Because the existence of God cannot be definitively proven, it requires faith. Especially with the onslaught of scientific breakthroughs that have called into question some of the claims in the Bible, faith arguably requires more attention than it did in the past. However, some surveys have found that up to 95 percent of Americans believe in some sort of a higher power, and even two-thirds of Americans think that angels and demons are active in the world. To strengthen one’s faith, as I will discuss in this essay, many people, especially evangelicals, talk to God, hear from God, and talk about God, (like many figures did in the Bible).
Especially among evangelicals, Americans, now more than ever before, are seeking an intensely personal God. Not only are American evangelicals embracing a personal, kind and loving God, they’re doing so in opposition to a more distant spiritual presence or the harsh, brutal and cruel God of the Old Testament, that has been much more popular among Christians in the past. A survey from 2005 found that 40 percent of Americans practice religion in order to forge a personal relationship with God. This “new paradigm Protestantism,” as some have called the trend, infuses more intensely expressive spirituality into a demographic that hasn’t traditionally embraced it – white, middle class Christians.
This trend may be the result of living in an increasingly socially isolated society. More Americans are living alone than ever before. Americans are much less involved in community groups like unions or PTAs. With rapidly expanding technology like television and the internet, personal and social connections are becoming less common. This lack of social connectivity leaves a void, which many turn to God and churches to fill. In fact, God is even experienced in the brain as a social relationship.
Partly as a result of this focus on a personal relationship with God, faith is arguably less about what to believe than it is about how to act. For example, the more that people pray and practice their faith, the more they feel the presence of God. Belief encourages action, which then encourages belief, and so on. In some ways, prayer is just an introspective conversation with oneself.
Many Americans, even those who claim to hear from God, acknowledge that ‘hearing’ God might sound crazy to some people, especially given how similar the experience is to socially unacceptable experiences like magic and ‘hearing voices.’ Still, about one-fifth of Americans claim to receive a direct response to a specific prayer at least once a week. While evangelicals may disagree on the correct interpretations of how God speaks to people, most believe that God does speak to people in their own ways, whether it’s through thoughts, actions, events, coincidences, nature, the Bible or really any other way which God chooses to communicate – it’s just up to us to correctly interpret these signs or messages.
While talking to God and hearing from God are important to Evangelical Christians, it’s arguably just as important for evangelicals to talk about God, for preachers and church leaders, as well as average evangelical Christians.
While discussing and spreading the gospel is important to all Christians, preachers and church leaders have an extremely important role in talking about God. Preachers are usually very gifted speakers who are well informed about the Bible. In a sense, they act as translators of the Bible, discussing contemporary issues by combining the language of the Bible with the current common language. They often set the agenda, both politically and culturally. Furthermore, preachers use far more avenues than just their church’s pulpit to spread their ideas. They often adapt to popular culture, using popular aspects of culture but adding a Christian-spin.
For example, Billy Graham, arguably the most famous preacher, was an extremely successful moderate evangelical. Embracing popular secular culture (to an extent), he went on television with Woody Allen, a secular-Jew and agnostic. On the surface, Billy Graham doesn’t seem to have much in common with Woody Allen. But while their beliefs and goals might be different, their methods are very similar. While Billy Graham for the most part rejects popular culture, he still puts effort into the way that he looks, with his hair well groomed and his smile shining white. At one point in the interview, Billy Graham says that Woody Allen would make a great preacher. He praises Woody Allen’s speaking ability and charisma. For all of the reasons that Billy Graham says that Woody Allen would make a great preacher, Billy Graham possesses those same talents – which, arguably, are the same talents that make Woody Allen such a popular public figure. However, unlike Woody Allen, Billy Graham states again and again that the views that he expressed are not his own personal opinions, but rather the laws laid out by God in the Bible. He quotes Scripture a lot. Most notably, Billy Graham uses the Bible to discuss modern issues like venereal diseases.
On top of churches and television programs, evangelicals use a wide variety of mediums to spread and promote their message. For example, the famous fundamentalist evangelical Jerry Falwell utilized and promoted the group the Moral Majority, which was a conservative Christian political organization. The Moral Majority is just one example of the countless political, religious, and charity organizations that have been founded, operated, and utilized by American evangelical Christians. Evangelicals have also founded schools and colleges to support their message. For example, Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in Virginia. Some churches have even used events as diverse as haunted houses and beauty pageants to promote their cause. Additionally, magazines have been used to promote evangelicalism as well; the Old-Time Gospel Hour published the national magazine, the Fundamentalist Journal. Furthermore, direct mail, videotapes, audiotapes, conferences, rallies, concerts, newsletters, pamphlets, books and the internet have all been used by Evangelicals as well.
The way that American evangelicals talk to God and hear from God may seem strange to outsiders. However, it’s an extremely important part of their faith, and often serves to reinforce one’s faith. Talking about God, on the other hand, is extremely similar to the way that people talk about anything else, especially when it’s done outside of church. As previously discussed, evangelicals often effectively use various forms of media to promote and spread their message. Overall, if evangelicals didn’t talk about God, hear from God or talk about God, they wouldn’t be classified as evangelicals in the first place.