Article - Winter 2021

God, Can You Hear Me?

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Many Young evangelicals are beginning to question the packaged truths offered in megachurches

By T. M. Luhrmann | December 7, 2020
Evangelical pastor Joel Osteen delivering a sermon in Houston’s 16,800-seat Lakewood Church (Julian J. Rossig/iStock)
Evangelical pastor Joel Osteen delivering a sermon in Houston’s 16,800-seat Lakewood Church (Julian J. Rossig/iStock)

Heather left the charismatic movement the night after she walked through a “fire tunnel” and pretended that the Holy Spirit had knocked her down. A fire tunnel consists of two parallel lines of eager Christians and looks like a Virginia reel. People walk through the tunnel one by one as the others pray for them. The idea behind this is that when godly Christians pray actively, particularly when they pray together with noise and energy—when they “shout to the Lord,” as a popular song by former Hillsong Worship leader Darlene Zschech puts it, reworking Psalm 100—the Holy Spirit comes, and then spiritual current flows from the hands of those who pray into the bodies of those for whom they pray. Sometimes, those who pray feel their hands grow warm and tingle with power. Often, those who walk stumble and fall, zapped by God’s power, drunk on God’s love. They fall because when the spirit comes in force, it feels so overwhelming that their knees give out. They lie on the ground, grinning with joy. But when Heather fell down that evening, the way everyone expected, she knew she was faking it. She never went back to the charismatic church again.

The God that emerged from the cultural tumult of the 1960s was meant to shoot into people’s lives like a bolt of lightning. The “new paradigm” churches, as University of Southern California religious studies professor Donald Miller called them, emerged in response to the spiritual sensibility of the age. People had experimented not only with psychedelic drugs but also with yoga and transcendental meditation. The Beatles made Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi famous. On April 8, 1966, Time magazine published a cover story titled “Is God Dead?” In this context, the new Christian churches imagined themselves as reaching out to the unchurched, rescuing young people from acid and introducing them to a Christian life that was not only just as vivid—but better. They promised their followers that they would meet God in encounters as passionate and as real as those of the first disciples.

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