Review of When God Talks Back

Meet the Author

T. M. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist and the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department.  Her books include Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989), The Good Parsi (1996), Of Two Minds (2000), and When God Talks Back (2012). Luhrmann was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2003) and awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007).

Book Basics

T. M. Luhrmann grew up in an environment that birthed religious curiosity: living in a neighborhood with Orthodox Jews, worshiping in a Unitarian congregation, and being raised by a mother who was the daughter of a Baptist minister and a father (a doctor) who was the son of Christian Scientists.  When God Talks Back is her inquiry into American Evangelicalism as a psychological anthropologist.

Luhrmann’s in-depth study focuses on people participating in congregations affiliated with the Vineyard movement, a newer denomination that exemplifies the neo-Pentecostal or renewalist tradition emphasizing a direct experience of God.  This multi-year multi-congregation inquiry affords both the author and her readers a new appreciation for the Evangelical experience.  While Luhrmann did not become a Christian as the result of her work, she is in a very different place than she began: willing to defend Christianity – including the Evangelical experience.

Luhrmann’s immersion in the Vineyard experience includes frequent participation in worship, Bible studies, small groups, and conferences.  She finds that Vineyard adherents (as a type of Evangelical) believe in the power of being connected to a personal divinity, and participate in experiences that train their minds to perceive and respond to the nearness and wisdom of that god.  In short, Luhrmann finds that the educational component of the Evangelical experience provides the necessary mental training to enable adherents to have direct experiences of their god.

So What?

Luhrmann never seeks to prove or disprove the existence of the divine; she instead observes how those who assume the existence of a divine draw closer to that being.  Spiritual disciplines, Christian education, small group study, and other forms of religious inquiry work.

  • If you are a part of a mainline tradition (United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, American Baptist Convention, and the Disciples of Christ), what factors and experiences have contributed most to shaping your understanding of Evangelicalism?  If you are a part of an Evangelical tradition, what factors and experiences have contributed most to shaping your understanding of the Mainline?  If you are non-religious or adhere to a religion other than Christianity, how has the media shaped your current understanding of Evangelical Christianity?
  • How have you experienced your tradition’s spiritual disciplines as a means of training your mind to be better able to experience the divine or more fully aware of one or more key aspects of that which your tradition values?

T. M. Luhrmann.  When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Vintage Books, 2012).  ISBN: 9780307277275.


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