“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
By Marcia Montenegro| Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, and other similar books by her, have multiplied themselves into a publishing empire with offerings of Jesus Calling books for teens and for children, calendars, special editions, accompanying journals, a Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, and even a Jesus Calling Devotional Bible.
This is not a conventional review of the book or her story, nor is the purpose to analyze the whole content. Although several troubling areas are addressed, this paper is a response primarily to two issues: 1) The claims made by Young regarding what she wrote and the alleged words spoken to her by Jesus; and 2) Young’s admission that a primary influence on her was the book, God Calling, by “Two Listeners.” Due to Young’s admiration for and admitted inspiration from this latter book, it will also be examined.
EARLY RED FLAGS
God’s Word — Enough Nourishment?
Jesus Calling offers daily devotions composed of words as though spoken by Jesus, with accompanying citation of verses. Before looking at the content, it is crucial to examine what claims Young is making about the source of these words: why she wrote this and how she wrote it.
In the introduction to her first book, Jesus Calling, Young writes, “I knew that God communicated with me in the Bible, but I yearned for more.” 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).
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?
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.” She determined that this message was “short, biblical, and appropriate,” so she wrote it in her journal. 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.
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.” One is compelled to ask, why not? Are these words from Jesus or not? (Young uses the term “God” but the book titles use the word “Jesus” and 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 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.”
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.
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 guidance but not on a par with Scripture. Does Young not see the incredible claims being made and the resulting insoluble contradictory problem? Apparently not.
As someone formerly involved in the New Age, I am bound to say that listening for a message from a supernatural being in order to write down words heard from or dictated by this being is a form of automatic writing, an occult practice. There is no other fitting term for this.
If Young had confined this method to herself, it would be a matter between her and God. However, marketing these messages, which are written as though spoken by Jesus, places the book(s) in a public forum, and obligates Christians to examine Young’s claims and the purported messages from Jesus.
Another major red flag is Young’s positive acknowledgement of the book God Calling, which she asserts became a “treasure” to her. 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.” 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.”
GOD CALLING: A CALL FOR DISCERNMENT
The Two Listeners
I first encountered God Calling as a very new believer while browsing in a Christian bookstore. Curious, I picked it up and saw it was a devotional for each day of the year. Reading through several of these, I was alarmed at some of the concepts and ideas because many were reminiscent of New Age views.
Although at that point I did not know the Bible very well, I recognized statements I knew were not compatible with what I had read in the Bible and knew of God. I almost went to the clerk about my concerns, but being such a new Christian, I was not confident enough to say anything.
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 hear words from God. The claim is made in the foreword by editor A. J. Russell that these two women received messages “from the Living Christ Himself.”
One listener, writing in the introduction, declares how grateful they were to receive this direct communication “when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their churches, books, and other sources.”
Here again, as with Young, is the dissatisfaction with God’s word and the normal channels of guidance for a Christian. The listener states that this book “is no ordinary book,” thereby claiming a special status for it. In fact, the Jesus of this book affirms it in the May 15 reading:
“You are very privileged, both of you. I share My plans and secrets with you and make known to you My Purposes, while so many have to grope on.”
So the rest of the Christian world is left to “grope on” with the implied paucity of God’s revelation in the Bible? This is alarming.
Roots of “Listening”
Andrew James Russell, editor of God Calling, became 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. Meeting in groups, this movement emphasized fellowship and receiving direct guidance from God.
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,”
The Guidance must come in all those who surrender to God’s will. As Ken Twitchell announced the Quiet Time the undergraduates fumbled for pencils and guidance-books and began to “listen in” to God. This was not simple meditation, which may be concentration on some aspect of Christ or the Gospel, but something more.”
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, is opening the door to false doctrine.
Apparently, the “two listeners” were followers of this method and undoubtedly part of the Oxford Group. So it is not surprising that so many unbiblical statements are made. For example, one that is repeated a few times and is one of the most egregious is this:
Truly I said to My Disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” But to you, and the twos who gather to hear Me as you do, I can declare those things now, that then I left unsaid. (April 14)
This statement is being used as though Jesus was referring to people later on, like the two listeners and others, who would receive further revelation. However, Jesus is not saying that. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and makes it clear in the next verse what this means:
I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. -John 16:12-13
This was referring to when the disciples would receive the indwelling Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the further teachings through Scripture. To turn this into an endorsement of listening and writing down what one senses coming from God is mangling the text. This is the type of Scripture twisting done by cults. Other examples of Scripture twisting pepper the book.
New Thought Philosophy
I noted New Thought concepts embedded in God Calling, although I did not find anything online that critiques the book from this viewpoint. This explains why the book struck me as New Age when I first looked through it.
New Thought, a movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, claimed to be Christianity but actually taught that all men are innately divine, Jesus was just another man who realized this, and that the way to true wisdom was to realize this truth and change one’s perceptions.
Man is naturally connected to God, and by affirming these new truths, one’s thinking is changed, thereby bringing one’s spiritual status (consciousness) to an alleged “higher level.” While referring to Jesus and acknowledging the biblical story, New Thought imbues the biblical text with entirely different meanings. The New Age adopted the core of New Thought as yet another facet of its massive corpus and so the two often overlap.
Terms noticed in entries for (but not limited to) Feb. 27, March 10 and 13, June 19, July 29, Aug. 18, and Nov. 17 include“material manifestation,” “Spirit-life,” “Spirit-communication,” “Spirit-Kingdom,” “the material plane,” “Spirit Sounds,” “spirit understanding,” and “Spirit-world.” This language is used in New Thought and the New Age, denoting a Gnostic-based spirit-material duality.
Even taking into account when this book was written, these terms are not Christian and never have been, and some are used in Spiritualism (although one reading ironically condemns Spiritualism).
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.”
The “friends freed from the limitation of humanity” are the dead. This piercing glint of Spiritualism is further suggestion of New Thought influence, since the two were so intertwined at the time.
The God Calling God is a servant to men, a tool for manifesting their joy and happiness, as it is in New Thought. The April 3rddevotion has God saying, “I, who could command a universe — I await the commands of my children.” This idea is also in the Jan. 28 piece.
For March 16, God declares,
“I am actually at the center of every man’s being, but distracted with the things of the sense-life, he finds Me not.”
This concept, emphasizing the innate divinity of man as well as the spirit-material duality, is New Thought. It is more apparent in the Jan.20 entry:
“If you realize your high privilege, you have only to think and immediately the object of your thought is called into being.”
To dwell in thought on the material, when once you live in Me — is to call it into being.”
In other words, once your mind is turned onto the New Thought wavelength, which is awareness of one’s divine nature, you can manifest into reality that which you are thinking. This is exactly the same message given by the bestselling book and DVD, The Secret.
This popular work teaches that one can produce what one thinks through certain techniques and is derived directly from New Thought teachings. (Many early New Thought teachers are quoted, and author Rhonda Byrne crafted this work as a result of reading New Thought teacher Wallace Wattles.)
Furthermore, this New Thought ability to manifest applies to “the spiritual plane” as well, so one must take care in how one thinks. This is the concept that gave rise to the “positive thinking” craze (“spiritual plane” is an authentic Spiritualist and New Thought term):
“So you must be careful only to think of and desire that which will help, not hinder, your spiritual growth. The same law operates too on the spiritual plane.”
New Thought terms for God, such as “Divine Mind” (used more than once; this is a term used in Christian Science for God), “Divine Force,” “Divine Voice,” and “Divine Spirit” are found throughout the book, including Jan. 31, Feb. 9, Feb. 15, Aug. 17, Sept. 29, Dec. 18 and elsewhere. “Divine alchemy” is found in the Sept. 5 entry — would Jesus even use such a word, which describes a form of sorcery? The Feb. 9th reading is brief and has a striking New Thought ring:
The Divine Voice is not always expressed in words. It is made known as a heart-consciousness.
Most chillingly, an unsound view of the atonement is found in the Jan. 14 devotion:
“When I died on the Cross, I died embodying all the human self…..As you too kill self, you gain the overwhelming power I released for a wearying world…..it is not life and its difficulties you have to conquer, only the self in you.”
The self in New Thought is the false self springing from the false perception that man is separate from God. The New Thought Jesus came and died so that this false perception could be destroyed, enabling man to have the correct perception of his True Self, which is divine.
Salvation comes not from faith in Christ, but as you “kill self,” the false self. Note that this Jesus says his death “released” a power. This is a New Thought metaphysical view of Jesus’ death, which released a power (similar to Agnes Sanford’s belief, who exhibited New Thought thinking throughout her life).
An odd command (though not odd for New Thought) is given for Sept. 5 in words reminiscent of New Age bestseller Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch:
Higher, ever higher, rise to Life and Beauty, Knowledge and Power. Higher and higher.
J. Russell was deeply involved with the Oxford Group at a time when New Thought influence was strong. What I read in the book, in my view, echoes New Thought beliefs in the tone, language, and ideas.
FROM GOD CALLING TO JESUS CALLING
There is much more material that indicts God Calling, but enough has been given to make a point. The point is that since this book inspired Young and gave Young her method of “hearing” from Jesus, and because Young considers this book to be such a “treasure,” then Young’s discernment must be questioned. She used the same method and model for her other books.
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, like this:
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 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 somehow? More crucially, how do we know the messages are from Jesus?
The other part is similar to panentheism — finding Jesus as part of creation. I do not 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.
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 is similar to Eastern meditation concepts, especially the “holy Center” comment. This is not a biblical concept. 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 is a tactic of the New Age and Eastern spiritualities, about which I steadily warn. While it is true we can think evil thoughts and it is true our minds can lead us astray, this statement goes further than anything in Scripture. Our mind and ability to think, unlike animals, is part 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 stunningly leads to the conclusion that God is not omniscient.
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 meanings but no real 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)
The point is to trust, but how is trust (assuming that this is what the “high road” refers to) 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. This ambiguous term and rather confusing statement is not an idea found in scripture.
There is an excessive focus on silence and stillness found in so many readings that it would be impossible to list them all, implying that these are superior spiritual practices. As in numerous other texts, sermons, and online websites, Psalm 46:10 is misused. 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.
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 sappy language. For instance, “Let the dew of My Presence refresh your mind and heart” (Sept. 3; this one also misuses the “Be still” words); “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?
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,
“I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions — a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me.”
These statements do not reflect the character of Christ; Christ does not seek our sympathy or thanks via self-pitying remarks.
Those who promote this book will say that Young is not maintaining 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.
My answer to the question: No, I do not think that this is Jesus who is “calling.”
[NOTE: Please be aware that one year after this article was written, a 10th anniversary edition of Jesus Calling was released by publisher Thomas Nelson. Portions of the book’s original Introduction, referred to in this article, were removed or changed. This includes the removal of Young’s statement that the book God Calling was the major inspiration for her for writing this book, and changing words that previously indicated she was hearing directly from Jesus.
Previous statements that she was receiving “messages” from Jesus were changed to “writings” that she “gleaned” in quiet moments and to “devotions.” Other portions in the original edition, such as Young stating that she was yearning for more than the Bible, have also been removed.
Additionally, some of Jesus’ alleged words in the original editions were altered. Consequently, this article refers to and quotes statements that are not in later editions. These changes indicate the publisher’s recognition of these problems but instead of a retraction or explanation, there is only a silent cover-up.]