Problems with “Jesus Calling”

I am going to be frank – and this will be no surprise to those who have heard me preach – I am not a fan of most Christian “best seller” books. While there are, of course, exceptions it seems far more often that such books compromise on some area of theology to obtain their best seller status and to be palatable to the masses. We saw this with the plethora of “heaven tourism” books (see my review of Heaven is for Real here), we’ve seen it with various televangelists promoting a health and wealth Gospel that is anything but Biblical, and we see it regularly with books like Jesus Calling which contain just enough truth to confuse and cover over the deceit that they bring into the hearts of God’s people.

Those are harsh words, I realize. And what I am going to say next will probably turn most folks off from reading the rest of this blog post, but I ask, stay with me and I will explain. I need to lay all of my cards on the table and state that I have not read, nor am I planning to read, Jesus Calling. “But pastor, then who are you to critique it?” Great question, to which I will give two responses:

1) The first is that you don’t have to personally experience something to be able to critique it. Don’t misunderstand, there are some things that demand a close and careful rebuttal. Being familiar with the arguments is crucial to being able to refute them. But, as it has been often said before. “there is nothing new under the sun.” The problems with Jesus Calling are not new or unique, they are problems that the Christian church has already dealt with before, and so the solutions are the same. I don’t need to read each and every book spouting the same unBiblical practices to know how to respond to them.

To take another example, do you need to try cocaine to know it’s bad? I would answer no; I can look at the scientific and medical studies, I can look at the people I know who have tried it, and I can easily form my own conclusion that “yep, this is terrible stuff that does nothing good.” Similarly, I don’t need to jump off a cliff to prove that gravity exists – I can figure that out in other less painful ways, thank you.

So, my first point is that, especially when it comes to ideas that are not new or novel, such as those exhibited in Jesus Calling, we can refute them without wasting the time or money to carefully detail every problem with the book. I can say this because…

2) …other faithful Christians have done the work for us. There are those who, due to their local context or perhaps they have somebody they are mentoring who has been influenced by the book, feel the need to read Jesus Calling and write comprehensive reviews of it. Simply reading those reviews reinforces and upholds my point that this is not a book to spend your time or money on – this is a book that you should stay away from.

First, Tim Challies’ has done an admirable job of carefully quoting from and then analyzing some of the main issues with Jesus Calling. See his full post here, but let me point out one of the main issues:

Jesus Calling has been revised, including parts that Jesus Himself supposedly spoke to the author. That is problematic on any level: if those truly were Jesus’ words, then revising them cannot be acceptable on any level. Now, of course, the author says that these words are not inerrant, but how then does that work? Jesus speaks but He sometimes gets it wrong? That creates numerous heretical problems. Or perhaps Young hears Jesus but doesn’t always record it correctly? What’s the point of that then? Why not just go to the source – to the Scriptures – and be assured of having the real thing? No matter how you answer the quandary, the book is troublesome.

Kathy Keller (wife of pastor Tim Keller) has written a succinct review that is to the point – and worded far better than anything I would write. I encourage you to read it here.

If you’d like a more in depth review of some of the Biblical issues and problems with Jesus Calling, I’d encourage you to look at Michael Horton’s review here.

Challies’ original review of the book is located here.

In short, little that fills our bookshelves these days is actually new. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – we need to be reminded of grace and Gospel and resurrection time and time again, in each generation. But rather than jumping on the latest bestseller, which is so often theologically questionable these days, I would point you to the books which have stood the test of time and which have been recognized as being faithful and true. Don’t just look at the endorsements on the back, but look at who the author actually is – are they somebody that you can trust? Do you know what they believe? Do you know what they teach? And more importantly, do they point you to the Bible again and again? Or do they point you to themselves and their own insights? The first is faithful and good, the second is something that we should run from, far and fast.

II Samuel 17:1-29 His Kingdom Is Forever

His Kingdom is Forever – 2 Samuel 17:1-29

(17:1-4) Ahitophel’s plan is to press the advantage: David is on the run so now is the time for Absalom to make a surgical strike against David himself in the hopes that the rest of Israel will recognize Absalom as the new legitimate king.

(17:5-14) But Hushai advises Absalom differently: he believes that David is stronger than Ahitophel thinks. Therefore, the better course of action would be to bring swift and brutal force against David and his men. Hushai’s idea is to get Absalom out on the battlefield and vulnerable, where David has the advantage.

(17:15-29) David’s spy network now goes into overdrive: Hushai’s plan is passed on to the priests, who pass it on through several intermediaries. There is a daring chase, but eventually the message is safely received by David. Ahitophel kills himself, knowing that he no longer has any influence. Meanwhile, David prepares for war in the wilderness.

Conclusion: God always keeps His promises. Does He fight for you? Or is He against you?

II Samuel 14:1-33 Inaction

Inaction à 2 Samuel 14:1-33

(14:1-11) Joab, along with the “wise” woman from Tekoa, schemes to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. This is done through a parable – much like a manipulative version of Nathan’s parable – which causes David to issue orders siding with this woman’s son.

(14:12-24) Having received the answer she wanted, the woman of Tekoa then confronts David about his treatment of Absalom. David, rather than being upset about the deceit, sends word for Absalom to return home. The only concession to justice is that David does not visit Absalom.

(14:25-33) Absalom is noted as being good-looking, much like we’ve seen of Israel’s other kings – and that foreshadows what is really on Absalom’s mind. Our story ends with Absalom finally being summoned before David, and we are left on a cliffhanger until next time.

Conclusion: David’s inaction leads to further strife and wickedness. Do we refuse to act when we need to? What’s more, do we trust that the Lord’s promises will be kept?

“God told me…”

I can remember it well. It was an unexpected phone call late one afternoon while I was in my study…


“Are you the pastor?”

“Yes…how can I help you?”

“God told me to tell you this…”

What followed was nothing short of being completely unBiblical. God certainly had not told this random anonymous caller to tell me such unfaithful things.

But wait a second…perhaps I’m being intolerant? Perhaps I am ignorant and should listen when somebody prefaces their words with “God told me…”? This certainly isn’t a situation that is unique to me as a pastor – I have many friends who have been confronted by others using the “God gave me a message for you…” preface. What is my response to such things?

As with all questions, we must first go to the Scriptures. In Jeremiah 23, we find in the context that there have been a number of false prophets who have arisen and claimed to have a word from God. They were the ancient equivalent to the “God told me” and they thought that if they would use that code phrase, everyone would listen to them. What a surprise then when the God of Heaven shows up with His own response!

 “Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:30-32)

What a shock that must have been! I realize that this is the Old Testament and I realize that none of us are Jeremiah, nor are we ancient Israel. At the same time, I cannot help but think that what we see here is simply true of God’s character in every age: He is not pleased with those who claim to speak on His behalf without His own authorization.

Look at how the passage continues:

“When these people, or a prophet or a priest, ask you, ‘What is the message from the Lord?’ say to them, ‘What message? I will forsake you, declares the Lord.’ If a prophet or a priest or anyone else claims, ‘This is a message from the Lord,’ I will punish them and their household. This is what each of you keeps saying to your friends and other Israelites: ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But you must not mention ‘a message from the Lord’ again, because each one’s word becomes their own message. So you distort the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God. (Jeremiah 23:33-36)

Now, obviously, this is has a context which applies to Jeremiah and the people of Israel. I get that. I agree. But what I want to zero in on is that very last sentence: when we claim to have a word from the Lord for somebody else, we “distort the words of the living God…” There’s no other way to say it. And let me apply this right here and now: dear friends, do not ever twist the words of Scripture. Do not go beyond them. Do not take the path of the serpent by trying to make them mean something other than they do. I realize that there are many who do this selfishly and with sinful desires and I realize that there are also many who genuinely think they are being helpful. To both I say “return to the Word of God. Look there for what He has said. Don’t look for extra-Biblical words from the Lord.”

“But Kevin, don’t you believe in prophecy?” Of course I do – the prophecy that God Himself has given to us in His Word. I see nowhere in the Scriptures where God is giving new revelation to His people in this present era.

Now, I should point out that there is an exception to this. If what you mean by a “word from the Lord” is pointing directly to Scripture and applying it to your life or somebody else’s, then go for it. In that case, you could genuinely say “Hey, I have a word from God for you: ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ That’s what Jesus calls us to – obeying His teachings. So I’ll be praying for you as you follow after Christ.” That’s just fine, that’s a word from the Lord. Why? What is the difference? Simply this: those words are a direct quote and application from the Scriptures (John 8:31-32). They apply to all believers, everywhere. And that’s far different from saying that you have some word, outside of Scripture, that is new and fresh and given just to you by the Lord. Of course, in that case, let’s give credit where credit is due: be up front and say to the person that these words are from the Scriptures. Let God’s authority – not yours – be what matters most.

To further illustrate this, let me give you the example of John Piper, who tells us that he directly heard the voice of God – make sure you read the entire article to get the point.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not look beyond what God has already told us for revelation or some sort of special/secret knowledge or insight. Instead, let us trust fully that God has revealed everything necessary for our faithfulness (“our” not just being plural here, but specific, individual; each of your faithfulness) in His Word. Let’s study it, and so please the Lord who has saved us as we faithfully obey and apply His Words to our lives.