Christian Journaling or Psychic Channeling?
A Critical Comparison of the Jesus Calling Series with Occult Training Literature
Brenna E. Scott
A few years ago, one of my sisters gave me a copy of Jesus Calling as a birthday present. I had heard of the book and was uneasy that it was written as if Jesus were the author, so after thanking her I set it aside and didn’t pick it up for over a year. During that time, both of my sisters and my mom, who had been my spiritual mentor from childhood, were reading Jesus Calling with enthusiasm. When I hit a rocky spot in my life, Mom began urging me to read it, too, so that I could experience the same wonderful comfort it had offered her. Finally, around Christmastime of that year, I gave in.
From the beginning, I was a bit thrown off by the soothing, often flowery language, because it sounded so different from the Jesus of the Bible. Some of the messages were puzzling as well. The December 22 devotion told me to look for a “star of guidance” in my own life. The Christmas Day entry taught me that Jesus was displeased with the way he had come into the world. He spoke of the “appalling conditions” and the “filthy stable” he had had to endure. When he described his birth as “a dark night for Me,”2 I suddenly felt off balance—wasn’t that a wonderful night in the history of the world? Was I wrong to think of it that way?
Still, I stuck with the book for a while, suppressing my discomfort and taking it as a valid expression of Christianity that was just not to my taste. What else could it be, when such strong Christians I knew were reading it?
After about three weeks, though, something crystalized in my mind: the odd language and unusual ideas that kept popping up were not biblical—they were New Age. But they were so surrounded by Christian jargon and Scripture fragments that they were hardly noticeable. I realized that Jesus Calling was not just an alternative way of looking at the Bible; on some level, it was in conflict with the Bible.
I immediately called my mother to explain my discovery, but she was unfazed. In fact, she was almost amused by my alarm, and very uncharacteristically responded with a cliché: “We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.” That reply shook me, because we are very close and it was unusual for her not to take me seriously or for us not to see eye to eye about spiritual things. She was clearly attached to Sarah Young’s book.
I turned to the Internet for something that could help—surely someone else had recognized that Jesus Calling was off base and written something about it? And indeed they had. I found Warren B. Smith’s “Another Jesus” Calling and ordered it on the spot. When it arrived, I read it quickly and sent it to Mom with a note urging her to read it just as soon as she got it.
As it turned out, Mom didn’t read it the day it arrived but my sister, who was visiting for the weekend, picked it up off the coffee table and read it that night. Couldn’t put it down. For her, it served as a confirmation of a growing uneasiness about Jesus Calling. She had noticed that she was looking forward to reading Young’s book more than the Bible in her daily devotions; now she realized that she should quit it altogether. The next morning over coffee, she summarized the main points of Smith’s book for our mother, who listened in amazement. Mom was powerfully convicted about Jesus Calling, repented, and completely gave it up.
I was greatly relieved that both of them had responded so quickly and positively and hoped my other sister would, too. But she had no interest in reading Warren Smith’s book and remained devoted to Jesus Calling. So I thought, “If she won’t listen to him, maybe she will listen to me.” I decided to read the rest of Jesus Calling and see if I could find things on my own that specifically contradicted the Bible. What could she say to that?
Oddly, though, when searching through individual devotions, I couldn’t put my finger on anything terribly wrong beyond what Smith had already found. Some of the ideas were a bit unusual, but were mostly accompanied by Scriptures that could conceivably support them. Unable to pin down any glaring new errors, I set out to understand the message of the book as a whole. Over three weeks, I read Jesus Calling cover-to-cover five times. This was a mind-numbing experience—the language was so repetitive and hypnotic that I would often be lulled into forgetting what I was looking for: a consistent bottom-line message. Even after five reads, while I could begin to see patterns, I still couldn’t summarize the content. So I bought three similar Sarah Young devotionals—Dear Jesus, Jesus Lives, and Jesus Today—hoping that they would shed some light. As I read through each of them twice, I finally started to gain some clarity by focusing in on two questions:
As for his identity, I found that he referred to himself most often with the vague term, “Presence,” and even though he used some biblical names, he avoided “Jesus Christ” altogether. Considering the importance of names in the Bible, this seemed significant.
Studying his imperative statements was even more revealing. As I scanned the text for commands, a pattern of Eastern-style meditation began to emerge throughout the books: sit quietly, breathe deeply, relax, repeat a mantra, clear your mind, focus, etc. However, these imperatives were so wrapped up in Christian sounding language that it was hard to see that they formed a different message. So I decided to extract them from the text and compile them into lists that clarify what Young’s “Jesus” wants readers to do. Thus began an eight-year project, as the Jesus Calling series continued to fly off the shelves!
Over time, I noticed that more people were writing and speaking out against Jesus Calling and wondered whether my type of analysis had already been done elsewhere. I wrote to Warren Smith, thanked him for writing “Another Jesus” Calling, and asked whether he thought my research was different enough to be helpful. He encouraged me to keep working on it and put me in touch with Chris Lawson, who was potentially interested in posting it on his website, SpiritualResearchNetwork.org.
Early on, I had come to believe that Young’s books taught psychic channeling as well as meditation but had not come up with a compelling way to show it. Late in the project, Lawson suggested a direct comparison of Young’s devotionals with a book like psychotherapist Kathryn Ridall’s Channeling: How to Reach Out to Your Spirit Guides. I thought it was a terrific idea, but since I am not in the habit of reading occult books, I opened up Ridall’s book with both curiosity and prayer. There were indeed many interesting similarities and matching quotations, so it was great confirmation that I was on the right track. Later, in search of an even closer match, I read and/or browsed many similar books on mediumship, channeling, automatic writing, spirit guides, angels, visualization, out-of-body experiences, psychic development, psychic healing, soul awakening, Spiritualism, and Buddhism. Each book yielded new, relevant quotations, so I began thinking of a broad comparison with multiple books instead of just with one.
The more I learned about the channeling process, the more I found connections with Young’s writing. The parallels far exceeded what I had imagined, not only in incidental terminology but also in the actual techniques of channeling. In fact, as far as I could tell, all of the basic mechanics of channeling, minus the candles and incense, were included in Young’s books. Yet they were apparently going unnoticed by most readers, if sales were an indication. I felt an urgency to bring them to light.
As Christians, we are indeed obligated to obey Jesus’s commands:
But we are not obligated to obey new commands from Young’s “Jesus.” Imperative statements, making up a large portion of Young’s text, lay a heavy burden on the reader. The Bible warns us not to submit ourselves again to the law, much less to manmade commands:
My hope and prayer is that this study will expose the unbiblical yoke of the Jesus Calling series, and help free many who have taken it on as Christianity.
— Brenna Scott
Click here to read Foreword by Chris Lawson