Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Jesus Calling for Christmas Special


Hey, Pastor Gabe

We are looking for your "Jesus Calling" responses and can't find them for some reason. Can you help?

Rob, FL

Sure thing. In fact, I'll share everything I've written after reading through Jesus Calling, the flagship title of Sarah Young's bestselling devotional series. Publisher Thomas Nelson recently rolled out their latest title, Jesus Calling for Christmas, joining others in the series like Jesus Calling Morning and Evening, Jesus Calling for Kids, Jesus Calling for Little Ones, Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, Jesus Calling for Graduates, Jesus Calling for Athletes, Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, and Jesus Calling: Deluxe Edition with teal imitation leather. Spin-offs and sequels have included Jesus Always, Jesus Today, Jesus Lives, and an assortment of Jesus Delicious candy bars.

A Tale as Big as a Kite

At the start of the year, I posted a blog about the book God Calling by Two Listeners, Sarah Young's chief inspiration for her bestselling devotional. The two anonymous women behind God Calling likely never existed—author A.J. Russell invented them to give his own writing the appearance of being verified by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Nevertheless, Young followed the method for receiving messages from God detailed in the introduction to God Calling.

Like Russell and his two anonymous women, Young said that she did not feel whole with simple Bible study and prayer. Those were ways you know about God, she thought, but it's not how you get to know Him intimately. She wanted something more. Young had a specific room where she would go and listen for God to speak to her. She started by praying that her mind would be protected from any distractions, distortions, or deceptions. She only wanted to hear the voice of Jesus and understand clearly every single word He meant for her to receive. She said, "Help me, Holy Spirit." Then she sat patiently and listened.

Phrases and sentences began coming to her mind, and she wrote them down. It was Jesus speaking! Er, calling! Or something! She would later clarify, likely in response to criticism, that this was not an audible voice she heard—she "heard" Him in her mind (to the best of my knowledge, she's never explained how the voice of Jesus sounds different than her own thoughts). During these sessions, she would take breaks and read what she'd written, encouraged by such fresh, new words from the Lord.

"This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day," Young wrote. She had changed her prayer time from monologue to dialogue—she said something to God, and He said something back to her. Which she just had to write down and get published, right? Her writings became the bestselling daily devotional Jesus Calling. And then Jesus Lives. And then Jesus Today. And then Jesus Always. Et cetera, ad nauseum. (By the way, you knew I was kidding about the Jesus Delicious candy bars, right? Don't get any ideas, Thomas Nelson.)

But as with God Calling, when tested with the Scriptures, there's no way Jesus Calling could be the voice of Jesus. Someone might say, "Well, maybe Sarah didn't actually hear Jesus's voice, but at least the content is still biblical, right?" No, it's really not.

Do You Hear What I Hear

Just like God Calling, most of Jesus Calling is spiritual marshmallowy fluff: "Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your conscience, seeking entrance" (January 8). "Your prayers and petitions are winged into heaven's throne room when they are permeated with thanksgiving" (February 25). "I speak to you in love-tones, lifting you up" (March 19). "Take time to rest in the Love-Light of My Presence" (May 12). "Sit quietly in my Love-Light while I bless you with radiant Peace" (June 3).

Then there are passages that are downright weird. Consider these quotes from July: "As you spend time soaking in My Presence, you are energized and lightened" (July 1). "Throw off this oppressive burden with one quick thrust of trust" (July 15). "As you listen to birds calling to one another, hear also my Love-call to you" (July 25). "Let My Love seep into the inner recesses of your being... Wounds that you shut away from the Light of My Love will fester and become wormy" (July 28). July was apparently a very strange month for Young.

Apart from the bizarre, what really does the book in are its theological issues. The most obvious problem (at least it should be the most obvious) is that Young believes she heard the voice of Jesus. This places her on the level of the prophets and the apostles who gave us the Scriptures. Bet let's set that point aside for now. Just taking at face-value the theology she presents in her writing, problems abound. Since Young claims these are the words of Jesus, we must ask, "Would Jesus actually say that?" and test Young's words with the Bible.

Not the "Jesus Calling Devotional Bible," as seen on the far right.

Young's Jesus said, "I am your Father-God. Listen to me" (July 6). No where in the Bible does Jesus refer to Himself as Father-God. This is flirting with heresy. It's way too close to the false teaching of patripassianism, which claims that God the Father and God the Son are the same person within the Godhead (I've addressed that particular false teaching here).

Now, in the footnotes to that July 6 devotional, Young included the reference to Isaiah 9:6. You probably hear this verse a lot around Christmastime: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (emphasis mine).

This is not the same as calling Jesus our Father-God. Isaiah was illustrating that the coming Messiah, Jesus, will be King. As King, He will be our Wonderful Counselor who makes wise plans; our Mighty God which is the title of the Lord Himself; an Everlasting Father, meaning that He is our federal head in place of Adam; and Prince of Peace, meaning that He is the ruler who will destroy His enemies and make peace.

My point is this: if Jesus had actually spoken to Young, He would not have referred to Himself as Father-God. If Young had a doctrinal point to make, she should have made it in her own voice. Writing as though her words were Christ's words causes confusion, and God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Maybe Young isn't a heretic. Maybe she does believe God is Triune, and Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. At best, her reference to Jesus as Father-God is heterodoxy, meaning that she distorts sound teaching concerning an essential biblical doctrine like the Trinity of God.

Young's Jesus said, "I look for persistence—rather than perfection—in your walk with me" (June 23). Again, this is not something Jesus would have said. What He did say was, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). As Christians, we have been given a righteousness that is not our own, and we are to pursue that righteous perfection and make it our own. Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (Philippians 3:12).

Young's Jesus said, "Stop judging and evaluating yourself, for this is not your role." On the contrary, we are instructed, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul also told the Corinthians, "Let a person examine himself," and he told the Galatians, "Let each one test his own work."

Do You Know What I Know

Young's Jesus said, "I abhor the use of guilt as a means of motivation among Christians. Some pastors try to whip their people into action with guilt-inducing sermons" (September 7). Again, this is not something Jesus would say. In fact, it's contrary to what Jesus said and did. Gospel-preaching pastors preach to convict the heart of sin because Jesus preached that way, addressing both believers and unbelievers.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, "Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). He said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Yet wasn't Jesus loving and gracious when He preached such things?


John Piper addressed this in his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Regarding the doctrine of hell, Piper referenced the great puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards who said, "This doctrine is indeed awful and dreadful, yet 'tis of God." Piper added, "Edwards could not remain silent where Jesus was so vocal. Hell awaits every unconverted person. Love must warn them with the threats of the Lord" (Pg. 92).

The Apostle Paul's letters to the Corinthians confronted specific sins in a body of believers to bring them to guilt so they would repent. Paul said, "This is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything" (2 Corinthians 2:8). Convicting sermons that warn about the fires of hell are a loving test of obedience. In chapter 7:8-11, Paul went on to say:
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
Let me shoot straight with you—when I preach about sin and judgment from the Bible, I want my hearers to feel guilty so they would stop sinning and know the grace of God! I want them to feel bad about the evil that they have done. It's not because I enjoy making people feel miserable. I do it out of love. And I don't try to make anyone feel like dirt. My responsibility is to preach the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). I desire that none should perish but that all should reach repentance.

James said, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you" (James 4:7-10).

What makes Jesus Calling all the more objectionable is not just in what it says but also in what it doesn't say. Young does not confront any kind of serious sin in her book. She addresses things like being prideful because you skipped your quiet time with Jesus, or because you spend more time planning your day instead of reading a page of Jesus Calling (so much for "I abhor the use of guilt"). But sins like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander, which Jesus did confront in the hearts of his hearers (Matthew 15:19), are never mentioned.

Listen to What I Say

Young's Jesus said, "Your gravest danger is worrying about tomorrow" (February 27). Seriously? Your gravest danger is that you worry about tomorrow? That's what people go to hell over—they worried about tomorrow too much? Young's Jesus also referred to worry as "wolves" (March 4). The real Jesus reserved the word "wolves" for false teachers and the wicked who are out to devour the flock of God. He said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15, 10:16).

In the voice of Jesus, Young said, "I will have no other gods before me" (June 5). Specifically, the commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). For Jesus to say "I will have no other gods before me" doesn't even make sense—there are no other gods (Isaiah 45:5, 14, 18, 21-22). The command is addressed to you so you would worship God and Him alone; with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Do not make an idol of anyone or any thing by desiring it more than God.


John Calvin said, "Man's nature is a perpetual factory of idols" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XI, Section 8). It is in our nature to worship something other than God. Whatever we value more than God, that becomes an idol—which is why the Apostle Paul said that even coveting is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Do not dare soften the truth of the nature of your heart, lest you fall into the devil's snares. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:7-8).

Jesus Calling appeals heavily to the self-centered nature of the reader. Young's Jesus said, "Because I am omnipotent, I am able to bend time and events in your favor" (February 10). And, "Because I am infinite, I am able to love you as if you and I were the only ones in the universe" (September 29). No, God does not bend time and events in your favor, and He doesn't love you as if you were the only person in the universe to love. I hear statements like this all the time, but it's not at all the reality of God's plan of redemption.

Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). The Bible says Jesus gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people, plural (Titus 2:14). By His death, we've been reconciled not only to God but also to the people of God (1 Peter 2:9). The bride of Christ is the church, not you by yourself (Ephesians 5:25). We are to strive to excel in building up the church, not puffing up ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:12).

Jesus intends for you to be in regular fellowship with other Christians. Yes, Christian, you have to go to church, and you are to build others up that we all may grow in maturity together. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

On every page of Jesus Calling, there's a looming sense of irony that the book is never able to shake. Young's Jesus said, "You must learn to discern what is My voice and what's not" (March 3). Right, take your own advice, Sarah! Her Jesus said, "Your pretense displeases Me, especially when it is in my ‘service'" (July 22). Pretense is an attempt to make something appear true that isn't.

Young's Jesus said, "I have instructed you to trust in Me, not your own understanding" (August 7). Yet when tested with the Bible, it is evident Jesus Calling is not the word of Jesus, but it comes from Young's own understanding. She wrote, "Many voices proclaim, 'This is the way for you to go,' but only My voice tells you the true way" (November 17). Young listened to one of those "many voices," not the voice of Christ.

Finally, Young's Jesus said, "Bookstores abound with books about 'taking care of number one,' making oneself the center of all things" (October 26). Young's voice is the center of Jesus Calling, not God's. Her own words condemn her. Jesus Calling has failed its own test. None of Sarah Young's books should be sold in any Christian bookstore anywhere.

Pray for Peace People Everywhere

Someone might say, "But Brother Gabe, there are good parts of the book, are there not?" No, there are not. "You mean to say it's all bad?" Yes, that's exactly what I mean to say. "But what about where she quotes Jesus saying, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.' Isn't that true?"

In the context of Jesus Calling, it doesn't matter. As John Owen said, "If private revelations agree with Scriptures, they are needless. And if they disagree, they are false" (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, Pg. 86). So if someone says they've received a vision or a voice from God, and we test it with the Bible, and we find that it contradicts God's word, it's a lie, throw it away. If we find that it is in God's word, you can still throw away this person's special revelation because we don't need it—we have it in the Bible.

This is a very serious issue, so I have to be this harsh, but I say it in love—Sarah Young is blaspheming God with every word she writes in the pages of Jesus Calling. She is taking the Lord's name in vain. She is claiming to speak the thoughts of God that are not the thoughts of God. Therefore, none of it is good. It should all be discarded.

I will give you another example. On July 11, in the voice of Jesus, she says the following:
Worship me only. Idolatry has always been the downfall of My people. I make no secrets about being a jealous God. Current idols are more subtle than ancient ones because today's false gods are often outside the field of religion. People, possessions, status, and self-aggrandizement are some of the most popular deities today. Beware of bowing down before these things. False gods never satisfy; instead, they stir up lust for more and more.
Now, that all seems true, right? God is a jealous God, and we can make anything into an idol, exalting to the place of God something that we value above God. Here's the looming, unshakable irony: Young is lampooning idolatry in the voice of a god of her own making! If Young had said this in her own voice, it would have been fine. But it wouldn't have been a bestseller. The reason Jesus Calling has sold umpteen million books is precisely because it's written in the voice of Jesus. Remember, Young doesn't do that for mere flare—she believes and has claimed these are the words of Jesus given to her.


There are millions of Christians who will eat this up because they feel the same way that Young does: "Bible study and prayer just don't do it for me." These are the gifts that God has given us for communicating with Him: He speaks to us through the Bible, we speak to Him through prayer. But for some, that's just not good enough: "My thoughts are just as good as God's thoughts. After all, He gave them to me, right?" Yeah, flip to Numbers 12 and see how God responded to Miriam, Moses's sister, when she said something similar.

This attitude of exalting one's own thoughts is born out of a failure to understand that the human heart is selfish and corrupt. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Jeremiah calls the human heart "deceitful." It deceives us. It deceives us into thinking that we can think thoughts as high as God's thoughts. But God said, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

The only way our thoughts can be conformed to the mind of God is by reading the word of God. But Young has all but outright rejected that part from her meditation. I know she said Jesus Calling is supposed to be read with your Bible open, and she confessed the Bible is the only inspired word, but she does not believe it's sufficient. She said herself that Bible study wasn't enough, and she presented her book as the inspired word of Jesus. As far as Jesus Calling is concerned, she does not demonstrate that she truly believes the Bible is the only divinely inspired word of God.

In fact, Young is so not satisfied with God's method that she's resorted to mysticism. Remember, Young quietly meditated with pen in hand, waiting for something spiritual to come into her mind and being guided to write down whatever she "heard." This is exactly the practice of automatic writing. It's new age, akin to fortune telling or interpreting omens. A Christian using tarot cards is still practicing paganism, even if they call them "destiny cards" and claim that Jesus is speaking through them.

Young is not listening to Jesus. She is listening to herself, and claiming her thoughts are the thoughts of God. Those thoughts have clearly been influenced by years of Christian teaching and missionary work. Fragments of the Bible are scattered throughout Jesus Calling. But those clippings are often taken out-of-context or she has altered the wording—other sure signs that this word of hers is not the word of Christ.

He Will Bring Us Goodness and Light

Now, I might sound overly cynical with this last point. You may dismiss it as my own opinion, but I promise this statement is relevant. Here it is: Jesus Calling is a really, really, really boring book. It is the same thing over and over and over again. Though not a very long book, it was a bear to read. I had a difficult time getting through it.

Why is that a significant argument? Because remember, Sarah Young was unsatisfied with Bible study and prayer. So were the two anonymous women who wrote God Calling, so was A.J. Russell, and so was Dr. Frank Buchman who inspired him. If Jesus Calling is supposed to be a step-up from regular Bible study and a time of prayer, why are the results so terrible? Why so dull and lifeless? Why so flat and repetitious? And why is the theology so stinking bad?

The book of Hebrews begins, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:1-4).

I find that news neither dull nor unsatisfying. That is the most exciting thing you could ever tell me on any day of the week! God Himself put on flesh and dwelt among us, "and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul wrote, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Love His word. Delight in His word. Rejoice in His word. And accept no imitation.