When God Talks Back: An Interview with T.M. Luhrmann

Luhrmann: I think that the stereotypes that most of us have about faith are harmful to our national dialogue. "Unbelievers" sometimes dismiss faith in God as foolish or naïve. I think it is helpful to understand that many people with vivid God-experiences are thoughtful. In fact, I think that this vivid God that many evangelicals experience may be a way to help them to hang on to faith in a secular society. That won't change anyone's convictions about whether God exists, but it may help us to respect each other a little more.

Gorra: Indeed, it's not accidental that civility is related to understanding. Who has helped you understand? Are there theologians that you have relied on over the years who have helped you appreciate some of the "theology of" features of Christian experience?

Luhrmann: I have talked to the pastors of the churches where I studied, and read writers like C.S. Lewis, Augustine, and Martin Luther. I have talked at length with other contemporary scholars. I would say that I learned a great deal from reading the New Testament itself. As I was reading the Bible, I reached out to Teaching Company tapes by Luke Timothy Johnson and Bart Ehrman, which I listened to while working in the garden.

Gorra: Eugene Peterson also comes to mind. Have you read any of his work, given how he celebrates and seeks to cultivate the role of the imagination in the life of the believer?

Luhrmann: No, but I will! I know him mostly because of his rendering of the Bible into contemporary language.

On the Readership

Gorra: Yes, that's right. Speaking of imagination, When God Talks Back has an impressionable book cover. Is there more than mere marketing intent at work here?

Luhrmann: This book is about the way people develop intense personal relationships with God. We wanted the cover to represent that personal, private experience, even though it is shaped by the social world of the church.

  

Gorra: Let's talk a little more about your readership for this book. As you know, the U.S. is a religiously diverse nation. Patheos.com is a handsome microcosm of that pluralism. How might evangelicals and non-evangelicals benefit from this book?

Luhrmann: The account I give of prayer and the way prayer changes the mind should be of interest to anyone who is interested in prayer, whether or not they are evangelical.

There are a lot of evangelicals in America, and non-evangelicals have a lot of stereotypes about them that are often simplistic. I think that non-evangelicals who are curious about the faith experience of those who seek a personal relationship with God, this book will explain what that experience is like. I hope it will help non-evangelicals realize that evangelicals are sophisticated about their beliefs, which non-evangelicals don't always assume.

For evangelicals, this book will explain something about prayer practice and why certain practices have such a long history in the church.

On American Evangelical Spiritual Experience

Gorra: There are many impressionable and even funny and sometimes odd experiences of the divine in your book. I am wondering if there is one character or incident that notably grabs your attention because of how it represents your thesis.

Luhrmann: I just love the story where God told Sarah (as she understood it) to get off the bus. She'd been praying and praying and praying, and she began to see God everywhere. She felt that she came out of an apartment building and nearly slipped on the ice, and that it was God's joke because she was feeling so smug about how much she was praying; and then (she said) God brought the bus right away, and she was reading something and nearly missed her stop, and he audibly spoke to her and told her to get off. That story really captures the intimacy and immediacy of the way people are able to experience God

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4/18/2012 4:00:00 AM
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