This past Sunday I used Sarah Young’s book, “Jesus Calling” as an example of how we can easily slip into being dissatisfied with God’s word. Here’s how I wrote it in my preaching notes:
“What would you say, for example, if one day I told you that I had two gals you’d never met stashed in an office upstairs “listening” to God? And whatever they come up with, after listening to God, is where I get my sermon points.
Maybe I’ve misjudged you, but I would hope that if I told you that’s where I got my sermon points from, you’d fire me (and then let the two girls out for some counseling). I think to most people it would make sense to question the good sense of the preacher and his faithfulness to God’s word if this is how he “brought God’s word” to his congregation.
And yet, this is the exact premise behind a book written in 2012*, by a man claiming to receive message from God by these very means: two “listeners” who have the inside track to what God is saying today. Incidentally, in her first editions, Sarah Young admits that this book is what largely shapes and influences her own book, Jesus Calling. This admission, by the way, has been curiously edited out of current editions.
Both of these books are written with the guiding premise that God has not provided what you need in his word.
But Peter says, explicitly, we have the “prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19). Paul says the Scripture is God-breathed so that you may be fully equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we waste time chasing daily mountain top experiences you will be overlooking the daily and healthful nourishment that Jesus has left you in his word. And, like the daily discipline of eating a meal, you may not have ecstatic experiences each time, but you will be healthier for it.”
Judging by the conversations I had about the sermon afterward (very courteous and pleasant ones, of course) I realized that I had unwittingly thrown some shade on a bit of a local darling.
So, in the interest of clarity, I thought I’d better provide some more background.
Here’s the quote from Sarah young I had in mind while preaching. This is from her introduction:
“I began to wonder if I … could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.”
I would just ask careful Christians to read statements like this next to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and ask whether or not they come from the same Spirit.
“16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, aAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I’d also like us to imagine how foolish we would feel on the Last Day if we tried looking Jesus in the face and told him that we would have walked closer to him if he had left us more than his word.
Now, let me “walk this dog” a little further. Young does admit that her book is not the bible. Quote: “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.”
But here’s the problem if we walk this puppy to the end of the block: if what she writes are actually Jesus’ actual words (excessive use of “actually” actually intended) then how is “Jesus Calling” not the 67th book of the Bible? If she is writing Jesus’ words for us, how is it not the Bible? How is she not functionally claiming to be adding to the Bible? It’s a question she does not address.
One last concern:
Quote: “I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.”
So, this is how she wrote the book and came to hear what Jesus was saying. The problem is that this practice is more like eastern meditation than biblical meditation. In eastern meditation one empties the mind and believes whatever comes into that empty space. Which is kinda dangerous since demons are always looking for somewhere to put their feet up. Biblical meditation is quite different. In biblical meditation we fill our minds with what God has definitely said and we dwell on that (Psalm 1:2).
To give Sarah Young the benefit of the doubt I’d say she’s probably a sincere, lovely lady who just wants to connect with God and bless people. I’m not calling her motives or sincerity into question. What I’m pointing out is that God’s word is sufficient to make us complete Christians and Young’s book bucks against this teaching. Even if we granted that every word of Jesus Calling was biblically accurate, the premise is that the Bible is not sufficient. And this is how damaging teaching always starts. It seems innocuous and helpful enough, like a ship being a mere degree off course. The problem is that after a long enough journey you are on the wrong side of the ocean. If Young does not reject the premise of her book she will one day find herself on the wrong side of the ocean and maybe even in the wrong one.
*The one fault I do need to acknowledge is that the original book, God Calling, was not written in 2012. It was written in the 1930s. I saw a 2012 edition and wrongly assumed this was the original publication date.