There was an interesting book review in yesterday's paper. It is of "'When God Talks Back,' by T.M. Luhrmann, reviewed by Philip Zaleski.
Neither of the above named people is religion-unfriendly.
It is at:
[edit: This link goes to page 2 of the review. You can get to page one at the bottom, 'previous page.']
It made me think that (1) there is a parallel with the amount of time/commitment seemingly required in Eastern paths, (2) the process and result are culturally influenced to a tremendous degree. For example, without the exalted place the Bible occupies, this path would not exist, and (3) the God that is revealed is a God of love. The focus on the "lake of fire" and similar dire fates, is not present.
Here is an except from the review:
"This industrious undertaking produced fascinating results. Vineyard evangelicals, Luhrmann found, have evolved - although they have not yet successfully articulated - what she terms a new "theory of mind" or, put less grandly, a new way of exercising the mind, in which quotidian practices, and especially prayer, alter "the process of mind itself," so that believers "experience part of their mind as the presence of God," allowing them to live in the light of God's abiding guidance and love. This transformation, which can take years to complete, entails learning to detect and interpret God's activity in and through personal thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations; taking note of coincidences that may be laden with significance; discerning God's will in the Bible; and, occasionally, drawing lessons from visions or other paranormal events.
These last episodes, Luhrmann insists, have nothing to do with psychosis. Such manifestations have been a hallmark of Christian mystical experience ever since a blinding light and disembodied voice knocked St. Paul off his horse on the way to Damascus. Luhrmann calls them "sensory overrides" and insists, convincingly, that Vineyard followers are as normal as you or I.
Nonetheless, these evangelicals engage in behavioral patterns that will elevate skeptical eyebrows. One is their penchant for make-believe, which occupies an important place in their spiritual arsenal. Church members, for example, might set an extra plate for God at the family dinner, or pull out a chair so that God can settle down beside them for an intimate chat. Women talk of going on "dates" with the Lord; men prefer more of a buddy session. One source for this make-believe, Luhrmann suggests, is C.S. Lewis's advice in "Mere Christianity" that people "pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality."
Lewis is not suggesting that believers deliberately lie to themselves or twist reality to conform to their desires. Rather, his counsel is akin to St. Augustine's observation, "I believe that I may understand." One believes in order to receive impressions that skepticism blocks. Vineyard members learn to perceive God just as a painter learns to see a landscape, by discerning lines, colors and patterns that remain, to an untrained observer, invisible.
Eventually, make-believe matures into a faculty that Luhrmann calls "absorption," permitting "the Christian to experience that which is not materially present." The result, let it be noted, must fit prescribed limits. The God of the Vineyard is a benevolent purveyor of unconditional love. Nowhere is there mention of a punishing God or of hell, and heaven gets barely a nod. God is all-powerful but strangely earthbound. What the Vineyard offers, as Luhrmann points out, is a form of psychotherapy, in which members undergo a specialized mental and emotional training that leads the believer into new ways of knowing the world.
These are important claims. They tell us much about the courage, discipline and devotion of Vineyard members in particular and of popular evangelicalism in general. Luhrmann's findings can also be usefully applied to the experiences of other religious believers. Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu: All proceed, one suspects, by a similar cognitive reordering of the mind, which to skeptics may be no more than an elaborate form of self-delusion, but to believers - which means to the vast majority of human beings - is a means of making the invisible visible, an arduous but infinitely rewarding technique for prying loose the secrets of the cosmos."
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/06/RV851NKVRQ.DTL&ao=2#ixzz1rYeIX6G9