The #1 bestselling Christian book in both 2012 and 2013 was Sarah Young’s devotional Jesus Calling, and many people around me are talking about it. Some of my dear Christian friends have found her book wonderfully encouraging, while others have described it as “very dangerous.”
These contradictory reports prompted me to read and review the book for myself. After doing so, I have serious concerns about the book, and want to use this space to articulate those concerns.
Here are my three greatest concerns:
1) Sarah Young claims that she has received this book as direct revelation from Jesus Himself. Not only that, she claims that her book can legitimately be read as Jesus’ words to any who read it. The back cover says, “Each day is written as if Jesus Himself were speaking to you. Because He is.” Or in Sarah Young’s words, from her introduction: “…I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. 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. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God…I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him….I want to share some of the messages I have received. I have written them from Jesus’ point of view; i.e. the first person singular (Me, Mine) always refers to Christ. ‘You’ refers to you, the reader, so the perspective is that of Jesus speaking to you.” Admirably, Sarah Young states that her messages do not have the same authority as Scripture. Nevertheless, she never backs away from these claims that her messages came to her directly from Jesus, or from her statement that these messages are really the words of Jesus to the reader.
I believe that the Bible is the complete, final, and sufficient revelation of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
I believe that Sarah Young’s book is demonstrably NOT direct revelation from God. If her book were direct revelation from God, it would mesh perfectly with the rest of God’s words in Scripture. It does not. Let me give three examples: (a) Sarah Young’s statement, “Stop judging and evaluating yourself, for this is not your role” (61) contradicts 1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5, and Galatians 6:4. (b) On page 224, Mrs. Young writes “Most of mankind’s misery stems from feeling unloved.” (224) This statement contradicts the main story line of the Bible: mankind’s misery stems, not from feeling unloved, but from rebellion against his Creator. (c) She writes, “Understanding will never bring you Peace,” (230) while Scripture passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 state that their purpose is to bring peace to believers precisely by an increase in understanding.
If Jesus Calling were direct revelation from God, it would not contradict itself. But it does. Page 92 reads, “A life lived close to me is not cluttered,” but then a few pages later we read, “I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world (96).”
If her book were direct revelation from God to the reader, it would always prove true in every situation. It does not. Page 62 reads, “You are on the right path,” while page 181 says, “you are on the brink of rebellion” and page 205, “Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend.” Even if these statements were true in Mrs. Young’s life when she “received” them, it is not possible that they will be true in the lives of every person who will read them in her book.
I believe that it is a serious offense against God to claim to be speaking His words when a person is actually speaking his own words. Rev. 22:18 warns, I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book.
Jeremiah 23:28-32 cautions, 28 “The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30 “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who steal My words from each other. 31 “Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32 “Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the Lord, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the Lord.
And Isaiah 8:20 summarizes, 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
My second great concern with Jesus Calling is: 2) Sarah Young advocates that a person should “listen” to God by emptying his mind and then waiting for God to speak directly to him, apart from the Bible.
Sarah Young affirms that her words must “be consistent with” the “unchanging standard” of the Bible (xiii). However, she does not claim that her words are based upon the Bible, or that they are applications of the Bible’s truths, but that she is receiving them directly from God, independent of the Bible. And she encourages us to do the same.
Here are some samples of her advice on listening to God: “The Peace that I give you transcends your intellect. When most of your mental energy goes into efforts to figure things out, you are unable to receive this glorious gift (158).” “You need a buffer zone of silence around you in order to focus on things that are unseen” (174). “Stop worrying long enough to hear My voice. I speak softly to you, in the depths of your being. Your mind shuttles back and forth, hither and yon, wearing webs of anxious confusion. As My thoughts rise up within you, they become entangled in those sickly webs of worry. Thus, My voice is muffled, and you hear only ‘white noise.’ Ask My Spirit to quiet your mind so that you can think My thoughts…Sit quietly in My Presence, letting My thoughts reprogram your thinking (200).” “Sit quietly in My Presence while I bless you. Make your mind like a still pool of water, ready to receive whatever thoughts I drop into it” (228). “I am speaking in the depths of your being. Be still, so that you can hear My voice. I speak in the language of Love; My words fill you with Life and Peace, Joy and hope. I desire to talk with all of My children, but many are too busy to listen” (367). “Wait quietly in my Presence while My thoughts form silently in the depths of your being. Do not try to rush this process, because hurry keeps your heart earthbound. I am the Creator of the entire universe, yet I choose to make My humble home in your heart. It is there where you know Me most intimately; it is there where I speak to you in holy whispers. Ask My Spirit to quiet your mind so that you can hear My still, small voice within you. I am speaking to you continually (276).”
A basic question for a believer is this: when I am looking for God to communicate with me, should I look within myself, or should I look in His Word? I believe that the Spirit of God who lives in each believer does communicate with us by applying the words of Scripture to our hearts and by assuring us of the reality of what He has spoken to us in the Bible.
Scripture does encourage us to quiet our souls before God and meditate upon His Word, but it never encourages us to listen for the voice of God speaking directly to us from within.
Psalm 1:1-3 1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Jeremiah 15:16 16 Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.
Romans 7:22 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
Colossians 3:16. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
I believe that apart from the Word of God, we have no sure direction as to what is God’s will for our lives. Thus I believe that “listening” to God apart from the Bible, as Sarah Young advocates, is spiritually dangerous, and will inevitably lead those who practice it into error.
My third great concern with Jesus Calling is: 3) Reading this book might grant false assurance of salvation to those who do not have a previous understanding of the gospel message.
Sarah Young’s book claims to be Jesus’ words to the reader. As such, if someone were to read it who had not yet received Jesus’ gift of salvation, he would constantly “hear” Jesus affirming and accepting him, when in fact Jesus does not yet accept him.
The gospel message does not begin to appear in these devotionals until March 17 (p. 80), but by then the reader has had “Jesus” assuring them of His unconditional love and complete acceptance of them for almost 3 months.
Before reading anything about how Christ gave His life for them, or about how we must receive this gift through faith, they will have read Jesus saying to them, “Relax in My healing Presence” (3), “Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven” (9), “The best way to get through this day is step by step with Me. Continue this intimate journey, trusting that the path you are following is headed for heaven” (37),“I am all about you” (39), “you are on the right path” (62), and “you are mine for all time — and beyond time, into eternity. No power can deny you your inheritance in heaven. I want you to realize how utterly secure you are! Even if you falter as you journey through life, I will never let go of your hand (73).”
If we are going to be clear on anything, we must be clear on the gospel: Jesus died for our sins, rose from the grave, and will one day return as Judge of all the earth. He now offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who will receive Him through repentance and faith. But those who do not turn to Him in faith will face His just punishment of eternal Hell.
I fear that many who are still separated from God and under His wrath for their sin will walk away from Sarah Young’s book thinking, “Oh, this is wonderful. Jesus loves me and has fully accepted me! He told me so over and over in this book!”
Now, there are good and helpful truths in Jesus Calling. But does that mean I would recommend Jesus Calling? No. God speaks to us today through His all-sufficient Word. If we listen to Sarah Young or anyone else who claims to offer us additional words from Jesus, we will eventually find ourselves moving away from the real Jesus who has given us all we need to know of Him in the Bible.