Jesus Calling?? Or Is He?
A Review of Sarah Young's Devotional Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence
Sarah Young's devotional book Jesus Calling was published in 2004 but is steadily gaining popularity in the evangelical world. With Beth Moore recommending the book on December 14, 2011 on her show "Wednesdays with Beth" on Life Today with James Robison, now the book seems to be everywhere. Ken Silva's article on Beth's recommendation is here. I have personally been concerned about this book for several years but after Brannon Howse's interview with Pastor Jesse Johnson of Emmanuel Bible Church in Annandale, Virginia on the topic, I decided to look into it myself to discern is Jesus really calling or is it something more sinister? Brannon's Worldview Weekend interview is here.
Having a working knowledge of the New Age movement and contemplative spirituality, a quick glance at Jesus Calling gave me a lot of information. The wording of each devotional is very feminine and full of references to the "Presence of God" and even to "Practicing the Presence," which is a very popular term within contemplative spirituality. In fact, the three main themes Sarah seems to use in Jesus Calling are "Presence," "Peace," and "Light." If you are not familiar with contemplative prayer and spirituality, you may be thinking, "What is the big deal?" In this review, I want to show the influences in Sarah's life that led to the writing of this devotional book and why I do not believe this book is biblical. I do not want this to be a personal attack on Sarah Young or on any other person but on the principalities of darkness that are continuing to ensnare undiscerning and uninformed Christians. I cannot judge Sarah's heart or motives but only her words that she attributes to Jesus Christ Himself.
In the introduction to the book Jesus Calling, Sarah relates her life history and how she came to write this devotional book. She was heavily influenced by Francis Schaeffer's book Escape from Reason. She says she first experienced the "Presence of God," as she calls it, while living in a small Christian community in France, a branch of L'Abri, which is an international ministry founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer. In doing some research on L'Abri, it almost seems like a mix between hippie communal-type living with some philosophy, existentialism and somewhat sound biblical teaching all thrown together. The Wikipedia article on L'Abri says it is not a commune, although their description sounds like one, while other articles I read described it exactly as a commune. The Wikipedia article is here. In fact, according to an article written by Mark Oppenheimer in The New York Times, "In the 1960's, L'Abri was known in Christian circles as a drop-by haven for intellectually curious evangelicals, who could live in the mountains for a few days or even a few years, talking with Francis and Edith about the Bible, Christian art, or existentialism." Oppenheimer's article is here.
One night while at L'Abri, Sarah was walking alone in the snow-covered mountains when "suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was to whisper 'Sweet Jesus.' This utterance was totally uncharacteristic of me, and I was shocked to hear myself speaking so tenderly to Jesus. 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." For those who have studied contemplative prayer in any depth, you will recognize that this is sounding very mystical and all experience-based. Indeed in the introduction of her more recent book, Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life, Sarah says: "We will experience many losses over the years, but the one thing we cannot live without is the one thing we can never lose - Jesus' loving Presence. Even this great truth, however, may not be enough to carry us confidently through our toughest times, unless it is accompanied by experiential knowledge of Jesus"(emphasis mine). Notice that biblical knowledge of Jesus is not mentioned here but experiential knowledge is what is important.
The following year Sarah had another mystical experience with the "Presence of Jesus" but then sixteen long years passed without another "vivid" experience with "His Presence." In the summer of 1990, Sarah read a devotional book by Andrew Murray called The Secret of the Abiding Presence. Sarah says that the theme of Murray's book is "that God's Presence is meant to be Christians' continual experience." As Sarah read this book, she began to seek God's Presence on a daily basis. "As I waited in His Presence, God began to reveal Himself to me. An hour or two alone with Him seemed too brief."
Sarah and her husband were going through a time of spiritual warfare and she began to pray for protection for her family every day. "One morning as I prayed, I visualized God protecting each of us. I pictured first our daughter, then our son, and then Steve encircled by God's protective Presence, which looked like a golden light." Sarah goes on to say she was also "enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace...I had not sought the experience, but I received it gratefully and was strengthened by it."
In 1992, Sarah began to read God Calling, which she describes as a book written by two anonymous "listeners." Sarah states that "these women practiced waiting quietly in God's Presence, pencils and paper in hand, recording the messages they received from Him." This book caused Sarah to wonder if she could receive messages from Jesus as well so she began having her quiet time "by listening to God with pen in hand writing down whatever I believed He was saying." Sarah went on to say this process was awkward at first but then the messages began to "flow more freely." As God Calling was written in the first person with "I" being God, Sarah also wrote Jesus Calling in the first person to designate Jesus.
Here is a sample devotional from God Calling from January 3: "You must be renewed, remade. Christ, Christ, Christ. Everything must rest on Me. Force is born of rest. Only Love is a conquering force. Be not afraid, I will help you. Be channels both of you. My Spirit shall flow through and My Spirit shall, in flowing through, sweep away all the bitter past. Take heart, God loves, God helps, God fights, God wins. You shall see. You shall know. The way will open. All My Love has ever planned, all My Love has ever thought, you shall see each day unfold. Only be taught. Just be a child. A child never questions plans. It accepts gladly." Does this sound like the Bible to anyone? It contains choppy, short sentences, use of the words "force" and "channel", which are not exactly biblical terms but New Age terms, and then sentences that are not even true, such as "a child never questions plans." How many of you have a child who never questions plans? According to the publisher of God Calling, the book "has also been controversial. Perhaps because the two authors wished to remain anonymous (a wish we respect) a malicious rumor grew up over the years in Christian bookshop and Church circles, and continues to this day, that they were involved in automatic writing, in the occult, that they may have been witches. As a result many Christian bookshops have not stocked it."
It is interesting to note that Sarah says a "life changing verse" for her has been Psalm 46:10, which is the very popular verse in the contemplative world: "Be still, and know that I am God." Sarah says that "this practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline" and she wants "to share some of the messages I have received." She insists that the Bible is "the only inerrant Word of God" all the while writing a devotional book to share with us the messages that Christ gave her. It needs to be understood that what Sarah was experiencing was far different than going to a quiet place to study your Bible and pray. An excellent article on contemplative prayer and mysticism by Brian Flynn is here.
Sarah ends the introduction by stating, "These messages are meant to be read slowly, preferably in a quiet place. I invite you to keep a journal to record any thoughts or impressions you receive as you wait in His Presence." In other words, now she is encouraging the reader to go into the stillness and silence to receive extra-biblical revelation. However, the Bible makes is clear to us that the Canon is closed and we are never to add to or subtract from the Bible. Let Us Reason ministries has a wonderful article on this with Scripture to back it up. The most well-known verses are probably Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19. Deuteronomy 4:2 NKJV says, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, not take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." You might argue that God is speaking to the Israelites and not to us and we are not under the law. Revelation 22:18-19 NKJV says, "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." You might argue that this is only concerning adding to or subtracting from the book of Revelation. Proverbs 30:5-6 NKJV says, "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." Those are very strong words to anyone who is adding to or taking away from what the Bible actually says. The article from Let Us Reason is here.
In the interview with Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend, Pastor Jesse Johnson says the book is "deeply unsettling to me and it shows a real lack of trust in the sufficiency of Scripture" and "she talked about how she understands that she has the Bible but she longs for something more, she longs for a deeper experience with the Lord than simply reading Scripture and so this is where she turns." Pastor Jesse also says, "It's just the whole method of taking what she hears in her head and ascribing it to the Lord and then writing that down as words to us that shows that it is a real undervaluing of Scripture." He then uses the passage of Psalm 119 as an example of looking to the Lord for guidance and that Scripture is enough and is "food for our soul." Pastor Jesse goes on to say that "Jesus Calling is saying that Scripture is not sufficient" and "you need additional revelation." Pastor Jesse says that Jesus sounds like a woman in this book and the portrayal is very feminine. He is correct but I would like to take that a step further. The "Jesus" of Jesus Calling doesn't sound like the Jesus of the Bible at all! Neither does the "God" of the book God Calling, which I referenced above, sound like the God of the Bible. In both books the portrayal of "Jesus" or "God" sounds quite New Age.
Both books have a strong focus on the "Presence of God" and Sarah Young even talks about "Practicing the Presence." In Brannon Howse's interview with Pastor Jesse Johnson, Brannon rightly attributed Sarah's description of entering the silence to what Richard Foster describes in his book Celebration of Discipline. Brannon also explained that the verse that Sarah and other contemplatives use in Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God," is completely taken out of context. He says as he has studied the verse in context, "It has absolutely nothing to do with prayer. It has to do with the sovereignty of God, He is in control, quit fidgeting and fussing, God is in control. It has nothing to do with being still and hearing the voice of God." Pastor Jesse explained that "it's not even so much the physical stillness as it is to stop worrying, stop your striving against God, stop trying to control the world because we don't control the world, it's God that does and our confidence should be in Him." Pastor Jesse finishes describing Jesus Calling by saying, "The whole structure of it is non-biblical." Amen!! What I liked most about Pastor Jesse's interview with Brannon was his constant message that this type of extra-biblical revelation undercuts the importance of Scripture in our lives. He emphasized that we are to fill our minds with Scripture so that we can be convicted of our sin, repent of our sin, and become more like Christ.
We are coming to a point that we need to make a very serious decision. Are we as Bible-believing Christians going to rely on the Word of God alone? Do we need extra-biblical revelation? Do we need experiences in God's "Presence"? Those of us who are truly saved by God's grace can relate story after story of the Holy Spirit working through our lives. He brings people into our paths at just the right time, He gives us good godly friendships, He impresses upon our hearts ways to encourage and strengthen others. So many things happen in our lives by the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. Do we really need to sit in the "silence" so that we can have a mystical experience with "God"? Our time here is short. Make the most of it by getting the Gospel message of salvation through Christ alone to as many as possible. Disciple others. Teach the next generation. "After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, 'The harvest truly is great, but they laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves" (Luke 10:1-3 NKJV).
"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39 NKJV).
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NAME CALLING UNHELPFUL
I agree with Vince's statement -- Francis Schaeffer stand as one of the last century's greatest Christian apologists. The statements against him and his community at L'Abri make me question how well researched the whole article may or may not be. Even if you don't agree with Sarah Young's handling of Scripture, calling her a witch crosses a dangerous line. Such unloving name-calling may make one feel superior, but will not draw any to Christ.
|Posted On: 08/09/12 07:54:02 AM
||Age 0, TX
Critique seems a bit judgemental
I started reading "Jesus Calling" in March. At first, it was very meaningful, but by June, it seemed somewhat redundant with the topics of presence, light and peace. It doesn't bother me that Sarah Young uses first person for Jesus, since this seems to me to be her reflecting on how GOD's Word speaks to each person directly. The fact that several Scripture references are given on each page to really summarize the concepts of GOD's provision and care is what keeps me reading daily. For me, this devotional is just a little jumpstart to my more in depth reading of the Bible. I don't see how this devotional is meant to "add" to GOD's Word. If someone's personal reflections or meditation on the Bible are then published as a devotional book or teaching on Scripture, then everyone who has ever written anything on the subject is guilty of "adding" to Holy Scripture, including the author of this critique when using Brannon's "explanation" of Psalm 46:10. Although Christian literature can be very helpful to our understanding of GOD and HIS Word, it is the responsibility of every Christian to search the Scriptures for themselves and not rely on any man's comments or ideas of what GOD's Word says.
|Posted On: 08/03/12 03:41:26 PM
||Age 0, FL
You can slowly "trace" this woman's dissent into deception.. each event drawing and pulling her into further error. This is a favorite scheme of Satan, who disguises himself as an "angel of light." It's interesting to note how she indicated that at some point she and her husband were experiencing "spiritual warfare," further spiraling her into the deception.
|Posted On: 07/31/12 09:33:50 AM
||Age 0, CT
No doubt you are correct in pointing out the problems with 'Jesus calling' but I take exception to your references to Francis Schaeffer as in some way contributing to such falsehood. I have read almost all his books and though there are some things with which I would not agree I found him to be a faithful and insightful teacher of the Word. There are plenty of present day preachers and teachers who would do well to aspire to his standards. Vince.
|Posted On: 07/31/12 06:58:26 AM
||Age 0, AUSTRALIA