizes the important role that emotions play in this process of a heart-felt faith experience. Not surprisingly, not all members find their way to God through these local-group led experiences. Many find it hard to pray. Yet encouragement comes from local experts-- people who share their testimonies of what God is doing in their lives.
Luhrmann wonders what people are doing when they pray. Eventually she reaches a conclusion that the intense prayers of the mature charismatic believers are close to the psychological state of absorption. Those high on absorption are highly focused with attentional processes that screen out life’s distractions. People learn to relate to reality from a different perspective. She wonders, are they crazy? She gives us a sense that in the moment people are in the world but not of the world. This absorption experience is close to the clinically challenging world of those who lose contact with a part of experience as in a dissociative state. We also find some reporting what sounds like hallucinations and delusions. People hear God speak in an audible voice. Others share their confrontations with evil spirits. Luhrmann rejects the notion of craziness in favor of transformative experiences that temporarily override the senses.
Perhaps no study would be complete without an examination of theodicy. Luhrmann finds these believers do indeed confront doubts in their faith journey. Some prayers do not lead to expected answers. Bad things happen. But rather than seeking logical answers, they eventually find a satisfactory response in their spiritual experiences and their relationship with God in the context of a faith community. As Luhrmann observes, “Their faith is practical, not philosophical (299).”
Lurhmann, T. M. (2012). When God talks back: Understanding the American evangelical relationship with God . New York: Vintage.
Sutton, G.W. (2014). [Review of the book When God talks back: Understanding the American evangelical relationship with God by T. M. Luhrmann]. Encounter. Accepted June 16, 2014. ResearchGate Link Academia Link