Jesus Calling Critique
(Is Jesus Calling a good devotional book?)

Recently, two members of my family, coincidentally, were given copies of Sarah Young's 2004 book of daily devotions, Jesus Calling. After reading the book through, I have some observations and concerns to share. My hope is that they will stimulate your thinking, even if you disagree.

The book purports to be a series of messages coming directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a startling claim. Though Mrs. Young affirms that "the Bible is the only inerrant Word of God" (p. xiii), that does not do away with a significant problem here.

We are left with only two or three options when it comes to evaluating her assertion. If it's truly the Lord Jesus who is speaking, then these words too must be inerrant (Matt. 24:35; Tit. 1:2), and she has become the Lord's inspired prophet (cf. Jer. 1:5, 9). In that case, it would seem we need to consider adding Sarah Young's book to the other sixty-six in the Bible.

On the other hand, if the devotional meditations on these pages come from the author's own imagination, then she is putting words in the mouth of Christ, words that in most cases (excepting when she quotes Scripture) He never spoke–and some that He never would speak. Though there are several Scripture references at the bottom of each reading, often they do not support--sometimes cannot support--the teaching espoused in what her "Jesus" says. In effect, she has created an imitation Jesus.

Mrs. Young's account of her spiritual quest leading up to the production of the book is described in the Introduction. It includes this intriguing experience: "Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence [always capitalized], and my involuntary response was to whisper, ‘Sweet Jesus.' This utterance was totally uncharacteristic of me" (p. vii).

Was this occurrence truly of the Lord? I don't know. But its intended implication seems like that of Eliphaz in his condemnation of godly Job. Basically, he says, "I've had this supernatural encounter, so what I say must be right" (cf. Job 4:12-16). But he was not right (vs. 7, cf. 1:8). Perhaps Young needs to get out of the fog, and pray more with an open Bible before her!

This eerie incident, whatever its genesis, hints at a third disturbing possibility. That the "Jesus" who speaks to Sarah is actually what the Bible calls a "familiar spirit" (cf. Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27). That term refers to a demon repeatedly summoned by an individual, in this case one posing as Christ. The fact that there are biblical truths found in the book does not rule this out. The devil is able to quote Scripture when it serves his purpose (cf. Matt. 4:6), and demons can also say some true things (cf. Acts 16:16-17).

When the author refers to God the Son, it is always as "Jesus." While that is indeed His name, more often (dozens of times), after His ascension, He is spoken of as the Lord, the Lord Jesus, or the Lord Jesus Christ. This provides a fuller testimony to His deity and His present exalted position (e.g. Acts 1:21; 4:33; 11:17). In the words of Peter, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). He is "the Lord of glory [our glorious Lord]" (I Cor. 2:8), and deserves to be addressed as such.

But the word "Jesus" has apparently become something of a spiritual mantra for the writer. Her "Jesus" encourages her to, "Invite Me into your thoughts by whispering My Name" (p. 188). "When you feel far from me, whisper My Name. This simple act...opens your heart to My Presence" (p. 103). "Whisper My Name....Find strength and Peace through praying My Name" (p. 240).

Note: I will be putting the name "Jesus" in quotation marks, when referring to the one Young says is addressing us, as I do not believe these words come from the Lord Jesus Christ. He seems more like one of the "false christs" the Lord warns will appear in the last days (Matt. 24:24). Even to hint that these are the actual sayings of the holy Son of God presents a serious difficulty.

We already have 1,189 chapters of the inspired Word of God, in which are found "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:2-4). Our job is to study them, apply them, and proclaim them. To suggest we need still more inspired truth impugns the sufficiency of the Scriptures. In fact, adding to Scripture is something the Word of God strongly and repeatedly forbids us to do.

"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it" (Deut. 4:2). "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deut. 12:32). "Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Prov. 30:5-6). "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18). (What a fearful thing to be found a lying prophet!)

If the author had identified her devotionals as her own thoughts, that would be one thing. We could take them or leave them on that basis. But to suggest that Christ Himself is talking directly to the reader is a serious error. What the author is doing is close to the work of the false prophets that the Scriptures repeatedly condemn.

Notice how, though they claimed to be speaking for the Lord, what they said came from their own hearts and minds. God says, "I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you...the deceit of their heart" (Jer. 14:14). "They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD" (Jer. 23:16). They are "those who prophesy out of their own heart, ‘Hear the word of the LORD!'" (Ezek. 13:2).

At one point the writer has her "Jesus" say, "My guidance for each of My children is unique" (p. 178). True enough. We are  each different, and in different circumstances (cf. Jn. 21:20-22). But she proceeds to ignore that fact, time and again. Many things are said which may have been true of Sarah Young at that particular time, but they are not necessarily true of the reader, now or ever. Yet we read such individualized and day-specific comments as the following.

"The journey has been too much for you, and you are bone-weary" (p. 40). "You are on the brink of rebellion, precariously close to shaking your fist in My Face" (p. 181). "Some of My children I've gifted with abundant strength and stamina. Others, like you, have received the humble gift of frailty" (p. 254). "There is one thing that displeases Me: your tendency to complain" (p. 296). 

At times these pronouncements come across as a kind of fortune telling, or the vague pronouncements of a daily horoscope. Her "Jesus" says such things as: "You are feeling wobbly this morning" (p. 277). My response on reading this was, "No, I'm not!" But there's much more of this sort of thing."This is a time of abundance in your life" (p. 331). Or, at another point, "You are approaching a crossroads in your life" (p. 360).

On the other hand, Sarah Young's "Jesus" repeatedly rejects the idea of planning and looking ahead. He leaves the impression that we are simply to drift through our days, accepting whatever happens.

"Trust Me enough to let things happen without striving to predict or control them" (p. 297). "Stop trying to find a way to circumvent difficulties" (p. 241). "Don't take yourself or your circumstances so seriously" (p. 176). "Don't try to figure out what is happening" (p. 21). "I died to set you free, and that includes freedom from compulsive planning" (p. 117).

But this is nonsense. Christ commends those who think ahead (Lk. 14:28-33; cf. Prov. 6:6-8; 22:3; 24:27). The Lord can guide us in our planning, just as surely as He can in the moment. The key is not to become rigidly possessive of our plans, but to allow the Lord to lead us in another direction, if He chooses.

How does the following measure up to the inspired Word of God, and the person of the true Christ? Young's "Jesus" says, "I am your Father-God" (p. 197). Does the Lord Jesus ever say such a thing? No. When Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, was He simply talking to Himself? No. It hints at Sabellianism (also known as modalism), the Trinity-denying heresy that says the one God changes Himself into either Father, Son or Holy Spirit, as needed.

And more strange notions: "Every time you affirm your trust in Me, you put a coin into My treasury. Thus you build up equity in preparation for days of trouble" (p. 11) "I have trained you to pray, ‘Help me, Holy Spirit,' before answering the phone" (p. 226). Really? Scripture references at the bottom of this reading say no such thing. In a model prayer, the Lord Jesus of the Bible "trains" us to pray to "Our Father" (Lk. 11:1-2). On this side of the cross, we pray to God the Father, in Jesus' name, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:24; Eph. 2:18; Rom. 8:26-27).

And still more oddities: "Do not feel guilty about taking time to be still in My Presence. You are simply responding to the tugs of divinity within you" (p. 211). "I made you in My image, precariously close to deity" (p. 116). "Precariously"? Well, don't worry. Young's "Jesus" says,  "Because I am omnipotent, I am about to bend time and events in your favour" (p. 43). Does the Lord ever do that for you or me? The providence of God (His before-seeing) makes this bizarre action unnecessary.

Sadly, almost nothing is said in all 382 pages about the importance of ministry to others, and of being a burden bearer (cf. Jn. 13:14-15; II Cor. 1:4; Gal. 6:2, 10). Instead, this "Jesus" says, "Stand up straight in My Presence so that no one can place more burdens on your back" (p. 278).

This is a very me-centred book–about Sarah's problems, Sarah's dreams, and Sarah's needs. A little of such navel-gazing goes a long way. We don't need 366 days of it. Even fellowship in the local church is rarely mentioned. When it is, there seems to be criticism of both the general atmosphere and "guilt-evoking messages" from the pastor (p. 262, 306). (One wonders what kind of church she was attending!)

There is a lot about "Light" in the book (always capitalized). The Bible, of course, uses light, occasionally, to symbolize such things as purity or truth (cf. Ps. 119:105; Jn. 8:12). But this seems to be something other.

"I am with you and all around you, encircling you in golden rays of Light" (p. 284). "Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance" (p. 9). "Let My Light soak into your mind and heart until you are aglow with My very Being" (p. 158). "Enjoy the warmth of My Presence shining upon you. Feel your face tingle as you bask in My Love-Light" (p. 262). "When a future-oriented worry assails you, capture it and disarm it by suffusing the Light of My Presence into the mental image" (p. 328). Say what?

In contrast,throughout the book, only rarely is mention made of turning to Scripture, our true source of light (Ps. 119:130). The emphasis is on the mystical voice of "Jesus," bringing inner intuitions of some kind. The underlying premise seems to be a false mysticism proposing that, when we are quiescent, and we clear our minds of other thoughts, this supernatural being will send us new messages from himself.

"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" (p. 228).  "I can do My best handiwork when you sit in the stillness of My Presence, focusing your entire being on Me. Let My thoughts burst freely upon your consciousness, stimulating abundant Life" (p. 189).

And Sarah's "Jesus" makes this startling declaration: "Only My voice tells you the true way" (p. 336). Think about that. Does he mean "only my voice, as I speak to you in these supernatural encounters"? Or "only my voice now, plus what I've already said in the Bible"? Either way, this is heresy.

I do need to emphasize that I'm not trying to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Times of quiet meditation in the presence of God are vital to our spiritual lives. Appropriately, daily devotions are sometimes called a "Quiet Time." We need those. But there is a difference between that and what Jesus Calling repeatedly gives us.

The Bible is "God-breathed," and profitable for our Christian life and ministry (II Tim. 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of truth," indwells each believer, giving us an understanding of the Word of God, and the wisdom and power to apply it (Jn. 14:17; cf. Zech. 4:6; Acts 1:8; I Cor. 2:4, 13; II Cor. 3:5; Eph. 5:18-21).

Our personal comprehension of the Word is intended to lead to action. The actions may be such things as praise and thanksgiving to God, confession of sin, or ministry to others. But all must remain firmly rooted in the Scriptures, not be founded on some supposed latter-day addendum to them. "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no truth in them" (Isa. 8:20).

David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect [i.e. complete, sufficient], restoring the soul” (Ps. 19:7). We must be daily "taking heed [keeping watch on ourselves] according to [God's] word" (Ps. 119:9). We don't need new inspired messages; we need to make use of what God has already given,"the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). It is the entrance of that word that gives true light (cf. Gal. 1:6-8)

I would put Sarah Young's book in a similar category as William Paul Young's blasphemous novel, The Shack. Both present fiction as questionable fact, flawed human imaginings as God's inspired truth. Both books are certainly popular. Not surprising, in the present case, as Sarah Young's creation is a kind of feel-good book, a daily pat on the back, or a little hug from her "Jesus." But that wide readership being so, it could do a lot of harm in misrepresenting the Lord and His holy Word. I would not use this strange book myself, nor can I recommend it to anyone.