“2017 DEVOTIONALS ARE HERE,” the bold black letters on my local Adventist Book Center sign proclaims. It’s almost Christmas, and small books make great stocking-stuffers. So I stop in for a few minutes . . .
Of all the devotionals in the store, most prominent is the book Jesus Calling by reclusive non-SDA author Sarah Young (three shelves full). With a comforting subtitle, "Enjoying Peace in His Presence", Jesus Calling is attractively displayed with over a dozen different cover designs appealing to all -- hard cover, soft leather, spiral bound, a rainbow of gender-specific colors, and some even designed especially for children–-more than all other devotionals by SDA and non-SDA authors combined.
But there is something you should know about the author, Sarah Young, and her writings:
Before writing Jesus Calling some twelve years ago, Young claimed to have experienced the presence of God in a setting of exquisite beauty in a fairyland-like environment during a study retreat in a French alpine village. Alone during a moonlit walk through the snow, Young stated, "Suddenly I felt as if a warm mist enveloped me. I became aware of a lovely Presence, and my involuntary response was, ‘Sweet Jesus.’"
Pondering this new mystical experience and later several similar ones, Young then began what she described as a “new spiritual quest,” which included intensive study of the book, God Calling, a New Age devotional book (over ten million sold), written in the early 1930’s and compiled by A. J. Russell.
In God Calling, two anonymous British women, identifying themselves only as “two listeners,” claimed to have received messages given to them by “the living Christ Himself.” The daily ritual practiced by the “two listeners” was sitting quietly, pencil and paper in hand, waiting for “messages,” and then carefully recording them.
Having diligently studied their book and practices, Young became intrigued by the “messages” from God Calling, proclaiming the book as “a treasure.” Continuing her quest, Young wondered if she, like the “two listeners,” could also receive messages from God. All of this personal history is revealed in the original introduction of her book, Jesus Calling:
“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 decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed God was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. . . . My journaling had changed from monologue to dialogue. Soon messages began to flow more freely. . . . This new way of communicating with God became the highpoint of my day.” Jesus Calling, page 12, Intro. Pub. 2004.
The key Bible text claimed by Young through her “spiritual quest” was Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” However, she carefully selected her own alternative words for the text. God’s instruction, “Be still,” was changed to, “Relax,” “Let go,” and “Cease striving.” She described the experience as:
“…an enticing invitation from God to lay down our cares and seek His Presence. . . This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline.” Jesus Calling, p. 13, Intro.
The author’s monologues (journaling), which evolved into dialogues with “God”, were then transcribed into the first person singular (I, Me, Mine) from “Jesus’” point of view. This format causes Young’s readers to perceive each word she writes as being spoken directly by “Jesus” to each reader. Although she liberally includes Scriptural quotations, Young admits to “paraphrasing” many texts.
Her readers are encouraged to do as she has done through the following steps:
- sit with pen and paper in hand,
- read the messages “slowly and in a quiet place,”
- wait for the literal “presence of Jesus,”
- wait to receive personal messages from “Him.”
Even though Young claims a total acceptance of the Bible, she readily admits she was still not satisfied with just the Scriptures. Her self-described “yearning for more” and her insistence upon daily personal messages from “God,” opened her to the same channeled source as the “two (still anonymous) listeners,” who authored, God Calling.
Young describes her work as “. . . seeking to listen to Jesus throughout the creative process. When I write this way, I am always selective in my listening. If anything is unbiblical, I reject it.”
Is this the way Jesus communicates with His people today? Does the true voice of Jesus need a “Sarah Young” to screen His words? -- to sift out unbiblical messages? Let’s be honest and call it what it is. The usage of channeled writing – a form of mediumship -- is a practice expressly forbidden in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). Young’s theology is New Age theology—carefully draped in fashionable 21st century garb.
Warren B. Smith, a former New Ager and author of five books on spiritual deception, published his sixth book, Another ‘Jesus’ Calling, in 2013. In it, Smith powerfully documents significant concerns about Sarah Young’s book. Here are just three:
- “Jesus Calling seemed to be an obvious attempt by our spiritual Adversary to get an even further foothold inside the Christian church… Is the ‘Jesus’ of Jesus Calling, the biblical Jesus Christ, or is it a false christ deceiving many?
- The unusual use of language by the ‘Jesus’ … seemed to run the gamut from "everyday Joe" language to strange word choices, unwarranted flattery, worldly clichés, repetitive phrases, disparaging comments, and not-so-subtle mockery.
- By the end of the book…its ‘Jesus’ had subtly, and not-so-subtly, introduced occult/New Age channeling, spiritual dictation, creative visualization, meditation, divine alchemy, co-creation with God, and “practicing the presence” like it was everyday Christian fare.”
Historically, as Seventh-day Adventists, we know that in 1844, Jesus Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary to complete the work of our salvation. His work there is all-consuming. Christ’s daily work does not include suddenly exiting the Most Holy Place when someone pleads, “I yearn for more” than the Bible, descending in a “warm mist” or penning personal messages upon demand. Although this statement may offend long-time devotees of Sarah Young, it must be recognized that such “messages” are not from Jesus Christ.
Yet in the twelve years since Jesus Calling was written, it has quickly climbed to #1 among all the top-selling Christian books and reached #3 on Wall Street Journal’s “Best Seller List” for ALL non-fiction books, religious and secular. It is sold in nearly all Christian bookstores. This includes nearly half of all ABC’s across the United States.
Despite their long-term financial success (now over 17 million copies sold), Young and her New York City publishers suddenly decided to make significant omissions and changes to her book. Current editions completely omit the 10-year published history from the Introduction telling how she received her mystical “messages” and of her intimate study and emulation of the book, God Calling, which she once cited as “a treasure.”
Although the basic content of her messages has not changed, the word “messages” is now revised to read as, “writings” or “devotions,” to depict less mystically-inflected words. This action reflects deceptive efforts to move an increasingly controversial best-seller away from its initial new-age origin into line with mainstream evangelical orthodoxy.
Seventh-day Adventists need to be aware that despite Sarah Young’s new-age history and channeled messages, SDA pastors have bought copies of Jesus Calling for church employees for Christmas. Some Bible-workers have given copies to each new convert. Other individuals have bought it “by the case” as part of their own personal community outreach ministry. SDA families have purchased Young’s books for all their relatives, giving what appears to be the perfect gift for daily devotion. Yes, it’s “good business” for the ABC’s, but which “Jesus” is being shared with the world? Does this sound like the true Jesus calling?
Before I left the ABC, I glanced down and noticed the books on the shelf just below the copies of Jesus Calling -- books I had never before seen for sale in an ABC. I found copies of God Calling – the book:
- lauded by The Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs as a channeled New Age book
- “replete with denials of biblical teaching”
- studied, internalized and foundational to Sarah Young’s books
It was sad, to me, to see these two books with their error-filled pages being sold from the book shelves of my own local Adventist Book Center.
If one is searching for truth, how does one select a daily devotional for the New Year? By its attractive design? Its #1 top-selling sales status? A friend’s recommendation? We must verify all we read with the Scriptures. We must be certain the words we take into our minds each day and the words we teach our children are the unchanging Word of God -- words that cannot be edited by mortal man or woman.
"To the law and the testimony, if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20. KJV).
Janet Lundeen Neumann is retired and lives in College Place, Washington near her children and grandchildren.