In recent months I have been asked several times what I think about Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. So here is my brief response.
On October 23, 2013 the NY Times stated, “Since its 2004 release, Ms. Young’s ‘Jesus Calling,’ a collection of 365 short daily ‘devotionals’ interlaced with Bible passages, has sold nine million copies in 26 languages.” The Times went on to observe that “Ms. Young has become a lucrative brand while granting almost no interviews and making no author appearances. Hobbled by Lyme disease and other health problems, she mostly sticks close to home. There are almost no public photographs of her, and she will not talk by telephone. So if a reporter has questions about her work — which has caused some controversy for being written in Jesus’ first-person voice, as if he were giving new revelation to her personally — they must be e-mailed, and she will answer and defend herself.”
So we have a physically unhealthy recluse writing a very popular book. But who is she?
Some brief research reveals an impressive resume for Sarah Young. She was born in Nashville, has a degree in philosophy from Wellesley College, spent some time in L’Abri with Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and holds graduate degrees in psychology and counseling from Tufts University, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Georgia State University. She and her husband Steve have served as Presbyterian missionaries. The Young’s currently live in Australia.
That all sounds respectable, what about the book?
As I read through portions of Jesus Calling, what Sarah Young has written is not all that objectionable; how she has chosen to write is objectionable. She writes in the first person, as if Jesus is talking through her and she is writing down what our Lord is saying through her to her readers.
Sarah believes she is practicing listening or devotional prayer. Many evangelical Christians sense God nudging or speaking to them on occasion, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that Sarah has taken things a step further than listening prayer. First, speaking for Jesus to another is functioning as a prophet. This is not objectionable to most. Second, writing down a revelation and selling it to others is producing an inspired document (a revelation from God) that functions like Scripture. This is objectionable.
So, here are some basics I think are important:
1. Scripture is the only authoritative Word of God. The only authoritative revelation of His person, works, and will.
2. God may guide individuals through impressions, dreams, leadings, prophecies, visions, etc. But these are not first person written communications. When someone writes something down in the first person from God, it is clearly a claim to revelation, authority, and inspiration, and if the words are from God; should we add them to our Bible?
3. God’s guidance is almost always personal, that is, meant for the person receiving the guidance. If someone is receiving guidance for others, then they are a prophet. A prophet is one who speaks to others for God. It seems to me that Sarah Young is functioning as a writing prophet of God in this book.
Now, I must be clear. On all three counts I have serious concern. Sarah Young seems to present revelations from God (beyond Scripture) about God’s person, works, and will. Sarah Young is writing down these revelations and sharing them with others for devotional reading as if God is genuinely speaking in them. Sarah Young is functioning as a prophet of God producing the inspired Word of God.
On the one hand, if she is a true prophet writing true revelations from God, then we should consider adding them to our Bible. On the other hand, if she is not a true prophet writing revelations (Scripture) from God, then we should reject her work as blasphemous. Her style of writing in the first person from God leaves little middle ground for other options.
A final concern is the portrait of Jesus that one gains from reading Jesus Calling. Sarah Young’s Jesus seems emotionally sensitive and psychologically encouraging, especially to a woman. I could not find any hard sayings, strong moral demands, or stern rebukes. Her Jesus seems to be a decidedly touchy feely American Jesus that appeals to middle aged women. Umm.
Perhaps the saddest thing in her book is the admission, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (XI). When God’s people look for more than God’s Word to speak into their lives, they open themselves to false teaching. I will close with a few Scriptures that point to the sufficiency of Scripture, which sadly, Sarah Young is not finding sufficient in Jesus Calling.
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light in them” (Isaiah 8:19-20).
“Jesus answered, ‘it is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).