Finding God in the Hyperreal through the Simulacra of Imaginative Prayer

As the Fall semester concludes for me, and the year is quickly coming to an end, I thought it would be interesting to share a book review I wrote on Tanya Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God. This is a purely academic writing–in fact, it is my last paper submission of this semester. My review focuses on cautioning readers of research-driven books to consider the researcher’s/writer’s personal background, values, and convictions when placing weight on their words. This is especially true when evaluating qualitative research. While I found Luhrmann, a religiously pluralistic non-Christian, to be an exceptional writer who undoubtedly conducts methodologically sound research, the epistemological, ontological, and axiological lens from which she observed evangelical Christians produces inferences that fail–from my perspective as a professed Christian–to encapsulate what it is to truly experience God in relationship. In short, as a non-Christian, she misses the need to focus on Christ. Thus, she provides a perspective of Christianity that views the supernatural as a psychological construct. While I admire her intentions and professional acumen as a researcher, I struggle–after reading her book–to see her research accurately describing my own experience as a Christian. To experience God requires more than what she calls “imaginative prayer.” Rather, it requires faith, hope, love, and action [through relationship] focused on Christ’s leadership, through His Word. My review is provided below:
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When God Talks Back (Luhrmann, 2012) encapsulates four years of anthropological, ethnographic research focusing on two congregations within the Vineyard fellowship of churches. Within those four years—for differing periods of time—author, Tanya Luhrmann, participates in various church activities that include attending services, local conferences, and participating in a weekly house group; trying “to learn, from the inside out” (p. xx). Supplementing her ethnography, she interviews members from both churches—more than thirty total. From these observations and interviews, she then conducts experiments to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of prayer and sensory overrides (e.g. voices and visions). Continue reading

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