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20 April 2012

Java with Jesus

In this recent episode of Fresh Air on NPR, anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann discusses her ethnography among Evangelical Protestants. She describes how she got interested in researching this particular group:
I went to the home of one evangelical woman, and she told me that if I wanted to understand, I should have coffee with God. She had coffee with God all the time, she hung out with God, she chatted with God and talked with God as if he were a person. And I was blown away. I was so intrigued by what that meant and how she was able to do that.
Evangelicals understand God to be personal.[1] What they mean by this is that God is presently active in the world and, moreover, that he cares intimately and deeply about each of us as individuals, much in the way that a parent cares for a child or a friend cares for another friend. Largely, this is a reaction against other monotheistic traditions whose theologies paint God as abstract, nebulous, remote, and even, at times, distant. Paul writes about the community of believers as the "body of Christ" (see 1 Corinthians 10:16 and Ephesians 4:12). Seeing God as being apparent in the collective is decidedly different from imagining God manifest in an individual interaction.

What Luhrmann describes, however, seems to be qualitatively different than just the notion of a "personal" God. The people whom she observers and to whom talks envision the divine as radically personal, even to the point of literally putting out a cup of coffee for him and talking to him as if he were a person sitting in the room. The psychic comforts that such a practice must elicit are obvious, but I wonder if there might not be an unintended consequence: Does "having coffee with Jesus" transform God into an individual and limit the communal, transcendent nature of the divine? Does this transform the ineffable into a Buddy Christ? Does God become profane?

Then there is this slice of awesomeness.

1 - The notion of a personal God does show up in all of the Christian traditions and even to an extent in Judaism; however, it is of unique import among Evangelicals.


  1. Coffee with Jesus is indeed awesome.

  2. I really want to read this book. I wish we could have a religious studies reading group on campus.