Jesus Calling: The PCA’s Yuck Factor

 Jesus Calling isn’t what we do in the PCA. PCA ministry doesn’t do that. Let’s just drop it. It is pointless. Who needs to dwell on things vaguely unpleasant? Methodists are Methodist, and they are Christians. Who should judge another man’s servant? I’m busy doing God’s work. That book doesn’t belong in my sphere of influence. If not a yuck factor, it’s an ick, polite and collegial.

As three or four of my friends know, I have posted two blog articles about the book Jesus Calling and the Presbyterian Church in America. The first is condemnatory, of the book and of the PCA’s birthing it. The second presents an argument for an overture to the General Assembly seeking an investigation to determine whether the denomination is in fact guilty of abetting gross idolatry.

Obviously, the two articles have been wildly popular– almost all of my Facebook Friends know that I posted them. My presbytery added the overture to our January docket for a first reading, and will take it up in April. A total of three elders in my presbytery have actually spoken to me about it. Of course, they were only stirred to interest after watching my gesticulations on Presbycast.

A Mystery to Me

The most interesting turn in that podcast conversation was the mystery: why is Jesus Calling the PCA’s biggest best kept secret? Why did ByFaith introduce their biographical celebrations of Sarah Young with essentially, “you probably didn’t know that this lifelong member of the PCA is the author of Jesus Calling, which made her the best-selling Christian author of all time.” How could anyone in the PCA not know which PCA author had outsold Tim Keller by several Manhattan miles? With the multiple critical reviews of Jesus Calling by Reformed bloggers, ministers and Gospel Coalition B-list celebrities, has any “significant player” in the PCA ever published something positive or negative or even aware of the book? Despite Presbycast’s usual piercing insight, our sagacious trio was stumped.

I recently received a letter  from an independent researcher who has been studying the industry of Jesus Calling for a decade (The book was published in 2004). She is well aware– as I was not– that PCA leaders have been petitioned previously. She and her colleagues have wondered at the silence. She thinks the PCA’s general on-the-ground health has made the book practically irrelevant: by and large a functional conviction of sola scriptura and concern for sound theology has made it of little concern in the pews of the PCA. I am heartened by that assessment from an observer outside the Reformed-ish orbit. Anecdotally, I have the impression that the book had more notice among women of the PCA before 2015, but it has dwindled off– as somewhere else 9 million units sold increased to 45 million.

In point of fact, I do think that Jesus Calling is treasured by some part of the PCA. That was particularly evident at Sarah Young’s Memorial Service in 2023. But, I will return (D.V.) to that in a subsequent post, as I will to the modest request for “critical study” presented to the Stated Clerk in 2019 . Before these apparent outliers, the mystery is more interesting. 

Many seem to know of an aunt or grandmother still quite taken with the book, and they see a copy on and off again– at least they see it on sale at Costco or Hobby Lobby. They know it is still out there, but they don’t see it frequently in the PCA. Sales of 45 million do surprise them, but they aren’t incredulous. They know that it is incredibly popular. A few women have expressed to me an urgent desire for my little teacup to tempt some PCA somebody into making a real noise about it; they report dire and unassailable influence among women they know. Well, if it isn’t even a tempest, I do brew a strong cuppa. With their exhortation to me, these women also report their abiding surprise that the PCA doesn’t seem to know it birthed this atrocious book. Why is Jesus Calling shrugged off in the PCA?

The PCA is a big tent, and differences are noticeable if not everywhere thick on the ground. Still, PCA people commend the denomination with reference to Tim Keller’s various books. I don’t think that commendation commonly mentions our best selling author. If no cantankerousness about the book in the past (?), then why simultaneously no common knowledge? Why no common thankfulness or sanctified bragging about the PCA’s largest published contribution to evangelicalism? What could have eclipsed it? How does something this big become invisible in its hometown? Is this just the fate of every prophet? That is the mystery.

The Yuck Factor

In a pithy phrase, you can’t stop Methodists from being Methodists, but you can sure be obnoxious trying. The word winsome is somewhere in reach, but that is merely descriptive. The PCA teaches convictions which far more evangelicals don’t practice, but they are still our spiritual kith and kin. By and large, it seems that PCA folk know of Jesus Calling as “one of those books” like The Prayer of Jabez (remember that?), or The Purpose Driven Life. Other folks are “into that,” and we recognize common ground; but we are generally polite. 

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