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Jesus Calling by Sarah Young: A False Jesus?

Jesus' Face in the Clouds

A Critique by SES Alumna, Marcia Montenegro

“The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Psalm 19: 8, 10

Jesus Calling, a devotional by Sarah Young, has multiplied into a publishing empire with offerings of Jesus Calling editions for teens and for children, calendars, editions with special leather covers, accompanying journals, a Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, and even a Jesus Calling Devotional Bible.

In the first half of 2013, this book outsold the controversial bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. According to Publishers Weekly in 2014, Jesus Calling had “sold 14 million copies in its many iterations — calendar, smartphone app, children’s book.”[1]

So could there possibly be anything amiss with this wildly successful Christian devotional?

The first noticeable thing looking through the book is that it is written as though Jesus is speaking the words. Jesus giving advice in first-person language is certainly not the normal devotional format and sets this apart from most devotionals. The logical question is: how did Young come up with these words?

There are three major issues that should be examined: The claim that Young received the words directly from Jesus; Young’s admission that a primary influence on her was the book, God Calling, by “Two Listeners;” and, finally, examining some of the messages in the book allegedly from Jesus.

A Few Words on the 10th Anniversary Edition

It needs to be noted that in the introduction to the latest edition of Jesus Calling, the 10th Anniversary Edition, removed from the original edition’s introduction was Young’s references to the book, God Calling, some of Young’s words about hearing from Jesus were altered and removed, and also changed were some of the words from Jesus in the devotional.  No explanation was given for this, and no references to the original claims were mentioned by either author or publisher.

The entire account in the original book detailing how Young was impacted by God Calling, and how it became a “treasure” to her, [2] inspiring her to listen with pen in hand for what Jesus might say, was removed in the newer edition. Instead, the latter has Young writing that she wondered if she could change her prayer time “from monologue to dialogue.” [3]This changes the meaning from the original where Young admitted being inspired by God Calling, indicating in the latest edition that she came up with the idea: “I decided to ‘listen’ with pen in hand, writing down whatever I ‘heard’ in my mind.”[4] Note the words “listen” and “heard” are in quotes, as though they are not meant to be taken too literally, though this raises more questions rather than settling the issue. Either it is literal or it is imagined, but if it is imagined, then why write it down as though Jesus said it? And why listen? Why not just imagine what Jesus would say and record it?

Jesus Calling 10th Edition

In the original, Young is not as cagey with words, but claims that after writing this book, “I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him,”[5] implying that the messages in her book are from God (or Jesus).

This article, however, discusses the original edition though some significant changes in the newer edition are briefly noted. One can follow early red flags that led to Young’s decision to attempt to get words from Jesus.

God’s Word – Not Enough Nourishment?

In the introduction, Young writes, “I knew that God communicated with me in the Bible, but I yearned for more.”[6] Why would God’s word be seen as insufficient in delivering the spiritual nourishment God Himself claims it offers?

Contrast Young’s yearning “for more” with how the Bible portrays God’s word. In response to one of Satan’s temptations, we have Jesus quoting Deut. 8:3:

“But He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

In First Peter, we read, “As newborn babes, long for the guileless milk of the word in order that by it you may grow unto salvation” (1 Pet 2:2; also see 1 Cor. 3:2, Heb.5:14). Paul exhorted Timothy to be “nourished with the words of the faith and of the good teaching which you have closely followed” (1 Tim 4:6).

Going back to the Old Testament, we see God’s words likened to food:

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight. Jeremiah 15:16a.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Ps. 119:103

Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. Ezekiel 3:3 (see also Rev. 10:9, 10)

One of the Bible’s themes is the power of God’s word to comfort, exhort, encourage, and nourish those who have believed. One can never come to an end of studying or knowing the Bible because, reflecting God’s nature, his word is infinitely profound and wise.

“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 Tim. 3:16, 17; see also Ps. 19:8;10; Matt. 22:29; John 10:35; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

Young’s admitted dissatisfaction with the sufficiency of God’s word appears to be based on her need for experiences. She writes that “Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace.”[7] This is also in the newer edition.[8] However, in the original, Young writes that the “messages that follow address that felt need,” whereas in the new edition, somewhat significantly, the word “messages” is changed to “devotions,” perhaps to undermine the original claim of direct revelation.

If someone is not satisfied with God’s word as the way to grow closer to Christ and to grow as a Christian, that opens the door for extra-biblical avenues of deception. While it is true that prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and worship are necessary for maturing in the Christian life, these are additional and different venues, never substitutes for God’s word. Dissatisfaction with God’s word should be a warning, and it did indeed lead Young into an avenue of communication fraught with spiritual peril.

Hearing Jesus or Channeling Jesus?

Young writes that she was inspired by the book God Calling by Two Listeners. The daily devotions in God Calling, written as though God/Jesus is speaking, came about in 1932 when two anonymous women decided to sit down with pencils and paper and wait to receive words from God.[9] The claim is made in the Foreword by editor A. J. Russell that these two women received messages “from the Living Christ Himself.”[10]

Andrew James Russell, editor of God Calling, had become a follower of Dr. Frank Buchman, who founded the Oxford Group, first started under another name in 1921, but taking the name of Oxford Group in 1931.[11] Meeting in groups, this movement emphasized fellowship and receiving direct guidance from God.[12]

Russell writes that “I learned that it was a practice of the Group to keep a guidance-book and record in it those thoughts which came in periods of quiet listening to God.”[13]

Although Russell writes that criteria were used to measure this “guidance,” some of the criteria were quite subjective. Continually seeking guidance in this fashion, which is no different from automatic writing, [14]is opening the door to false doctrine.

Following the pattern in God Calling, and seeking something beyond Scripture, Young decided “to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” [15]She determined that this message was “short, biblical, and appropriate,” so she wrote it in her journal. [16]Declaring that her journaling “had changed from monologue to dialogue,” she writes that “messages began to flow more freely” and she bought a special notebook in which to record these words.[17]

Aware that she might be charged with equating these messages with the Bible, she notes, “I knew that these writings were not inspired as Scripture is.” [18]One is compelled to ask, why not? Are these words from Jesus or not?  (Young uses the term “God” but the messages are made to sound like they are from Jesus). In her book, Dear Jesus, she claims she wrote

[I]n the same listening-to-God mode that I used with Jesus Calling. I’ve continued to write with the help of Christs’s [sic] Spirit, who guides my thinking while I listen in His Presence. I believe the Bible is the only infallible Word of God. My writings are based on that absolute standard, and I try to ensure they are consistent with Scripture.[19]

Young is blatantly asserting that the Holy Spirit is “helping” her and guiding her thinking in writing these messages from Jesus. So why does she need to “ensure they are consistent with Scripture?” If the writings need to be checked, why does she think it is Jesus who is speaking, and if there is doubt, why record the words, especially in books to be marketed? Moreover, if they are from Jesus, which is how they are presented, then, by definition, they are inspired.

The contradictions abound. You can’t have it both ways, saying these words are from Jesus but need to be checked; they are from Jesus but are not inspired; or the messages are written with Holy Spirit’s direct aid but not on a par with Scripture.

If one reads reviews of this book on Amazon, or comments on the Facebook page for Jesus Calling, it is clear that readers regard these words as coming from Jesus. Many will say they read the accompanying Scriptures to each day’s devotion, but the fans’ statements are obviously focused on the Jesus statements transcribed by Young.

Another major red flag is Young’s positive acknowledgement of the book God Calling. Writing about the two women who authored this work, Young states, “These women practiced waiting quietly in God’s Presence, pencils and papers in hand, recording the messages they received from Him.” [20]Young’s fondness for this book and use of it as inspiration for her communication mode with God is deeply disconcerting when one examines the history, method, and content of this “treasure.”

I have read God Calling and found it to be more closely related to New Thought than to a biblical worldview. New Thought was/is a movement claiming to be Christian but also denying the essentials of the historic Christian faith. [21] New Thought was also often paired with Spiritualist beliefs that contact with the dead was regarded as a path to spiritual understanding.

Terms related to New Thought and Spiritualism are seen in God Calling entries for (but not limited to) Feb. 27, March 10 and 13, June 19, July 29, Aug. 18, and Nov. 17 and include terms such as “material manifestation,” “Spirit-life,” “Spirit-communication,” “Spirit-Kingdom,” “the material plane,” “Sprit Sounds,” “spirit understanding,” and “Spirit-world.” This language indicates a Gnostic-based spirit-material and spirit-body duality. Even taking into account when this book was written, these terms are not Christian and never have been. At least one blatant Spiritualist reading is found:

How often mortals rush to earthly friends who can serve them in so limited a way, when the friends who are freed from the limitations of humanity can serve them so much better, understand better, protect better, plan better, and even plead better their cause with Me. [22]

The “friends freed from the limitation of humanity” are the dead friends. This piercing glint of Spiritualism is further confirmation of New Thought influence, since the two were so intertwined at the time.

The Troubling Messages of Young’s Jesus

The content of Jesus Calling is almost numbingly repetitive, boring even. The term “My Presence” saturates almost every page. “Jesus” also says some strange things:

Ask Me to open your eyes so that you can find me everywhere…[…]…this is not some sort of escape from reality; it is tuning into the ultimate reality. I am far more Real than the world you can see, hear and touch. (July 18)

If Jesus is real, does he need to be “more Real?Is there such a thing as “more Real?” Does He need to be the “ultimate reality?” Is not being the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Lamb slain for our sins real enough?

Elsewhere, Jesus says, according to Young:

Your part is to be attentive to my messages, in whatever form they come. When you set out to find Me in a day, you discover that the world is vibrantly alive with My Presence. You can find Me not only in beauty and birdcalls, but also in tragedy and faces filled with grief. (July 25)

What “messages” are meant here, and what kind of “form” might they take? “Whatever form” raises troubling questions: does Jesus give messages in multiple venues that we need to watch for and then figure out? More crucially, how do we know the messages are from Jesus?

Jesus' Face in the Clouds

I think this statement to be attentive to “messages” from Jesus is proof this is not Jesus. Jesus gave his message recorded in God’s word – there are not multiple venues for messages from Jesus and there is no biblical support for the idea that they can come in any form. However, a false Jesus would say this. In fact, having read many channeled and New Age books purporting to be words from God or Jesus, I can affirm that there is always at least one statement that opens the door for believing God or Jesus can speak through anyone or any medium, thus validating the channeled message or book. This statement is the signal in this book for such a deception: an attempt to authenticate Jesus Calling by having this Jesus tell us to look for messages that might appear anywhere through anyone in any form. It gives justification to the idea these messages come from Jesus.

It is unclear as to how we should find Jesus in birdcalls or in tragedy. Beauty may point one to Jesus and tragedy may cause one to turn to Him, but He is not in those things.[23]

There are numerous passages where Young’s Jesus tells the reader to go within to hear and know Jesus, such as

I am central to your innermost being. Your mind goes off in tangents from its holy Center from time to time….the quickest way to redirect your mind to me is to whisper My Name. (Aug. 25)

The above message is fraught with problems. How is Jesus related to “our innermost being?” All who trust in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but He is not part of our being. The Holy Spirit is never part of man’s nature. And what “holy Center” is Young referencing?  This is not a concept found in Scripture; Scripture teaches that man is fallen, in sin, and needs a Redeemer. A redeemed Christian still does not have a “holy Center.”

And, one must ask, is the way to redirect one’s mind to whisper Jesus’ name? Yet these are allegedly the words of Jesus and should be obeyed, if that is true. However, no Scriptural support exists for whispering Jesus’ name as a way to “redirect” the mind.

Equally alarmingly we read:

Let Me control your mind. The mind is the most restless, unruly part of mankind..[…]…I risked all by granting you freedom to think for yourself. (April 21)

Downgrading thinking and the mind plays a part in New Age and Eastern spiritualities, with which I was once deeply involved. While it is true we can think evil thoughts and our minds can lead us astray, this statement goes further than anything in Scripture. Our mind and ability to think, unlike animals, is an aspect of how we are made in the image of God. Moreover, many scriptural passages exhort people to think and reason.

And does God/Jesus ever take a ‘risk?” This would imply that God does not know the future and/or has no control over things. To risk is to take action without being sure of the results. This leads to the stunning conclusion that God is not omniscient. And how did Jesus “risk all” to give man freedom to think for himself?

The term “high road” is used at least three times (Jan. 18, Jan. 27, June 16). This is a curious phrase since it has many secular and false spiritual meanings but no biblical one.

Dare to walk on the high road with Me, for it is the most direct route to heaven. The low road is circuitous: twisting and turning in agonizing knots. (Jan. 27)

There is no indication here or biblical context for the concept of a “high road.” And how is it the “most direct route to heaven?” Even if a Christian is on the “low road,” will she not get to heaven as well? If a road is the “most direct,” it means there are other roads to heaven that are less direct. But the Bible knows of no indirect roads to heaven; there is one way through faith in Christ; all other ways end in death.[24] This ambiguous term and rather confusing statement is not an idea found in scripture. Moreover, faith in Christ is the only way to heaven, not walking some kind of road. This statement is, not surprisingly, very reminiscent of the messages one finds in God Calling.

Come to Me. Come to Me. Come to Me. This is my continual invitation to you, proclaimed in holy whispers…[…..]…Open yourself to my loving Presence so that I may fill you with my fullness. (August 11)

Holy whispers?” Is the word “holy” needed? And why is Jesus whispering? And the phrase “so that I may fill you with my fullness” is awkward and unusual when compared to the actual words of Christ. For example, this declaration from Christ is so much more comforting and meaningful:

…“For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds… (Luke 12:22-24)

This makes me wonder, why are Christians looking for encouragement in the prose of Sarah Young, rather than actual words of Jesus? 

There is an excessive focus on silence and stillness found in so many readings that it would be impossible to list them, implying that being silent and still are loftier spiritual practices. As in copious other sources, Psalm 46:10 is misused in Jesus Calling. Psalm 46:10, translated as “Be still” in some versions is “Cease striving” in the New American Standard, and is actually a rebuke to the nations fighting against God’s people. When read in context, it is quite clear that this has nothing to do with being physically still in order to meditate or contemplate. [25]

The focus on stillness and silence is pagan, which is usually based on using a technique to find answers or guidance from within — an inner voice, or a source within that is considered a divine part of the self (such as “the holy Center?”). This adulation of silence and being still is often elitist as well, presented condescendingly as superior to normative prayer as modeled in Scripture. This is another hint that the messages are not from Jesus; Jesus does not misrepresent or misinterpret God’s word. However, the enemy does, and in many channeled sources one finds strong spirituality along with arrogance and
patronizing declarations.

Is This Jesus?

The most important question to ask about this book is: Is this Jesus speaking, as Young claims it is? Aside from the troubling issues mentioned, a few more are worth considering.

Many of the entries resemble bad greeting card messages with saccharine language. For instance, “Let the dew of My Presence refresh your mind and heart” (Sept. 3; this one also misuses the “Be still” words); the sappy “Feel your face tingle as you bask in My Love-Light” (Sept. 7); and “Like a luminous veil of light, I hover over you and everything around you” (Dec. 3). Considering who Jesus is and the rich language of Scripture, why would He use such maudlin phrases?

Theologically, Jesus “hovering” makes no sense. Jesus is in his resurrected body interceding for the saints. [26] As the Second Person of the trinity, Jesus is omniscient and knows us and what we are doing but He is not “hovering” like a mist or cloud. This phrase suggests Jesus is bodiless and without form.

In other places, Young’s Jesus displays a martyr complex with a sly tone of self-admiration. “Imagine,” He says, speaking of Himself, “the self-control required of a martyr who could free Himself at will!” (Dec. 20). 

For Dec. 25, this Jesus says, in part:

Try to imagine what I gave up when I came into your world as a baby.[….]…I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions — a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me. [27]

These statements do not reflect the character of Christ; Christ does not seek our sympathy or thanks via self-pitying remarks.

The book is peppered with the term “Presence” and “My Presence,” so much so that it becomes tiresome.  This seems to be another clue that this is not about the real Jesus because it is not a concept from Scripture. “Presence” is abstract and vague, and continual repetition of this word weakens the actuality of an embodied Jesus. In fact, this could be taken as a subtle attack on the physical veracity of Christ as the God-man.

Those who promote this book assert that Young is not maintaining that these words are from Jesus, but as I demonstrated earlier, she is indeed doing this very thing. There is no other reasonable way to interpret her claims. And when one reads each entry written so unmistakably as though Jesus is speaking, how else is one to take it? At the very least, it is misleading and puts words in people’s heads that some may come to believe are from Jesus.

Others who defend this book readily believe these are the words of Jesus. They defend it by saying reading the book helped them, a family member, or a friend. When statements not in keeping with the character of Jesus or with biblical principles are pointed out, these defenders ignore this evidence and will continue to maintain the book helped them. Or the person may try to argue about whether Jesus speaks beyond the Bible. Below is an example of such a statement which was posted on my Facebook page on a discussion of this book:

I have seen wonderful things with this devotional, it has opened many conversations in supermarkets, hospitals and among friends. I have bought over 100 and given out. If I’m somewhere and I see someone having a really bad day I give them one. If it opens their mind to seek God and take out their Bible and read or attend church. Yes it would be better to give them a Bible but unfortunately a lot of people would just set it down and if the devotional will get their attention then good job….If I didn’t feel she was led by scripture and The Lord I wouldn’t share or read.

As seen in this quote, the person gives Jesus Calling to people in the hopes it will lead them to seek Scripture. But she does not give evidence that the book does this. God can use a book that is not biblical but He does this in spite of its flaws; this does not mean the book is valid. Jesus Calling in this example becomes a substitute for the Bible. We must consider how this could mislead non-Christians into thinking these words are from Jesus; the priority should be truth, not what is appealing. So far, all the defenses of this book I have seen, including in dialogues I’ve had with the book’s devotees, have been subjective and based on experiences with the book.

The Jesus who comes through is not a Jesus of glory and majesty, but rather an over-emotional, breathy, sometimes whiny figure. No, I do not think that this is the real Jesus who is “calling.”


End Notes

(Note: Some material is adapted from my online article on Jesus Calling at http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_JesusCalling.html)

[1]: “Scott Walker Plugs a Devotional,” by Kimberly Winston, Religious News Service, 4/30/15, http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/30/scott-walker-plugs-jesus-devotional-book-sales-skyrocket/

[2]: Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), XI.

[3]: Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence, 10th Anniversary Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014), xvii.

[4]: Ibid.

[5]: Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), XII.

[6]: Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), XI.

[7]: Ibid, XIII.

[8]: Young, 10th Anniversary Edition, xviii.

[9]: God Calling, ed. A. J. Russell (Eversham, UK: Arthur James Ltd., 1989), “The Voice Divine” in Introduction (this edition has no page numbers).

[10]: Ibid., “The Two Listeners.”

[11]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Group

[12]: There are other serious problems with the teachings of the Oxford Group, which developed in 1938 into Moral Re-Armament (MRA), considered by some to be a cult; however, that topic is outside the scope of this article.

[13]: A. J. Russell, For Sinners Only, The Book of the Oxford Group, http://www.twolisteners.org/For_Sinners_Only_1.htm.

[14]: Automatic writing is an occult practice done by sitting still with a pen or pencil and paper (or at a typewriter or computer), and waiting to hear a message or voice originating from a source beyond the five senses. I attempted to practice this when I was in the New Age. This is how channeled books are written. “Automatic writing or psychography is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing. The words are claimed to arise from a subconscious, spiritual or supernatural source,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_writing.

[15]: Russell, For Sinners Only, XII

[16]: Ibid.

[17]: Ibid.

[18]: Ibid.

[19]: Quote from “Is Deception Calling?” at http://steakandabible.com/2012/07/04/is-deception-calling-a-review-of-jesus-calling-by-sarah-young/

[20]: Ibid., XI.

[21]: For information on New Thought, read Marcia’s article, “New Thought: Making the Straight Ways Crooked,” at http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_NewThought1.html

[22]:  This quote, which I could not find in my copy, is cited by Edmond C. Gruss in his article “God Calling,” Christian Research Journal, at http://www.equip.org/articles/god-calling/

[23]: See CANA article on Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts at http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_OneThousandGifts.html

[24]: John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Proverbs 14:12

[25]: See CANA article on Ps. 46:10 at http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_MeditationPsalm.html

[26]: Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25

[27]: The 10th Anniversary Edition omits “That was a dark night for Me.”

[28]: (Note: Some material is adapted from my online article on Jesus Calling at http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_JesusCalling.html)






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