A ten-year-old devotional written in the voice of God suddenly became a commercial juggernaut. Now, its publisher is trying to reconcile its New Age origins with evangelical orthodoxy.
The seventh-best selling book in America last year was a 10-year-old Christian devotional written by a woman who claims to have written down the words of God. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence sold more copies in 2013 than the much more buzzed-about titles Lean In, the latest Stephen King book, and 50 Shades of Grey, according to Nielsen BookScan. Overall, more than 10 million copies in 26 languages have been sold since the book’s inauspicious debut in 2004.
Jesus Calling is a devotional, a mainstay genre in Christian publishing and in the daily lives of many Christians. Best-selling devotionals like Our Daily Bread, My Utmost for His Highest, and The Purpose-Driven Life consist of short sections that are meant to be read each day for encouragement and contemplation. Christians who value the idea of nurturing a personal relationship with Jesus—or of the idea of spending time each day in quiet contemplation—often use devotionals as a tool to accompany prayer and Bible-reading.
What sets apart Jesus Calling is that it is written in the voice of Jesus Christ, presented as speaking directly to the reader. This Jesus who spouts feel-good mysticisms like, “As you walk along your life-path holding My hand, you are already in touch with the essence of heaven: nearness to Me.” The book’s soothing tone has made it wildly popular among believers, but its apparent claims to contain new revelation from God have also made it controversial.
Jesus Calling is a bona fide phenomenon, but one that is little-read or even heard of outside evangelical Christian circles. Its author, Sarah Young, is a reclusive missionary and rarely grants interviews; both the New York Times and the influential evangelical magazine Christianity Today had to settle for email interviews when they profiled Young’s success last fall. Young’s editor at Thomas Nelson, a Christian subsidiary of HarperCollins, told Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer she has met Young “several times,” but few others in the publishing world have done so. Young says vertigo and Lyme disease have kept her seriously ill for years.
Despite Young’s absence from the conference and media circuit where so many inspirational books find an audience, Jesus Calling has become a veritable industry unto itself. It has spawned apps, journals, calendars, deluxe leather editions, special versions for teens and women, and a follow-up called Jesus Today, which also became a best-seller and was named 2013 Book of the Year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Publisher Thomas Nelson says it sold more than 2.5 million Jesus Calling products by 2013 not counting the original book itself. The book has also inspired unaffiliated homages like Heaven Calling and The Spirit Calling.
If Jesus Calling has become a cash cow for its author and publisher, it has also, it’s fair to surmise, become something of a headache. Though many evangelicals talk of listening for God’s voice and experiencing his presence, the notion of speaking publicly in the voice of God is questionable at best, heretical at worst. Young’s book has prompted objections from within the mainstream evangelical community, from people who say the book is misleading, or even dangerous. “She puts her thoughts into the first person and then presents that ‘person’ as the resurrected Lord,” David Crump, professor of religion at evangelical Calvin College, told Christianity Today. “I’m tempted to call this blasphemy.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast