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Why did Sarah Young in 'Jesus Calling' put words in Jesus' mouth?


The Christian Post reported last week that "the Presbyterian Church in America has approved a resolution to investigate the influence of Sarah Young's book Jesus Calling on the denomination and might decide to ban it." This hugely popular devotional book was first published in 2004 and has sold over 40 million copies. 

When Sarah Young passed away last year at the age of 77, The New York Times reported that her devotional book was "written in the voice of Jesus Christ." But how can you speak in the voice of Jesus Christ unless He is giving you the exact words to say? And would the Lord really add another book today to the divinely inspired words that make up the 27 books of the New Testament?

Sarah Young acknowledged in the introduction to her book that she "knew that these writings were not inspired as Scripture is" and that "the Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God." Why then would she claim to be delivering Jesus' precise words in the first person? What motivated Sarah Young to put words in Jesus' mouth? 

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In the introduction she writes, "I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day." This curious yearning for more than Scripture is what ultimately led Sarah Young to make the misguided decision to put words in Jesus' mouth. 

Pastor Tim Keller's wife, Kathy, wrote a review for Jesus Calling back in 2012, in which she stated, "I am guessing that many of the people who love Jesus Calling have found that just reading the Bible was insufficient for their spiritual needs. But if it takes hard work to get the sweetness out of the book God provided, then so be it. The only place you can be SURE you are hearing God's words is in God's Word."

Pastor Tim Challies penned, "10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling." He wrote, "Jesus Calling makes the boldest, gutsiest, and, to my mind, most arrogant claim of any book ever to be considered Christian ... Jesus Calling only exists because Sarah Young had a deep desire to hear from God outside of the Bible." "Young's emphasis in Jesus Calling is markedly different from the emphases of the Bible. For example, she speaks seldom of sin and repentance and even less of Christ's work on the cross."

Challies added, "The Jesus of Sarah Young sounds suspiciously like a 21st century, Western, middle-aged woman. If this is, indeed, Jesus speaking, we need to explain why he sounds so markedly different from the Jesus of the Gospels or the Jesus of the Book of Revelation. Nowhere in Scripture do we find Jesus (or His Father) speaking like this: 'When your Joy in Me meets My Joy in you, there are fireworks of heavenly ecstasy.' Or again, 'Wear my Love like a cloak of Light, covering you from head to toe'... Why does Jesus suddenly speak in such a different language?"

The feel good emphasis in Jesus Calling lacks the kind of corrective instructions Jesus spoke to seven churches in the book of Revelation after His resurrection from the dead. I explored the seven letters to seven churches in my 2014 CP op-ed, "What Would Jesus Say to Churches Today?" For example, Jesus told the church in Laodicea, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent" (Revelation 3:19). You see, the real Jesus shares more than just comforting affirmations when addressing His followers.

Many of the positive declarations Sarah Young attributes to Jesus appear rather innocuous. But what makes her book so problematic is that she essentially claims to be channeling Jesus, who supposedly gave her specific words to write down which were then sold to 40 million people. When Young presented these words in the first person as coming directly from Jesus, she inadvertently placed her book on par with Scripture.  

By the way, if the number of copies sold or distributed determined the spiritual success of a book, the Book of Mormon would be considered one of the most successful books of all time with 200 million printed copies. That is, if sales or numbers were more important than whether or not a book's message is of divine origin.

It is highly troubling that "in early versions of Jesus Calling, Young tells of her discovery of the book God Calling and the way she modeled her practice of listening on it. She describes it as a devotional book written by two anonymous 'listeners.' These women practiced waiting quietly in God's Presence, pencils and paper in hand, recording the messages they received from Him." Sarah Young said, "This little paperback became a treasure to me." 

In The Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, "John Weldon and John Ankerberg provide ample evidence as to why God Calling is a channeled New Age book." Here are a couple statements supposedly made by Jesus in God Calling: "I need you more than you need me" (p. 60). "I await the commands of my children" (p. 63). Now does that sound like the real Jesus to you? 

The direct words from Jesus that the Father wanted us to have were given by the Holy Spirit to the authors of the New Testament. "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). The human invention of Jesus Calling, on the other hand, does not contain direct messages from Jesus, in spite of the divine affirmations it purports to present. The Lord did not suddenly decide 20 years ago to add Jesus Calling to the canon of Scripture.

Whenever we prayerfully read and study the Bible, we are trusting God to speak to us through His inspired and inerrant Word. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). So, how often do you study and meditate upon Scripture as you seek to hear, understand and apply the spiritual insights God wants to communicate to you?

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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