Jesus Calling and the PCA

During the week of June 10, 2024 the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) held its 51st Annual General Assembly in Richmond, VA. Present were 2,160 commissioners, making it the third highest attended General Assembly in PCA history. The week was marked by times of reverent worship and faithful preaching. As always it was a blessing to be with so many fellow elders from around the country all united to further God’s glory in our beloved denomination.

Among the matters under consideration was Overture 33 which requests reports from the permanent committees of Mission to the World (MTW) and the PCA’s discipleship ministry (CDM) concerning their history, if any, with the book Jesus Calling by long-time PCA missionary Sarah Young.

There have been many accusations flying around social and print media accusing the PCA of appointing a committee to trash the book of a recently deceased author. However, what the Assembly actually approved is far from that.

Overture 33 reads as follows:

Therefore be it resolved that the General Assembly request reports to be returned to the 52nd General Assembly from the permanent committees of the two agencies most connected with the Jesus Calling book.    


From the permanent committee for the Committee on Discipleship Ministries, a brief report that will:        

1. Examine the history of the CDM’s relationship with the book and outline its reasons for withdrawing the book from its inventory previously and not offering it for sale since.    

2. Assess the book’s appropriateness for Christians in general and PCA members and congregations in particular with special regard for its doctrine and method.

3. Provide recommendations (if needed) for remedial materials, advisory statements, or General Assembly actions concerning Jesus Calling.


And from Mission to the World, a brief report that will:       

1. Examine MTW’s relationship with the book, knowledge of its content, and any counsel given to the author.  

2. Consider actions that MTW and the General Assembly should take in light of this study of the book and of the agency’s relationship to it.

Given the timing, so near the death of the author, many wondered why such an overture was even being considered. Some believed it was entirely unnecessary based on an assumption that Jesus Calling has had no influence among churches in the PCA. Others expressed the opinion that such an overture, less than a year after the author’s death, was bad form and perhaps cruel to Mrs. Young’s family. I understand the confusion and some of the objections. Indeed, as the PCA’s General Assembly convened I was on the fence, not sure how I would vote on the overture. A week prior to the Assembly I told another PCA Teaching Elder that I was likely to vote against it as I considered it a waste of time. But three factors worked to change my mind to vote in favor of the overture.

The first factor that swayed me was Steve and Sarah Young’s longtime service as PCA missionaries. This relationship had been recently highlighted in many different journals and news releases. In an obituary for Sarah Young written for our denominational magazine, By Faith this connection was highlighted:

Sarah Young, author of the popular “Jesus Calling” devotional book series and longtime Mission to the World (MTW) missionary to Japan and Australia with her husband Steve, died yesterday, Aug. 31, at the age of 77. 

Young’s “Jesus Calling” books sold more than 45 million copies in 35 languages, making her the bestselling Christian author of all time.

I had known for some time that Mrs. Young and her husband were PCA missionaries. That had been a source of dismay for me considering the profoundly errant foundation of the book which undermines the sufficiency of Scripture. Not only that, Jesus Calling offers up a disturbingly truncated, largely therapeutic view of Jesus and his ministry. As various obituaries for Mrs. Young began appearing in such publications as Christianity Today, many PCA church members were surprised to learn that she was an MTW missionary. Many wondered how one of our own could write such an errant book.

A second factor prompting my decision to vote in favor of Overture 33 was the division and damage done by the book. I had not thought about Jesus Calling for quite a long time. But I had witnessed firsthand the errors and divisions that sprang up around the book. For many, it had become a kind of second Bible. And why not? The author purported to have recorded the words of Jesus she had been receiving during times of meditation. All of this came up again in new conversations and the news of Mrs. Young’s death was publicized. Such a controversial book authored by one of our own surely merits careful consideration of its impact.

I want to explain the third reason why I changed my mind and voted in favor of Overture 33 very carefully. I wish to communicate no disrespect to Steve Young, Sarah’s loving husband. To the surprise of most, if not everyone in the Assembly, Steve Young (A PCA Teaching Elder) spoke from the floor during the debate. He spoke in opposition to the overture, offering strong support both to his wife and Jesus Calling. Let me state that I do not begrudge a husband’s desire to defend his wife. Nor would I have ever expected him to speak from the floor in favor of the overture.

However, in his understandable zeal to honor his wife, Mr. Young’s speech in opposition to the overture was the final impetus for my decision to vote in favor. The reason is because, in his speech, Mr. Young extolled what he believed are the virtues of Jesus Calling, repeatedly calling attention to the worldwide impact of the book. He was right, of course, in terms of the book’s massive popularity and impact. For that reason alone, the PCA should ask how one of our missionaries could write a book that presents so many important theological problems.

Perhaps you are unaware of the controversy surrounding Jesus Calling among Reformed and Presbyterian churches. But there are good reasons why the book has generated so much resistance and strong critiques even as it has sold in the tens of millions and generated dozens of spin-offs. The problems with Jesus Calling begin with its origins.

In the preface of Jesus Calling, Sarah Young mentions her indebtedness to the book God Calling. Published in 1932 and edited by A.J. Russell, God Calling was written by two anonymous women whose approach to spirituality was of a highly mystical variety. Mrs. Young writes, “…I began reading God Calling, a devotional book written by two anonymous ‘listeners.’ These women practiced waiting quietly in God’s Presence, pencils and paper in hand, recording the messages they received from Him.”

God Calling is a book which has far more in common with Eastern mysticism than biblical spirituality. The two authors of God Calling describe their process of hearing from God and writing down the messages. What they describe is nearly indistinguishable from the occult practice of “automatic writing.” And yet this was the very book which was so formative for Mrs. Young’s own approach to writing Jesus Calling.

Mrs. Young stated that the book God Calling “became a treasure to me. It dovetailed remarkably well with my longing to live in Jesus’ Presence.” Young began to wonder if she too could receive such direct communication from God. Again, from the Preface of Jesus Calling: “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.”

Mrs. Young’s practice of sitting with paper and pen to record the words that Jesus spoke to her is a practice nowhere prescribed or in any way encouraged in God’s Word. Nevertheless she holds forth this practice as the most spiritually significant discipline in her life:

“This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need” (emphasis mine).

Given the massive popularity of Jesus Calling, its glaring problems, and its association with the PCA, it seems strange that the denomination has never produced any formal evaluation of its content or impact.

While Jesus Calling has been particularly popular among non-confessional evangelicals and charismatics, it has been roundly criticized by Reformed Christians. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that Jesus Calling was popular among some within the PCA. I encourage you to read Tim Challies’ thorough critique HERE.  Of special interest to those in the PCA, Kathy Keller wrote a brief critique explaining why Redeemer PCA in New York would not use or endorse Jesus Calling.

Given the Young’s longtime service as PCA missionaries and the worldwide popularity of Jesus Calling, it makes perfect sense for the denomination to give careful consideration to whether we have any history of commending or critiquing the book. So Overture 33 is not a cruel hit job on Sarah Young as some have irresponsibly claimed. Nor is it primarily meant of compose a critique of the book per se. It is rather meant to help the PCA determine whether there has ever been any relationship between the book Jesus Calling and the agencies which would have most likely interacted with it.

If the overture is to be criticized, it seems to me that the most relevant criticism is that it should have happened years ago.

Todd Pruitt has been the Lead Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church since 2013. Todd is also a cohost of the Mortification of Spin podcast and blog.