Disclaimer: This is NOT a rant! This is what happens after I have ranted to my husband, and sister, and random other people. This is me attempting to write a logically thought-out response toward something I feel passionate about. 🙂
“What do you thinking about the book, ‘Jesus Calling’?” This post started with an innocent question from a friend. What did I think? I didn’t know…
I’ve never been a fan. In the twelve years since it was first published, I’ve never owned a copy. The few times I picked it up at a friend’s house, I thought it was a little sketchy and kind of weird; but, I’ve never thought I needed to vocally condemn it either. I basically dealt with my iffy feelings about “Jesus Calling” by ignoring it. However, after looking into the book, the author, other people’s opinions, and deciding what I personally think, I can’t ignore it any longer. (Especially since “Jesus Calling” has been a top seller for the past decade.)
I started by looking into people’s criticisms online. There are some pretty negative reviews, including accusations of New Age and occult influence. Some of the reviewers were crazy, fundamentalists yelling about demons and women preachers. I crossed them off the list. A few complained about Sarah Young’s mystic version of God. I could kind of see their point. I found one critique that seemed intelligent and balanced, although I still didn’t agree with everything he said. That author was concerned about how similar Young’s teachings were to a popular New Age book he recently read. It made me curious.
I borrowed a copy of “Jesus Calling” to look at for myself. I read the entire Foreword where Sarah Young gives her testimony of finding salvation, her experiences in Jesus’ Presence, and how she came to write the book. Even though she writes as though her words are coming from Jesus Himself, she makes sure to tell her readers that they are not Scripture. I also paged through the book, reading sections here and there and looking up the Bible verses she used to support her thoughts.
So, what do I think?
I don’t think that “Jesus Calling” is an evil book from the devil, and I do believe that the author, Sarah Young, has a good heart and purpose behind her writings. That said, I also have some serious problems with the book and cautions for those who love it.
My biggest problem is that Sarah Young created this “pretend Jesus” who does all the talking. Maybe this would be fine if the real Jesus was just a good teacher, or if she was paraphrasing his actual quotes. But, she isn’t paraphrasing Jesus, she is coming up with words and phrases and ideas that never came from Him. Some of these are Biblical concepts, and others are not. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy who said nice things; He is the very Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign God, the Beginning and the End! Imagining things and pretending Jesus said them seems…presumptuous. Okay, honestly it terrifies me!! God is WAY too big for me to be putting words in His mouth. I struggle to even read some of the sections because I can’t deal with the fact that “Jesus” is supposed to be talking to me… I just keep wondering what the Real Jesus thinks.
I worry about new or immature Christians who don’t have a good background in the Bible. Will they get confused and think these are truly the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do they have discernment to see that some of the things she says are not in fact truth (even though they sound wonderful)?
Are people actually looking up the verses at the bottom of each page? I know that’s how the author wants the book to be read, but is it happening? Are they reading the context surrounding those verses to see what they really mean? Are they actually getting into the Word of God or are they only reading the words of “fake Jesus”? This is especially concerning to me after coming out of a cult where every lie was backed up by a Bible verse reference. (But when you read the verse in context, it didn’t make any sense.)
Maybe growing up in and then leaving a cult has given me a highly sensitive B.S. meter, or perhaps God has given me the gift of discernment. All I know is that “Jesus Calling” is setting off warning signals in my brain. Reading the Foreword, where Sarah Young talks about how she came to write the book, is where it started getting sketchy for me.
“I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind…My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling
Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought God gave us the Bible to communicate with us!
Sarah Young doesn’t claim that her writings are inspired (which is good), but I still feel like she is setting aside the living Word of God to pursue “subjective experiences”. In my own life this is usually when things start getting weird. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks, and I have felt often Him speak to me personally, but it’s not normally when I’m seeking it, and it’s usually through the Bible itself.
“In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and peace.” This quote explains why Young chose to wrote this devotional. I appreciate her heart. I agree with her conclusion. But, I worry that her fake Jesus has distracted people from the real One.
Jesus says He is with us always (Matthew 28:20); if we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (Romans 8:9-11). We don’t have to seek after a Presence or an experience, rather we need to become more aware of the God who is always with us. Where do we learn more about Him, who He is and what He sounds like? The Bible.
My challenge for you:
If you want to know what the real Jesus sounds like, then I challenge you to do this. Put away your “Jesus Calling” for a while and S.O.A.K. your way through the gospel of John (the gospel with more of Jesus recorded words than any other). Read a little section or a couple of verses at a time. This is not a race or a competition, this is a slow soak. You will need a notebook.
S – Scripture, take a minute or two and write out your verses for the day. This slows you down and makes you actually think about the words.
O – Observe. What’s going on in the passage? What just happened? What comes next? Who is He talking to? What is the context? Etc.
A – Apply. How do these verses apply to your life right now?
K – Kneel in Prayer. Obviously you don’t have to actually kneel, but take some time to talk with Jesus about what you just read and observed and want to apply to your life. I like to write out my prayer because it make me think and it gives me something to look back on.
What am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell. I have problems with “Jesus Calling” because of the fake Jesus who does all the talking. Not everything Sarah Young writes is Biblical and I think God is WAY too big for us to presumptuously put words in His mouth. I agree that we are looking for a deeper experience with Jesus, but I believe that we will find Him in the pages of the actual Word of God and not in the imaginations of a human author.
I realize that this blog post holds potential for controversy, but I’m still curious to know your thoughts!
An interesting article for futher reading: http://www.cicministry.org/commentary/issue125.htm