Several months ago someone asked what I thought of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. “I don’t know; I haven’t read it.” All I knew about it was that my wife was reading it.
To get up to speed, I first read the critique by Tim Challies which my questioner had mentioned. Then I read Ms. Young’s introduction to her book, followed by the first 2 months of entries (there’s one for each day of the year). It seemed very orthodox. I do wish it was a little more balanced: adding some focus on God and His glory to the preoccupation with the reader’s anxieties, insecurities, and fears. But that’s just quibbling.
On the other hand, I found Ms. Young’s own introduction to her book disturbing on two points. First, she seems to dance frighteningly close to adding words to the Bible, offering “new revelation” which God prohibits in Rev. 22:18. She claims the words in the book are verbatim what Jesus said to her. That would be “automatic writing” which has been practiced for over a hundred years by a smorgasbord of metaphysical and new age folks–always roundly condemned as an occult practice by Christians of every stripe (I’ve been told there was even some of this in dark corners of the early Evangelical Free Church movement).
I believe God still gives Christians prophecies, words of knowledge, and words of wisdom–that the Holy Spirit can give Jesus’ followers specific words for specific situations. But this is different; and quite unlike any examples of New Testament prophecy (Old Testment prophecy was Scripture). Whereas Ms. Young commonly focuses on comfort, the surprisingly few words of NT prophecy display a more robust purpose. In fact, the two specific prophecies made by Agabus both contained bad news: “A famine’s coming!”, and “Paul will end up in Roman hands”. While without doubt God cares about our anxieties, a book mostly saying “Relax, everything’s gonna be OK” leaves me less than confident that these are Jesus very words.
Secondly,when the author apparently recounts her conversion on France’s Alpine slopes near L’Abri, she writes that what seemed to be a “warm mist” enveloped her, and that she became aware of a “Lovely Presence”. Her involuntary response was to whisper “Sweet Jesus”. She says, “As I pondered this brief communication, I realized it was the response of a converted heart; at that moment I knew I belonged to Him.”
Perhaps she simply chose not to include that she repented of sin and turned to Christ in faith (the gospel Paul preached, Acts 20:21), but what she did choose to include leaves a reader wondering about her gospel engine. It comes off eerily like the “Jesus is my boyfriend” mentality that is thankfully waning but still surfaces in some worship songs, books, and devotional writings (see Catholic writer Leon Podles’ critique, The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity).
Is Jesus Calling a good book to read? Depends. No, if you read it as Jesus’ very words; that’s the exclusive domain of the Bible. Yes, if you take it as a believer’s reflections of her Lord’s love and mercy.
Thinking beyond this book for the moment, from every direction Christians are today offered aids for their faith. Some are good, some are bad, some are better than others, but most fall on a continuum between bad and good. Weigh every resource by the Scriptures, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and every ounce of wisdom of your sanctified mind. It will not do to blithely gulp down everything that appears under the name of a blogger we admire, or is endorsed by our favorite preacher, or published by our favorite authors, or even recommended by a friend. When an army seeks to infiltrate the enemy’s ranks, the weapons employed are not just guns and firepower, but camouflage, disguise, imitation, trust, seduction, and sleight of hand. We will be safer if we expect these things of our enemy (2 Cor.11:13-15).