“Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young: A ReviewNovember 2012
by Kathy Keller
In the last few weeks I have walked by stacks of this book in Costco, been asked to OK it for sale on the Redeemer Book Table (no), and been told by a number of people in and around New York how much they love it. I thought it was time that I explained why I consider this book unhelpful and to be avoided.
If Sarah Young, the author of the words attributed to Jesus, had only used “He” instead of “I” in her book, about half of my objection to it would be gone. However, in publishing these as messages she received from “listening to God,” she has left us in a quandary.
Although in the Introduction she acknowledges that she “knew that these writings were not inspired as Scripture is” and a few pages later she says “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant [without error] Word of God,” then why are the messages she received from Jesus put in the first person? If it is not truly Jesus speaking, she could have said “Jesus wants you to come to him and have rest in him.” But when she says “Keep your ‘antennae’ out to pick up even the faintest glimmer of My Presence,” and those words are attributed directly to Jesus (and they don’t sound like anything else he has ever said), then they have to be received on the same level as Scripture, or she has put her own thoughts into the mouth Jesus.
Ms. Young says in the introduction “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.” In the article by Alan Miller on CNN’s Belief Blog entitled “I’m-Spiritual-Not-Religious” he says “[This] attitude fits with the message we are receiving more and more that “feeling” something somehow is more pure and perhaps, more ‘true’ than having to fit in with the doctrine, practices, rules and observations of a formal institution that are handed down to us.”
The great Bible teacher James Montgomery Boice, late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church and author of many books about the Bible, wrote that the great issue of our day would not be the authority of the Bible, but its sufficiency. Would we trust it to be all that we need for life and godliness, or would Christians turn to other revelation and experiences? Jesus Calling represents just that trend. Young had the Bible, but found it insufficient.
I am guessing that many of the people who love Jesus Calling have found that just reading the Bible was insufficient for their spiritual needs. But if it takes hard work to get the sweetness out of the book God provided, then so be it. The only place you can be SURE you are hearing God’s words is in God’s Word, which is about the Word of God, Jesus. The illumination of the Holy Spirit will make verses shine, so that we are “taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness, so that we can find salvation in faith in Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). What the Holy Spirit was never promised to do is to deliver new revelation to non-apostles, no matter how sincerely they wait and “listen.”
Generations of Christians have found that the Holy Spirit has faithfully fed them and led them into deep communion with the mind of Christ through the Scriptures as they have learned the disciplines of reading, meditating on the Word, and acquired the tools to study it. Developing wisdom is hard, but it takes us from the “milk” that Paul describes as the diet of the Corinthians to the “meat” (1 Corinthians 3: 1-2).
This brings me to another of my issues with this book. Ms. Young says near the end of her introduction: “I have found themes of His Peace becoming more prominent in my writing. I’m sure this tendency reflects my personal need. However, when I get to know people, I find that most of them also desire the balm of Jesus’ Peace.” No doubt.
But is that all that God wants us to hear from him? Only messages of peace and comfort? Ms. Young thinks so (and says so, in the introduction), and her messages are consistently filled with that theme. Yet if you take even a very simple read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, like the one devised by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (available as a pamphlet at http://goo.gl/zQD9F or on Redeemer’s booktable), you will find yourself encountering a complex, transcendent God, one who is holy, mysterious, righteous—not a tame God. He does promise his peace, deeply and profoundly, but there are many other things that God has said that we need to hear, or he wouldn’t have given us the whole Bible.
In particular, as one former fan of Jesus Calling observed, there is “nothing outward facing, ministry-minded, or sacrificial” in the messages of Jesus Calling.
In the Bible, we have all we need. John 14:21 says: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
If you want to experience Jesus, learn how to find him in his Word. His real Word.
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