Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why Jesus Calling and The Message Scare Me

(Note: This post is not saying that these books are bad/dangerous/evil. It is also not saying that I’m judging you if you’ve read and enjoyed them. Just clarifying, right from the start. If you want those rants, I’m sure there are many places on the Internet where you can find them. But not here.)

I remember a few Christian books that, when they came out, the firestorm wasn’t exactly about the content itself, but more about the format of that content.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young gives encouraging devotional thoughts to readers like they would receive through prayer.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson seeks to portray the Bible as it would have been written today to get the gospel across to modern readers.

The main problem that many people seemed to have with these two volumes is that they made their words into God’s words.

In a way, this is nothing new. I do it all the time, on this blog, on my Twitter account, when I say things to friends about my theological opinions while waiting in line for something. It’s a pretty weighty thing, when you think about it. Whenever you say “I believe,” you are interpreting the Bible and weighing in on who you think God is.

On the other hand, I do my theology in my own voice. This is Amy Green’s opinion, branded with her distinctive style and sarcasm, and usually qualified with the admission that I am not always right.

It is Amy Calling, not Jesus Calling. It is My Message, not The Message. And every single person reading it will know that.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not up there with one-star Amazon reviewers who brand Jesus Calling as “heavily liberal, progressive, new age propaganda” or The Message as “blasphemous.” I think a lot of people reading Jesus Calling as part of their Bible study can have important truths reinforced in a new way, and that using The Message as what it calls itself—a paraphrase—can shake up the verses that we’ve heard so often we don’t hear them anymore.

That being said, I would never want to be Sarah Young or Eugene Peterson, because I am very aware of my limits. Even with years of meticulous study, even with the guiding of the Holy Spirit, even with a devoted army praying for every sentence I write, I would not want to speak as God short of divine inspiration. 

I know that the creation of The Message was an intense process involving lots of wise people and careful research. And I know that Jesus Calling is based on the words Sarah Young received from God during times of prayer. 

Still doesn't help me feel less nervous about the idea.

This is probably because I say stupid things. I change my mind about theological concepts I was once certain of. I overemphasize an extreme of an issue. I make mistakes, and lots of them, even though I'm trying to only write the truth. There’s a lot more that goes into that than good intentions, or even good intentions alongside faith in God and prayer for his leading.

Sometimes I think humility and being afraid to be God’s co-author can be very similar. Maybe it’s good that I’m afraid to speak for Jesus. Maybe it’s good that sometimes I don't want to give a strong opinion on this blog, and when I do, I try to do so with grace. Maybe it's even good that there aren't a lot of things about my faith that I am 100% certain about (I made a bulleted list was nine points long).

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” And then—something that always puzzled me—James launches into a speech about taming the tongue, a passage used in Sunday Schools to discourage bullying and in youth groups to warn against gossip.

But, based on verse 1, neither of those applications (while solidly true) are what James had in mind, or at least what got him thinking about the topic. He’s saying that all believers, but especially people who are teaching and interpreting the Bible, have a responsibility to watch what we say.

It’s a warning I know I need to take more seriously.


  1. I was so happy with this post, then the internet deleted my long, long comment.

    I just find it so interesting that you used James to back up your point. Did you know that Martin Luther didn't consider James to be canonical? "I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship." Yet he thought highly of it, and thought it valuable. Because it was written from a point of grace.

    "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." James talks about the need for us to filter information through a spiritual heart. And I applaud you for your graceful approach to this topic... the faith was never about dogma, but about doubt of any wisdom that comes from "bitter envy and selfish ambition." I hope these books - and the Bible - can promote healthy discourse instead of being a direct line to God's intercom. A rotten heart will ruin any good word, no matter what the source.

    1. I did know that bit of Luther trivia. I feel like Luther was a bit biased since he was so against what works looked like in the church and James talks a lot about how works interact with faith. I always wonder where I take that approach to an extreme and reject something only because I am predisposed to disagree with it. This might be one such case, actually.