Is It Really Jesus Calling?

Disclaimer: This is NOT a rant! This is what happens after I have ranted to my husband, and sister, and random other people. This is me attempting to write a logically thought-out response toward something I feel passionate about. 🙂 

“What do you thinking about the book, ‘Jesus Calling’?” This post started with an innocent question from a friend. What did I think? I didn’t know…

what do i think

I’ve never been a fan. In the twelve years since it was first published, I’ve never owned a copy. The few times I picked it up at a friend’s house, I thought it was a little sketchy and kind of weird; but, I’ve never thought I needed to vocally condemn it either. I basically dealt with my iffy feelings about “Jesus Calling” by ignoring it. However, after looking into the book, the author, other people’s opinions, and deciding what I personally think, I can’t ignore it any longer. (Especially since “Jesus Calling” has been a top seller for the past decade.)

I started by looking into people’s criticisms online. There are some pretty negative reviews, including accusations of New Age and occult influence. Some of the reviewers were crazy, fundamentalists yelling about demons and women preachers. I crossed them off the list. A few complained about Sarah Young’s mystic version of God. I could kind of see their point. I found one critique that seemed intelligent and balanced, although I still didn’t agree with everything he said. That author was concerned about how similar Young’s teachings were to a popular New Age book he recently read. It made me curious.

I borrowed a copy of “Jesus Calling” to look at for myself. I read the entire Foreword where Sarah Young gives her testimony of finding salvation, her experiences in Jesus’ Presence, and how she came to write the book. Even though she writes as though her words are coming from Jesus Himself, she makes sure to tell her readers that they are not Scripture. I also paged through the book, reading sections here and there and looking up the Bible verses she used to support her thoughts.

So, what do I think?

I don’t think that “Jesus Calling” is an evil book from the devil, and I do believe that the author, Sarah Young, has a good heart and purpose behind her writings. That said, I also have some serious problems with the book and cautions for those who love it.

altar-window-1059741_1920My biggest problem is that Sarah Young created this “pretend Jesus” who does all the talking. Maybe this would be fine if the real Jesus was just a good teacher, or if she was paraphrasing his actual quotes. But, she isn’t paraphrasing Jesus, she is coming up with words and phrases and ideas that never came from Him. Some of these are Biblical concepts, and others are not. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy who said nice things; He is the very Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign God, the Beginning and the End! Imagining things and pretending Jesus said them seems…presumptuous. Okay, honestly it terrifies me!! God is WAY too big for me to be putting words in His mouth. I struggle to even read some of the sections because I can’t deal with the fact that “Jesus” is supposed to be talking to me… I just keep wondering what the Real Jesus thinks.

I worry about new or immature Christians who don’t have a good background in the Bible. Will they get confused and think these are truly the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do they have discernment to see that some of the things she says are not in fact truth (even though they sound wonderful)?

Are people actually looking up the verses at the bottom of each page? I know that’s how the author wants the book to be read, but is it happening? Are they reading the context surrounding those verses to see what they really mean? Are they actually getting into the Word of God or are they only reading the words of “fake Jesus”? This is especially concerning to me after coming out of a cult where every lie was backed up by a Bible verse reference. (But when you read the verse in context, it didn’t make any sense.)

Maybe growing up in and then leaving a cult has given me a highly sensitive B.S. meter, or perhaps God has given me the gift of discernment. All I know is that “Jesus Calling” is setting off warning signals in my brain. Reading the Foreword, where Sarah Young talks about how she came to write the book, is where it started getting sketchy for me.

bench-1289528_1920“I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind…My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought God gave us the Bible to communicate with us!

Sarah Young doesn’t claim that her writings are inspired (which is good), but I still feel like she is setting aside the living Word of God to pursue “subjective experiences”. In my own life this is usually when things start getting weird. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks, and I have felt often Him speak to me personally, but it’s not normally when I’m seeking it, and it’s usually through the Bible itself.

“In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and peace.” This quote explains why Young chose to wrote this devotional. I appreciate her heart. I agree with her conclusion. But, I worry that her fake Jesus has distracted people from the real One.

Jesus says He is with us always (Matthew 28:20); if we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (Romans 8:9-11). We don’t have to seek after a Presence or an experience, rather we need to become more aware of the God who is always with us. Where do we learn more about Him, who He is and what He sounds like? The Bible.

My challenge for you:

If you want to know what the real Jesus sounds like, then I challenge you to do this. Put away your “Jesus Calling” for a while and S.O.A.K. your way through the gospel of John (the gospel with more of Jesus recorded words than any other). Read a little section or a couple of verses at a time. This is not a race or a competition, this is a slow soak. You will need a notebook.

S – Scripture, take a minute or two and write out your verses for the day. This slows you down and makes you actually think about the words.

O – Observe. What’s going on in the passage? What just happened? What comes next? Who is He talking to? What is the context? Etc.

A – Apply. How do these verses apply to your life right now?

K – Kneel in Prayer. Obviously you don’t have to actually kneel, but take some time to talk with Jesus about what you just read and observed and want to apply to your life. I like to write out my prayer because it make me think and it gives me something to look back on.

Jesus Calling

What am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell. I have problems with “Jesus Calling” because of the fake Jesus who does all the talking. Not everything Sarah Young writes is Biblical and I think God is WAY too big for us to presumptuously put words in His mouth. I agree that we are looking for a deeper experience with Jesus, but I believe that we will find Him in the pages of the actual Word of God and not in the imaginations of a human author.

I realize that this blog post holds potential for controversy, but I’m still curious to know your thoughts!


An interesting article for futher reading:

4 thoughts on “Is It Really Jesus Calling?

  1. I actually journal in the listening way Sarah described, but I support what you say about going to the Bible. Everything must be in agreement with what He’s already said. I have only seen a few “Jesus Calling” posts so can’t fairly comment, but if you care to see my own posts, you may find them here:
    Here is the guy teaching about this that inspired me (whether Sarah Young ever heard of him I have no idea) to write out questions and listen to God, though I was already hearing from the Lord in a less predictable/organized manner. I truly believe the Holy Spirit speaks to both individuals and the Church and the gift of prophecy is still real for today. That said, His words MUST be TRUTH which is Biblical, or as you said, we’ve got a “fake Jesus”. Discernment for BS is a fine way to label it, and may be part of the discerning of spirits gifting spoken of in scripture. 🙂

  2. I have to say up front that I’ve not read the book. I might well do, though….

    Christy, I’ve just recently discovered your blog, via the Patheos article you wrote for May 11th on Unfundamentalist Christians, and I find that though I love some of what you write, I also disagree with some of what you put in it. It was especially disturbing for me when you put things in your blog about ‘no magic formula’ like ‘by His stripes we are healed’, especially when my wife is fighting the fight of faith against a terminal cancer. I’m really not knocking your writing, though; I love reading it because it challenges my positions, which I have a tendency to become deeply entrenched in! So this is healthy. And I need a kick up the butt every so often. I appreciate too that you have come out of a cult; one of my previous churches was fairly close to being one too so I know where you’re coming from.

    Like you, I also find that Jesus does indeed speak to me. But it’s not always through the Bible, not by a long chalk. Yes, I am thoroughly steeped in Scripture, but when you say, “Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought God gave us the Bible to communicate with us!”, yes, He did, but not as the sole means of such communication. When you write, “I believe that we will find Him in the pages of the actual Word of God and not in the imaginations of a human author”, this is true – but remember that primarily Jesus is the One Who is the Word of God; the Word became flesh, not the Word became a Book. But I do still see it as the word of God: inspired yet written down by fallible humans. And since I always have the strong witness of the Spirit as I read it, I am in no doubt of its ‘word’ status! And I also believe that much of what many believers today write are similarly words of God; we cannot simply restrict Him to just what He says in the Bible – although I appreciate you are not actually saying that. Also remember that the Bible was written by various believers just like us in so many ways, especially those in the NT trying to get to grips with the new (and likely very strange!) Grace-filled way of looking at God. So I do not consider it outside the realms of possibility that God speaks to us through books, sermons, songs, blogs, sunsets and what have you. I have written on this subject here in my own blog:

    An experience of Jesus can be found in the Bible, of course, but surely the primary function of Scripture is to lead us to Him? And then the really deeper experience comes from actually walking with Him. And I appreciate that you have a close walk with Him already, having read your testimony in your excellent Patheos contribution. I found that I discovered this really deep relationship with Jesus once I had broken free from my legalistic background, and I am now very careful not to fall into the trap of making Grace the new legalism! More on this here:

    Anyway, I hope this opinion is taken in the contributive spirit in which it is offered. And you did ask for our opinions! I like your blog and I find it challenges me, which is a good thing! And I would also like to reblog some of your stuff too, if that’s ok with you.

    Keep up the good work!


    • Hello Tony!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. As I’m sure you know from reading my writing, I do very much believe in an actual relationship with Jesus/the Spirit. I also believe that He speaks to us through a variety of ways not limited to the Bible alone. However, in my past experience where people used the Bible to lie to us by taking it out of context, and where our cult leader got “rhemas” from God (that were more lies), I believe that we need to match all extra “God speakings” to the truth found in the Bible. (And I think we agree on this point.) My biggest concern about “Jesus Calling” is it being used by immature Christians who aren’t looking up the listed Bible verses and don’t understand that what they are reading is someone’s thoughts about what Jesus might say rather than what He actually said. 🙂

      I am sorry to hear about your wife. Know that I am praying for you both!! This broken world can be so hard…

      You are welcome to reblog anything you want to. 🙂 In your comment you actually hit on the point of this blog and my eventual book….to make us question and think and evaluate and find a God who is bigger than anything we could ever imagine! Thanks again, Tony!


      • Hey Christy, thank you for your prayers, that’s much appreciated! I fully agree that leaders can – and do – misuse ‘rhema’ words; I would indeed go so far as to say that just because Jesus has said something to one believer, it does not necesarily mean that it needs to be shared with everyone, and certainly not made into doctrine. Jesus’s words to individual believers are just that – individual – and often they are only for your ears and not for wider dissemination. A mark of Grace-filled maturity is knowing when to keep these things to yourself! And as long as what you believe from the Bible affects only you, internally and spiritually, that’s fine. When it impacts on others, though – the minute your Scripture reading affects the way you relate to others, the way you treat others – that’s when you need to be absolutely sure that you know what that Scripture means, hence the need for correct exegesis, as you almost touched on in your reply. Bless you 🙂

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