When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  367 ratings  ·  72 reviews
How does God become and remain real for modern evangelicals? How are rational, sensible people of faith able to experience the presence of a powerful yet invisible being and sustain that belief in an environment of overwhelming skepticism? T. M. Luhrmann, an anthropologist trained in psychology and the acclaimed author of Of Two Minds, explores the extraordinary process th...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about When God Talks Back, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about When God Talks Back

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,349)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann is one of the most impressive nonfiction books I have read in some time. Luhrmann is articulate, dynamic and poetic, while effectively conveying the information expected from quality nonfiction.

This book is an in-depth look at the spiritual life of today's evangelical Protestants, particularly those in the Vineyard and similar churches, which have a decidedly experiential bent to their worship. Luhrmann chronicles the spiritual and social lives of this subcul...more
May 02, 2012 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
After listening to really interesting interview with author on Fresh Air yesterday, I decided to add this. I was impressed with how respectful and open-minded Luhrmann was in describing practices -- which some / many would probably find pretty unconventional, to say the least -- of Vineyard evangelicals and with how candid she was in discussing her own ambivalent spiritual leanings.

Update: 5.2.12 Interesting review from NYT http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/boo...
Clif Hostetler
T.M. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist, and in this book she examines the growing movement of evangelical and charismatic Christianity, and specifically how practitioners come to experience God as someone with whom they can communicate on a daily basis through prayer and visualization. The information in this book is based upon observations made over a four year period during which the author was fully immersed in their prayer and worship activities at a very emotional and heart felt le...more
David Crumm
Explaining Why So Many Christians Pray So Vividly

It’s easy to mistake this new book by Dr. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist with training in psychology as well, for a book that tries to “explain away” religious experiences. She spent four years researching men and women in congregations that could be described as evangelical or Pentecostal. She was looking closely at the reasons these people develop such vivid, expressive prayer lives. How do they come to feel God is so alive in their relations...more
I found this book to be entirely fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history, anthropology, or psychology of religion.

I have heard many people say that, after they prayed about some problem they had or decision they had, God told them what to do. I wondered what they really meant. This book addresses the psychology and anthropology of that experience.

In this book, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, discusses the experience of membe...more
Miss Karen Jean Martinson
I wanted to read this book because I do not at all understand charismatic Christianity, and rather than be off-put by its (to my eyes) obsessively present and dominating relationship with God (2 + 2 + Jesus = 4, but 2 + 2 is somehow impossible), I wanted to understand what it meant to those who practice it. Really, I wanted to understand how it could be so meaningful to them while appearing so foreign and false to me. This book is an excellent resource; it is thoughtful, well-researched, nuanced...more
Thing Two
Jul 05, 2012 Thing Two rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Thing Two by: Fresh Air review
Shelves: nyt-notable-book
I listened to the Fresh Air interview with the author and immediately put this book on my list. I wasn't disappointed.


A trained psychological anthropologist, T.M. Luhrmann set out to answer three questions: How does God become real for people? How are sensible people able to believe in an invisible being who has a demonstratable effect on their lives? And how can they sustain that belief in the face of what skeptical observers think must be inevitable disc...more
Joy Matteson
This book was incredible. Regardless of your religious or faith affiliation, you should read this book. Luhrmann is an incredibly talented anthropologist and writer, a feat that is probably not mutually exclusive.
“Listen,” he said, “I don’t care what you say about me or anything, but if you start making cracks about my goddam religion for Chrissake—”

“Relax,” I said. “Nobody’s making any cracks about your goddam religion.”
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When this book unexpectedly plopped onto my ‘to-read’ list, I had high hopes. I’ve long been interested in the social science of religion, and this was a full-blown anthropological and psychological investigation of a religion quite close to home. It...more
Justin Bailey
The subtitle of Tanya Luhrmann's When God Talks Back describes the book as an attempt to understand "the American Evangelical Relationship with God". Luhrmann's focus on "relationship with God" means that she is not trying to understand evangelicalism as a social-political movement or theological system, but as a particular way of being in the world, a theory of mind. Luhrmann is particularly interested in that section of evangelicalism that takes seriously the claim that Christianity is "a rel...more
Jeremy Garber
An excellent, sympathetic, yet well-researched and objective look at how "revivalist evangelicals" train their brains to literally experience God. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, spent years with Vineyard Christians as a participant-observer to explore how they maintained faith in a God that was not directly available to their ordinary senses. Luhrmann also devised a sophisticated experiment that connected various forms of prayer with the psychological tendency to "absorption," that is, becoming to...more
Justin Morgan
This is one of the best books on prayer I've read and it's written by a self-professed unbeliever! Luhrmann is an anthropologist who studies and immerses herself in the practical religious world of the Vineyard and other 3rd wave renewalist-style soft charismatic evangelical churches. She examines the cultivation of the idea of a super personal God and interaction that takes place between the congregant and this invisible yet more real than real idea. She approaches the practices of prayer as so...more
Luhrmann is an interesting person. I appreciate her openness and candor. Her interview on Fresh Air was worth listening to as well. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/26/1493949....

Luhrmann says about community..."The community is crucial, snarky as its members can be. It is tempting to look at this modern evangelical experience of God and see it as profoundly individualistic: me and my relationship with God. And that view certainly captures something real. But it takes a great deal of work for the com...more
Alex Templeton
As a liberal with a Jewish background, I have definitely encountered a great deal of skepticism and even hostility towards evangelical Christians. This book, written by anthropologist/psychologist T.M. Luhrmann, did a lot to encourage my understanding and empathy for this population, something I think is important for me personally, disagree as I may with some of their politics. Luhrmann describes the complex and subtle mental processes and practices that American evangelical Christians use to m...more
Matthew Green
My only complaint about this book is that Luhrmann conflates the Vineyard tradition and spirituality with the entirety of Evangelical tradition and spirituality. However, if you simply substitute "Vineyard" every time she says "Evangelical", you'll be fine.

Perhaps because Luhrmann came from outside of the church, she's not steeped in Christian-ese and the trappings of Evangelical Christian thinking, which can be abstract and circular. Her presentation is exceedingly down-to-earth, considering an...more
As a christian Unitarian Universalist who has a strong personal prayer life, I was intrigued by Luhrmann's research. I certainly recommend this book to its intended audience - rationalists who are perplexed why and how other seemingly rational and smart people can have deep mystical prayer lives. My own experiences resonate with many of Luhrmann's insights, including the way mystical experience thrives in a doubting and critical world.

For those seeking greater mystical communion, there are othe...more
Before buying this book, do read the other reviews. The subtitle overreaches. This is not a sweeping, insightful study of American Evangelicals, but rather bears more semblance to an academic case study--an exploratory study of a particular group--of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. In that latter effort, the book is successful.

This is NOT intended to be a how-to guide for spirituality, which is what many readers appear to be seeking. If the reader intends to learn more about how to have a per...more
This book has showed me how to understand the American Evangelical’s relationship to God, both as a article of faith, as well as their painstaking designed practice to achieve that relationship. This is a scholarly book of a psychological anthropologist who put herself in to the field work to understand the process of how that relationship is built and maintained, how powerful and resilient of that relationship can be, in the face of nearly insurmountable difficulties.

I have read accounts of an...more
T. M. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist who teaches at Stanford University. She attended the Vineyard congregations in Chicago and California for years as she interviewed the believers about their experiences and beliefs. This is a fascinating book with extensive footnotes and bibliographic sources from evangelical, Catholic, atheist, psychological and anthropological writings.
Loved it. It is so refreshing to find an academic book that is both well-researched and respectful to Christianity. Explained a lot to me about a culture of which I am not a native! This book will keep me thinking for a long time.
Allen-louise Erickson
Very interesting-more academic than I expected. The small section on Lonnie Frisbee was brief but good to see he isn't completely out of the historical account.
Steve Watson
What happens when a deeply respected, thoughtful anthropologist embeds herself with American evangelicals who talk about experiencing a living God that talks with them?

Well, in this case, she has a deeply empathetic, insightful take on the type of prayer and spirituality that is common in Vineyard churches and other settings. And it leaves the anthropologist moved as she participates herself.

By talking about experiential prayer as imaginative play with God, Lurhmann isn't mocking or discrediti...more
Neil Griffin
Lurhmann breaks down how evangelicals can believe that they are actually conversing with God in this book. It's a very Calvin-and-Hobbesy relationship where the church trains you to listen to your own thoughts and try to discern what is God and what is your own brain. The idea of having God as your best friend who actually helps you pick out your clothes and jokes with you is a very new phenomenon, but many of the experiences they have (the Saul having a vision on the way to Damascus) have been...more
This book reframes extreme religiosity as experiexed by Evangelical Christians in the U.S as a psychological rather than as a social phenomena.
Since I always read about the growing influence of the Evangelical population on modern American politics, I was really interested in reading more about this group of people. Being more of socially liberal person,I often find myself vehemently disagreeing with Evangelicals views on science, god, and many other social issue. In my heart of hearts I alway...more
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and immediately got my hands on this book. The interview was fascinating and I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of why people are attracted to evangelicalism and the impact that it has on their everyday lives. There was some of that, but not nearly enough for me.

The book offers a good description of evangelical phenomena but there's not much analysis. I suppose that's in keeping with the author's training as an anthropologist, which is to observe and desc...more
Definitely the most thought-provoking book I have read in a while.
I have been a devote atheist my entire life and this book did not change my beliefs one bit.
But, it did give me a better perspective of evangelicals.
When I was in elementary or junior high school every once in a while I'd watch one of the silly faith-healing televangelists on TV. "Evil spirits come OUT!" I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. As I got older, I just thought it was one more sign that there are some rea...more
Jason Danely
It is a good sign when a book hangs out in your head long after you've put it down. This is one of those books. This may not be the book to read if you want an overall understanding of the state of religion in the US, or if you are looking for a broad understanding of Evangelicalism across the world. It is the right book if you want to understand what people mean when they say they talk to God. Reading Luhrmann's book feels like sitting down and having a really interesting conversation. Her writ...more
Although I threw this book across the room in frustration at one point, it helped me gain insight on a branch/brand/version of Christianity labeled evangelical (not to be confused with ELCA Lutheran). The author is a Stanford University professor of anthropology also trained in psychology, with degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. She spent significant time at an evangelical church known as the Vineyard trying to understand as an "objective outsider" how God becomes real for people who are aware...more
This is a huge volume based on an anthropologist’s report of spending years in two different Vineyard churches throughout the country. I feel like I’m cheating because I actually returned this to the library before I finished it, but I would like to finish it sometime, and I still recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by anthropology or curious about the psychological study of prayer. I’m okay with being a little nerdy here: I thought it was really interesting. And I truly appreciated that a...more
There are a number of very extensive reviews of this book available and time does not allow me to add to those; however, I will put in a few words on behalf of this book. I gave the book 5*, not because I necessarily agree or understand in the same way what the author attempts to explain, but largely because of the breadth and depth to which the author goes in attempting to first understand and then explain how American evangelicals (of the Vineyard brand) hear from and relate to God. The author...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 44 45 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
  • Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
  • Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival
  • Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party
  • Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America
  • Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas
  • The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
  • Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History
  • Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
  • On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - and Future
  • How (Not) to Speak of God: Marks of the Emerging Church
  • On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring
  • All We Know: Three Lives
  • The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America
  • The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
  • American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree
  • The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time
Tanya Marie Luhrmann is currently the Watkins University Professor in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University. She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Tanya Marie Luhrmann (born 1959) is an American psychological anthropologist best known for her studies of modern-day witches, charismatic Christ...more
More about T.M. Luhrmann...
Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England The Good Parsi: The Fate of a Colonial Elite in a Postcolonial Society Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science/Humanism Divide

Share This Book

“Let us begin by turning the skeptic’s question on its head. If you could believe in God, why wouldn’t you? There is good evidence that those who believe in a loving God have happier lives. Loneliness is bad for people in many different ways—it diminishes immune function, increases blood pressure, and depresses cognitive function—and we know that people who believe in God are less lonely.” 0 likes
More quotes…