Michael Horton has a very perceptive review of Sarah Young’s bestseller, Jesus Calling. Here are the closing paragraphs:

Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. I do not say that with a snarky tone, but with all seriousness. The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful.

Consequently, trust becomes a work. Nothing depends on us, but everything depends on us. Strive to stop striving. Then, “Save your best striving for seeking my face” (71). “Thankfulness opens the door to My Presence . . . I have empowered you to open or close that door” (215). You can achieve the victorious life through living in deep dependence on Me” (6). “Every time you affirm your trust in me, you put a coin into my treasury. Thus you build up equity in preparation for days of trouble. I keep safely in My heart all trust invested in Me, with interest compounded continuously. The more you trust Me, the more I empower you to do so . . . Store up for yourself treasure in heaven, through placing your trust in Me. This practice will keep you in My Peace.”

The first mention of Christ even dying for our sins appears on February 28 (page 61). The next reference (to wearing Christ’s robe) is August 9 (p. 232). Even the December readings focus on a general presence of Jesus in our hearts and daily lives, without anchoring it in Jesus’s person and work in history.

As in Keswick spirituality more generally, trust becomes an inner virtue that grows by its exercise. “The more you choose to trust Me, the easier it becomes,” Jesus allegedly says. “Thought patterns of trust become etched into your brain.” This has more in common with Aristotle than with the Apostles. The latter taught that faith comes—and is strengthened—by hearing God’s Word proclaimed.

Reading Jesus Calling, I was reminded of the confusing message of my Christian youth. Longing for “something more,” I pored over my mother’s bookshelf: Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, D. L. Moody, Bill Bright, and Andrew Murray. Only with the discovery of the Reformers and various Puritan writers was I offered a liberating alternative that drew me out of myself to cling to Christ. While looking to this Reformation stream for a cluster of doctrines, many in the history of pietism have looked for “something more” elsewhere. Luther and Calvin may be great guides on understanding salvation, but we find our spirituality in medieval and modern alternatives. Yet Reformation piety directs us to the Word, always to the Word, where Christ speaks to us every time it is preached and his sacraments are administered in his name. When we come to this Word, in public and in private, we never need something more.

You can read the whole thing here.

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22 thoughts on “Jesus Calling and the Quest for Something More”

  1. Rachael Starke says:

    Wow. He nailed it. It breaks my heart to see this book absolutely everywhere, but I hadn’t been able to come up with an argument against it that was more coherent than “HERESY!” Horton gets specific about what kind of heresy it is. So helpful.

    1. Brad says:

      I didn’t think Dr. Horton was calling it heresy. I though he was just saying it is not reformed…it is not found in a certain tradition of Christianity – the reformed tradition.

  2. Steve says:

    Joel Osteen in a skirt.

  3. Richard says:

    Thanks God for Mike Horton, who is willing to do the hard work of reading this and the unpopular work of critiquing what no doubt is a CBD bestseller.

  4. SD says:

    This makes me think of the words of Gamaliel in the book of Acts, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39). I have seen many individuals, myself included, stretched and drawn closer to Jesus through this devotional book. Your points are well-taken, but we must be careful to not put God in a box. He reaches to people at their thirsty wells. Like Jesus said, a tree will be known by its fruit. I will rejoice in the fruit of this book because, whether or not it lays out a clear Biblical theology, it has drawn people closer to Jesus and into His Word. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

    1. Michael says:

      God puts himself in a box (cf. the incarnation)!

      Also see #checkyourjesus on Twitter.

    2. Phil says:

      SD: Regarding the oft-cited “God in a box” accusation, it’s interesting how the goal those that throw around this accusation seems to be to unbox God from His Word and instead create a malleable God that an be shaped into whatever doctrine, practice, or fad that someone wants to hold onto. God is reveal in His Word, “unboxing” Him from revelation is simply to invite make-believe theology at best and heresy at worse. This, SD, is a tragically low view of Scripture and thus the Author of Scripture; treating the Holy Word as a dispensable starting point to some other understanding. You may believe in the “inspiration” of the Word, but do you believe in the sufficiency of the Word?

  5. James Pruch says:

    SD,

    While I do not speak for Dr. Horton, I think his review prompts the vital question: which Jesus is this book pointing people to? If it is not the Jesus of the cross and empty tomb–the “it is finished” Jesus–it is not the biblical Jesus. In that case, the book is actually not drawing people closer to God. Quite the contrary.

  6. DK says:

    SD, Really, really appreciate and loved your comments. I know many Reformed believers who have been deeply blessed by this book and drawn closer to the Lord.

    1. Michael says:

      Oh some Reformed people like? Well that settles it, the book must be solid!

      1. David says:

        Agreed. God’s character does not rise or fall on the affirmation of Reformed believers.

        Let’s just agree that if more grace is available through the Words of God than through the words of men, that the logical response is to desire the Words of God.

        If we’re all about increasing our joy in the presence of God, this is simple.

        Read the Bible and pray that your heart is more inclined to loving it and meditating on it than it currently is. There’s nothing wrong with the Scriptures, only with our heart’s relationship with them.

    2. Richard says:

      I really fear for “Reformed believers” if they are taken in by this higher life (sans Bible) teaching which is so contrary to Biblical and Reformed doctrine. Calvin’s observation that the heart of fallen man is a maker of idols keeps on getting verified.

  7. I’ve not read the book, so I cannot comment on it in particular. But it seems to me that Horton’s comments could be stellar or completely off-base depending on the underpinning assumptions.

    The insight that real rest comes by looking at Christ rather than at our own need for rest is great if Horton is simply saying that inward reflection by itself leads nowhere. Without a hero there is no hope, no matter how badly we recognize our need for hope. However, this insight can quickly become a denial for the need for self-knowledge, and that is an incredibly dangerous place to be. Amen and amen to the fact that we should be reflecting on the Word, but understanding the Word without understanding your own heart in detail is like understanding the theory of archery without ever wielding a bow.

    This is a common problem among evangelicals in my experience, and I am as guilty as the next party. It is so easy to focus on doctrine without ever taking it to heart, and shallow spiritual disciplines contribute to this. This is where I have appreciated the renewed emphasis on Incarnational and Contemplative traditions in Protestantism. Medieval theology is bogus, but combined with Reformation theology ancient practices are often much better than our barebones disciplines for reflecting on the intersection of theology and daily life. I hope that Horton can preach the need for the Word without denying the possibility that people can seek spiritual growth through a variety of means, but I’m wary to cry “amen” because so often our defence of good doctrine often masks a deeper agenda to defend our narrow practices as well.

  8. Brad says:

    To my thinking, this debate revolves around one questions: Does Scripture indicate that God speaks to us only through the Bible?

    Although, I am not a biblical scholar I think the Bible says that God speaks in many ways and through many means – through creation, through the Holy Spirit, through other believers, through His Son, through visions, through tongues, through miracles etc.

    I don’t think I will ever read any of Sarah Young’s books, but I also don’t think I can go as far as Dr. Horton goes in limiting God’s speaking/revelation.

  9. Chris says:

    If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

    1. Phil says:

      When you don’t have anything substantive to contribute, post a snarky quip.

      1. Chris says:

        Indeed! You surely pegged me. Well done! Is it hard being right all of the time? :)

  10. Colleen says:

    As someone I respect wisely connected, Sarah Young’s advice for more messages from God in this book is no different then Joseph Smith’s were in creating Mormonism. What is scary to me as well, is that she has this book for kids and teens – now there’s a couple more reviews that need to be done and would be great to read.

  11. Michael H. says:

    “I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful.”
    That sounds very, very familiar. I don’t know whether it is a fair appraisal of the book in question (I haven’t read it), but this critique resonates with me because personally I have grown weary of the kind of piety he seems to be describing, one in which the overwhelming emphasis is on our aspiration and not on the Christ we aspire to love. While I am an Arminian myself, I nonetheless find this type of critique of popular evangelical piety from the Reformed camp to be generally helpful. One doesn’t have to be a Calvinist to learn something from the Calvinists.

  12. Joe says:

    Young’s book is not my type of thing. It also seems far more to appeal to females. That said, I think Horton goes overboard here. I can think of a lot less worthy people to emulate than Andrew Murray, for crying out loud. I think a caution versus such a long-winded critique is in order.

  13. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

    That is true spirituality in a nutshell, even Jesus’ teachings. By getting still you realize that God isn’t in your head, your thoughts and emotions.

    http://www.spiritofthescripture.com/id1211-jesus-simple-parable-on-raising-awareness.html

    It seems that people are getting too wrapped up in their own thoughts and emotions (ego) to recognize that this book isn’t heresy.

  14. Allie says:

    I’m going to write HOLY SPIRIT CALLING, please buy it.

    Research the Two Listeners who authored, God Calling which was Sarah Young’s influence to write Jesus Calling. When you get to the end of the trail then see if you will say, “Horton is limiting God Speaking.”
    Ms. Young may be sincere, but she is sincerely wrong in imitating the practices of the Two Listeners who were a part of the Oxford Group who heard from someone or some thing – it was not God.
    “it drew me closer to God” what does that mean?
    False. Stuff.
    Do the research.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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