Stephen, a book reviewer who hopes to combine Biblical truth with God-honoring imagination,
To all the readers of a little hardback that was the Christian bestseller of 2010, and with hopes that these will see that I seek to support a real and true relationship with Jesus Christ,
Grace and peace to you! Yet might I honestly ask some questions about this book?
In her introduction to Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young says she knows these devotionals do not equal Scripture’s importance. Nevertheless, she writes “as” Jesus, in the first person, and doesn’t even attempt to find in the more-sure Word a precedent to seek God’s words that way.
Instead her reasons seem to be: doing this is what she needed and it helped. It works for me, so a) it’s right, b) it’ll also work for you. Did I read that wrong?
While sharing her life story of learning, church-planting work and counseling, Young admits, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” That seems to imply she’s already read the Bible, been there, done that, and knows everything that’s in it, and is therefore ready to move on to something better. For her, that superior method includes “waiting quietly in God’s Presence, pencils and papers in hand, recording the messages they received from Him,” as once did two anonymous authors of another book called God Calling.
But does the actual Word from God recommend doing this? Why does Young seem to expect “the Presence” (her term) to speak new words? Scripture says the Holy Spirit’s job is to show us Christ and His Word, sufficient for our needs (1 Timothy 3: 16-27). Why desire more?
In Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul’s loving letter to a new church, he prays for them: not that they would find new wisdom, but that they would have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (verse 18), through Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus, open their eyes to the amazing salvation and spiritual riches You’ve already given them!
Young does credit the Bible as “the only inerrant Word of God,” but after explaining how her wish for more led her to “listen” for other “personal messages” and “directives” from God. But why not focus on the Word? “My writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard,” she says, and thank God for that. But why write messages “from Jesus” at all, for ourselves or for others? I know I haven’t mastered the Bible in a 101 course and am now ready for more! But even if Young had mastered Scripture, why does she ignore the Bible’s Gospel narrative — the holy God sent His Son to save sinners? That actually weakens His love and promises.
“My writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.” Are they? Might we test this book in love, the same way we do any preacher or writer who claims to speak for God?
Allegories are helpful. This one breaks down only because Jesus is real. Otherwise, consider:
My darling, you may have heard such different accounts of me so as puzzle you exceedingly. But though I am absent you today, my heart ever returns to think of you and anticipate greatly when we will reunite. Permanent happiness shall be ours, with passions (that) were stronger than our virtue. And now as I plan to return from London in a fortnight, know that my love remains with you. You may not know how this began; neither did I, for I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. … I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun. Do contemplate my return and think of me in return, for it is our quiet times together I treasure the most.
Very truly yours,
Your Mr. Darcy
This could be the next great literary success: Mr. Darcy Calling, with daily devotions “from” Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself, brooding and mysterious, owner of Pemberly, hero of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. In fact, quotes from Pride and Prejudice itself — the parts where Mr. Darcy was talking — are in the above letter as I “listened” to him, to relay his thoughts to you, gentle reader. My past experience with Pride and Prejudice allows me to know what Mr. Darcy wants and what he’s daily thinking about: you, and how much he desires your company.
Yes, Pride and Prejudice is the only source for learning what Mr. Darcy did and said, and what we know about him from his creator, the actual author, and what is also mysterious about him. But don’t you feel like you want to know more than that? Like you want his actual Presence?
… Just a few little issues that all those nitpicky Austen book purists will take with my approach:
- Pride and Prejudice was not intended to be read this way. Even assuming Mr. Darcy were a real person, the only sure record we have of his doings is the novel itself!
- The italicized quotes do not place what he said in the rightful contexts.
- Mr. Darcy’s dialogue takes place in completely different settings than a Letter to You, Gentle Reader. Sometimes he was talking with Elizabeth Bennet, his actual love!
- Pride and Prejudice is not meant to be read piecemeal. It has an overarching storyline.
- Elizabeth Bennet is nowhere in the 365 “devotions.” Her role, and Mr. Darcy’s courtship of and eventual marriage to her, is integral to the story. You can’t just hijack a real-life person (again, imagine he’s real) and “listen” for new messages from him to another.
- The “quotes” give lip-service to the original book, but are useless and even contradictory additions. For example, Mr. Darcy does not endorse passions stronger than virtue.
And if I have let errors slip into this open letter’s Pride and Prejudice portion, such as minor plot disparities, or misspelling Elizabeth Bennet’s last name with two Ts instead of one (which I haven’t) — why should those trifling oversights get in the way of having a Personal Relationship with Mr. Darcy, or my own qualification to speak on his behalf?
Seriously, I hope no one who respects Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice would decry these six critical questions as ignoring a need to have a “personal relationship” with Mr. Darcy. Why? Because this “Darcy” is made-up, based on partly remembered quotes from the book. It gives lip-service to the book, such as the character’s name and origins and some traits, but the very existence of this product implicitly says: Austen just didn’t say enough to help. Now it’s my turn.
How might Jesus feel to hear His wonderful Word so dismissed? Moreover, can one say he or she wants a personal relationship with Christ, and then decide not to listen to what we know He said — or, even with good intentions, listen to someone else who wasn’t listening?
On Friday: how does Jesus Calling consider the complete and in-context promises of Scripture?