Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is a difficult book for me to review, not only because of its complex issues but also because I have many dear friends who love it deeply.
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I want to communicate my thoughts graciously yet without compromise. Forgive me if I fail on either account. Jesus Calling is written in the first person as if Jesus were speaking directly to the reader using personal pronouns to refer to Himself. This is more than just stylistic; it is a very deliberate choice based on how Young perceives her book’s inspiration.
The introduction is very telling. Young writes,
I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).
I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message… I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him. (xii).
While she acknowledges that “I knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is” (xii), she still desired “to share some of the messages I have received” (xiii). There is simply no way around it: Sarah Young is claiming to have received these messages directly from God. Whether or not you formally place those messages in the same category of Scripture, she is claiming to be a modern prophetess, receiving the Lord’s word and transmitting it to others.
Friends, this is dangerous. We cannot say “thus saith the Lord” without considering the incredible weight of that responsibility, the closed canon of Scripture, and the fearful judgment promised to those who falsely claim to speak for God or add to His Word (Jeremiah 23:25–32; Revelation 22:18).
All other considerations aside, we know that if God *does* send a message to someone, it will be complete without theological error. By this test alone, Young’s claims of divine revelation fail, as I’ll demonstrate. Whether reworded Scripture or Young’s own statements as from Jesus, everything in the book must be seen in the light of her staggering claim that it’s directly from God. Whether or not the content is benign in itself, the claim of divine revelation remains.
And much of it is benign, like “I am able to do far more than you ask or imagine” (p. 7). Okay, that is true and based on Ephesians 3:20–21. But did Jesus really speak this message directly to her? I know that Young includes Scripture references at the end of each reading that correlate to the theme of that day’s message, but this does not make those messages divinely inspired. How does she know, really know that she was not making up these messages out of her own head?
Short answer: she doesn’t. It’s all subjective. I can sit with a pen in hand and write down thoughts that align doctrinally with Scripture, but that doesn’t make those thoughts inspired by God. One thing I noticed very early on was how odd it was that a book claiming to help readers enter and enjoy Jesus’s presence should say so very little about sin—the true barrier between us and Christ—and repentance, the only way that barrier can be removed.
The gospel is never given at all. Young’s emphasis is not on our sin but on our tendency to worry and take on too many of life’s burdens ourselves. In 365 readings, I counted only two that mention the word “repent” (p. 59 and 119). “Sin” is mentioned seven times, I believe (p. 54, 88, 278, 296, 297, 336, and 374).
At first, I wasn’t sure the words would be used at all. When they did finally crop up, they were mentioned infrequently and in passing. According to this book, our biggest problem is worry and stress—not treason against our Creator.
In some ways, the devotionals remind me of fortune cookies: they are vague enough that I can see how many readers would exclaim, “Wow, this fits my situation perfectly!” The main adjectives that kept coming to mind as I read were “New-Agey” and “mystic.”
Young speaks of “shimmering hues of radiance
tap gently at your consciousness” (p. 9), about finding Jesus “in your surroundings” and “present in your spirit” (p. 35). We need to overcome our “negative feelings” (p. 146)—not our sin.
On page 136, Jesus supposedly urges us, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” On page 56, self-pity is called a “pitfall” and a “demonic trap,” but not a sin. On page 356, Jesus supposedly says, “Like a luminous veil of Light, I hover over you and everything around you.” Friends, Jesus didn’t talk like this in the Bible—and He doesn’t change. These are not His words.
Consider this excerpt from page 381:
I am leading you along a way that is uniquely right for you. The closer to Me you grow, the more fully you become your true self—the one I designed you to be. Because you are one of a kind, the path you are traveling with Me diverges increasingly from that of other people” (emphasis added).
There is quite a bit wrong with these few sentences. The Jesus of the Bible spoke of one path: the straight and narrow road (Matthew 7:14). Scripture testifies not to our individuality and special uniqueness, but to our common temptations and common needs (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Rhetoric about “the path that’s right for you” and how special/different you are from other people (and how that justifies you taking a “divergent road”) is not Scriptural but owes its origin much more to our self-absorbed, self-glorifying culture.
Sadly, the entire book reads like a secular work on self-empowerment. The Jesus of this book could just as easily be the voice of someone’s positive self-consciousness or some such New-Age construct. He’s not the one I know from the Bible. This Jesus comes across as very needy, simply begging His children to spend time in His presence. It’s like we have to fill up His leaky love tank.
Problematic also is Young’s view of God’s sovereign control and rule over every aspect of His creation. It’s more a reactive sovereignty than a proactive, preordained rule of the universe: as if He must respond to our choices and make the best He can of our messes as if He did not ordain every choice and circumstance ahead of time.
Young often has Jesus saying things like, “My infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design” (p. 136, emphasis added). On page 68 she implies that Jesus is only sovereign to the extent that we trust Him. On page 152 Young writes that Jesus says, “I will not violate your freedom.” How does that jibe with Romans 9, where God very properly puts us in our place as the clay and He the Potter, who has every right to do with the clay as He will?
Tied to the unbiblical view of God’s sovereignty is an unbiblical view of His omniscience, in the claim that God can risk something. On page 116, Young has Jesus saying, “I risked all by granting you freedom to think for yourself.” John Eldredge also promotes this unbiblical concept in his popular book Wild at Heart, in which he urges men to take risks because God does.
But the definition of risk is taking a chance without knowing what the outcome will be. If God knows everything like the Bible says He does, He is incapable of taking risks. He knows all outcomes and is not at the mercy of circumstances—because He rules them with divine wisdom and power. We can take risks because we are finite beings. But He is not finite like us. To me, this alone proves that Young’s claims of receiving these messages directly from God are false.
Why So Popular?
From a purely literary standpoint, I have a couple of comments. Young does demonstrate an engaging writing style, both in the introduction and throughout her messages. However (and this is probably partly because I read the book condensed over the course of a month rather than over a year), I found it incredibly repetitive and really had to force myself to finish. Toward the end, I started wondering if some of the messages had been recycled from earlier dates.
So why? Why has Jesus Calling found an apt audience in so many Christian circles?
- First, we do not hold a high view of Scripture. Sure, it has authority, but it isn’t the *only* source of truth… God must have more for us.
- Second, we are used to having things personalized just for us—so why not God Himself?
- Third, the themes of this book address one of our greatest felt needs (worry) and that is attractive to us.
Please, please let us think about the motives for these reasons. Do they honor the Lord? Sure, there are true things in this book, but once we open the door to accepting new divine revelation outside of Scripture, we’ve taken a big step down a slippery slope.
Because of Young’s claims to have received these messages directly from God, this is not a devotional in the usual sense of the word. This isn’t a Christian author sharing his or her thoughts on a particular passage or summarizing a biblical idea.
This book is claiming to add to the written revelation we have already received in the Word of God. I know I keep emphasizing this, but it’s so dangerous. No, I don’t think Young is proposing to add the book of Young after Revelation. But that is, in effect, what her writings are claiming.
Time To Reflect
I keep coming back to that one telling statement in the introduction… “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).
- Friends, have we considered the problem with acknowledging God speaks to us in His Word but “yearning for more” than that? Isn’t this saying that the Bible is not enough? That what He has spoken is somehow lacking?
- Have we considered that our wise God knows best how to communicate with us in His Word and if something would have been more effective written in the first person, that’s how He would have written it in the first place?
- Are we functionally believing that His Word is authoritative but not sufficient? That it has taken us 2,000 years to find “this new way of communicating with God” (xii), that was unknown to the countless believers who have walked with Jesus before us?
- Have we thought about the danger of blindly accepting what Young writes as coming from the very tongue of Christ?
I say this because love and truth compel: do not give this book your time or your affection. Pray for Sarah Young to see the dangerous path she has taken, and that the Lord would protect His elect from being deceived. (0.5 stars)Five Things to Know When Unbelievers Die Should We Use Non-Bible Language to Talk About Problems? »