Another way of saying it: “I imagine, therefore I believe.” How does one come to the view that God — invisible, inaudible — is both present and intimate and a person? Perhaps no group is more associated with talking to God and hearing from God as much as the charismatic tradition, and so T.M. Luhrmann’s study, When God Talks Back, of the Vineyard’s widespread conviction that God is a person and intimate with individual Christians is worthy of a good listen.
Does imagination have a part in your faith? Do you think is how faith develops? Any other thoughts about her theory of how God becomes intimate with us as a person? Do you think faith develops through imagination?
I’m finding this book not only well-written but engrossing, and far more of the latter than I expected. Her analysis and proposals are also challenging. In essence, she seeks to explain — not explain away — intimate communication with God, which is everywhere in the Bible, through brain theory. She’s not evaluating the truthfulness of intimate communication with God; she’s not denying it; she’s seeking to explain it through the lens of anthropology.
The big idea here is that God is conceived of and related to as one relates to a person. This requires an act of faith, and she quotes C.S. Lewis who once counseled someone to “pretend” that God was present — in fact one of his chps in Mere Christianity was called “Let’s Pretend.” “Let’s pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality,” Lewis said. The act of pretending, then, is the act of faith. It is pretending in search of faith and confidence and relationship and intimacy.
This can all get very concrete, as when some make God a cup of coffee, set it down on the table, pull out a seat for God, and sit down and have a conversation with the God who is (pretended to be) there. This is not unlike an imaginary friend, she observes — and she studies some of that scholarship. Some (women, she says) talk about “date night” with God.
Yet, some Vineyard Christians both know they are pretending and know it might be their heads and not reality, and at the same time this faith nourishes them immensely.
One of Luhrmann’s concerns is that relationality and experiencing God become all-important to the quest — in prayer, in Bible reading — to the detriment of theology (and heresy). She thinks Curtis and Eldredge’s book, The Sacred Romance, create a situation where “heresy fades to unimportance,” observing they think God “gets hurt when you don’t come out to play” (84, her words not theirs).
God could be, she is suggesting, like a teddy bear — a symbolic emotional thing that allows us to hold onto the goodness of this world in spite of what we see as evil. (This is compensation theory at some level, but she doesn’t develop this much or even argue for it.)
This imagination theory of how faith is established is sometimes described as “play” and the result is that many come to a full conviction that God is a person with whom they can communicate. The Play then is the act of faith that God really does exist; that God communicates.