Justin Taylor has posted an excerpt of Michael Horton’s review of popular devotional bestseller, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. Horton critiques not only the overall message of Young’s book, but the method of delivery as well. In fact, the method of this type of spirituality, and the assumptions which underlie it, inevitably leads to the type of message it delivers, and that message in turn, fosters further encouragement of the method. The whole review may be found at White Horse Inn, here.
Some may be upset by Horton’s negative critique. However, not only do I think he is right, but, in light of the problems he points out with this book, I think he shows amazing restraint. I must admit to not reading the book myself, but I trust Horton and I recommend this review and caution to anyone who may be reading or considering this devotional. Horton’s review gives occasion for some additional thoughts on the use of devotional books.
Many devotional guides encourage the reader to closeness with God by dwelling on the emotional level of sentiments, passions and desires, and of mentally working up deeper feelings. Very often such works don’t focus (or not much) on the actual works of God in redemptive history, culminating with God’s saving work in Christ. It is Scripture’s record of God’s mighty acts in history, things like God’s covenant and gracious dealings with the patriarchs, the Exodus, the leaders God puts over Israel which pre-figure Christ, the exiles and returns, the prophetic pronouncements of judgment for idolatry and passionate calls to repentance and promise of restoration, and of course the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and present reign of Christ and indwelling of the Holy Spirit…it is things like this which teach us who God really is and what he is like. Through these things we really get to know who God is. But in focusing on the emotions and feelings of the reader, many modern devotionals miss all this and so give us a very warped picture of who God actually is and how he interacts with people. We end up thinking of God as someone who is primarily concerned with our own inner spiritual and emotional self-image, which is an image that could be called one of the prevailing idols in the church today.
Finally, any work that purports to record the direct messages of Jesus, as Jesus Calling does, ought to raise red flags immediately. There are enough quotes in Horton’s review to convince me that this book’s overall emphasis, the direction is leads, and the assumptions it makes about how God speaks to his people, are not biblical and therefore it ought to be avoided. The kind of spirituality that this book will engender in the Church is the kind we already have way too much of.