Christian Retailing’s list of “Christian” best-selling books in April 1988 included in the top five a book entitled God Calling. Its prominence on the list testifies to the lack of spiritual discernment in contemporary evangelical Christianity, for God Calling was written by the occult practice of automatic writing. John Weldon, author and Christian expert on the occult, remarked: “God Calling is spiritistic literature; a demon makes the ranks of evangelical bestsellers!” Weldon is not the only Christian who has come to this conclusion.
First published in the mid-1930s, God Calling has long been stocked by many Christian bookstores, where it has been a perpetual best seller. The cover of the current paperback edition describes it as “the inspiring classic” in which “Christ’s words cut a daily path of joy and peace through our troubled and confused world.”
THE ORIGINS OF “GOD CALLING”
One of the anonymous “two listeners” who received the messages contained in God Calling explained the listeners’ background in the book’s introduction. In 1932 she received a copy of A.J. Russell’s book, For Sinners Only. She was so impressed with it that she wrote down more than 100 names of people to whom she wanted to send it;
A few months later I read it again. It was then that there came a persistent desire to try to see whether I could get guidance such as A.J. Russell reported, through sharing a quiet time with the friend with whom I was then living. She was a deeply spiritual woman with unwavering faith in the goodness of God and a devout believer in prayer…. We sat down, pencils and paper in hand and waited…. My results were entirely negative…. But with my friend a very wonderful thing happened. From the first, beautiful messages were given to her by our Lord Himself, and every day from then these messages have never failed us.
Russell, his book, and his form of “guidance” are significant here. Louis Talbot stated that one “must examine writers such as A.J. Russell” and his book For Sinners Only to understand the Oxford Group (which has been called Moral Rearmament since 1938) and its teachings and that it “practically constituted a textbook for the Group” (The King’s Business, Jan. 1962, p. 14). In The Oxford Group Walter Clark listed Russell among the “journalistic converts to the Oxford Group” (p.19).
In the January 1962 edition of The King’s Business, Talbot wrote of the book:
Do you like what you’re reading? Take a look at this.
When Russell’s For Sinners Only was first published, it was denounced by churchmen as “deplorable” and “dangerous,” but to me the worst thing about it was that it was not clear on the way of salvation….The atonement was scarcely mentioned (p. 14).
The Oxford Group also practiced the guidance method advocated by Russell and used by the listeners. When William Irvine surveyed the opinions of other evangelical leaders on this method he found them in one accord in their warnings against it (Heresies Exposed, third edition, p.49). What was their concern? Pastor Harold T. Commins, who had been a former member of the Oxford Group, gave one response:
Finally, their idea of “guidance” is false to the Scriptures….Sitting down with paper and pencil in hand and letting the mind go absolutely blank and then writing down whatever flashes across the mind as God’s orders for the day is beyond anything promised or sanctioned in Scripture. Indeed this “passivity” of mind is a very perilous condition to be in for it is precisely at such moments that Satan gains control and does his devilish work (pp, 50.51).
Late in 1926 the Oxford Group’s base of operations moved from the United States to England. By 1935, their annual “Houseparty” at Oxford University, which began in 1930, had 10,000 in attendance (Clark, p.76). With the prominence of the Oxford Group in England during the 1930s, one might conclude that the listeners, who lived in England, were not only familiar with Russell and his book, but also with the Oxford Group (with which he was associated) and its teachings. This conclusion is verified in God Calling where the “Living Christ” (as he is called in the book) often uses the terminology of the Oxford Group and promotes its philosophy (e.g., see the entry for Feb. 15).
It would appear that even the book’s title originated from the Oxford Group. Walter Clark observes: “Expressions such as ‘God calling’….can be found on nearly every page of the volume of his [i.e., Oxford Group founder Frank Buchman’s] collected speeches” (p.108). We must also remember that Russell edited God Calling for publication.
With the connection of God Calling to the Oxford Group firmly established, one must conclude that the woman who was so impressed by For Sinners Only and the method of guidance presented in it, although sincere, lacked discernment and an adequate knowledge of Scripture.
As for the Oxford Group/Moral Rearmament, a number of evangelical writers have written on it, identifying it as a cult (see, for examples, Spittler’s Cults and Isms. Van Baalan’s The Chaos of Cults, Irvine’s Heresies Exposed, and Gaebelein’s Buchmanism).
THE TEACHINGS OF “GOD CALLING”
What about the contents of God Calling? Many have stated that they have read it with benefit and some have made reference to its ministry to them. How might these positive experiences be explained?
There is no denying that many statements in the book are inspiring. Scripture is often quoted in God Calling. But cultic literature often quotes Scripture. Reading Scripture wherever it may be found and being blessed by it does not automatically legitimize the publication in which it is included.
An experienced administrator from a mission agency observed after reading the book: “An evangelical reader can read his understanding into the text and enjoy it. A Modernist or mystic (or in some cases, even Muslim) can read his presuppositions into the text and equally enjoy it. This is not an evangelical book except as read with evangelical presuppositions.”
Tim Timmons’s conclusion should also be noted: “The book is full of good thoughts, but careful examination will show that many of the concepts sound as though they originated from the angel of light (II Cor. 11:14), rather than the Living Christ. This whole experience is inconsistent with God’s Word, that is, our only reliable guide to examining this kind of activity” (Chains of the Spirit — a Manual for Liberation, p.30).
The following statements, made by one of the “two listeners,” should cause a Christian reader concern: “We were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by HIM personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their churches, books and other sources.” “So to us this book, which we believe has been guided by our Lord Himself, is no ordinary book.”
If the above is accepted as true, the implications are immense: 1) Personal guidance is better than the Bible. 2) God Calling has more actual words of Christ than the Bible. 3) Extrabiblical revelation is being received today. This is what the “Living Christ” told the listeners: “Truly, I said to my disciples, ‘I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.’ But to you, and the twos who gather to hear Me as you do, I can declare those things now, that then I left unsaid” (p.69).
As is often true in God Calling, Christ in the above quote is made to violate the meaning of His words in Scriptural context. John 16:13 indicates that in Christ’s absence further revelation of truth would come to the apostles through the Holy Spirit: “Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth….”
The discerning Christian would question the spiritual source of a book that employs such a cult-like misuse of Scripture. Space permits only a few additional examples:
· “When the Bible says, ‘God has purer eyes to behold evil,’ it means to impute evil in His people. He always sees the good in people…” (p.50). This portion of Habakkuk 1:13 is clearly understood when the rest of the verse is read: God’s holiness cannot regard evil with complacency or tolerate it.
· “Remember now abideth these three, Faith, Hope and Charity….Hope, which is confidence in yourself to succeed” (p.110). Titus 1:2 explains that hope is not in self but in God, who can be trusted to carry out His promises.
· “I and my Father are one. One in desire to do good” (p.1 52). The first sentence is a direct quote from John 10:30. It is followed by an interpretation often given by cults in their rejection of the deity of Christ.
Then there are the statements attributed to Christ that do not borrow from scripture:
· “I need you more than you need me” (p. 60).
· “I await the commands of my children” (p. 63).
· “Looking to Me all your thoughts are God-inspired. Act on them and you will be led on” (p.104).
· “See Me in the dull, the uninteresting, the sinful, the critical, the miserable” (p.111).
· “I do not delay My second coming. My followers delay it” (p. 177).
· “Remember this beautiful Earth on which you are was once only a thought of Divine Mind” (p. 20l).
· “Wherever the soul is, I am. Man has rarely understood this. I am actually at the center of every man’s being, but, distracted with the things of the sense-life, he finds Me not” (p. 55).
· “Love is God. Give them love, and you give them God” (p. 72).
· “How often mortals rush to earthly friends who can serve them in so limited a way, when the friends who are freed from the limitations of humanity [i.e., the dead] can serve them so much better, understand better, protect better, plan better, and even plead better their cause with Me” (p. 145).
· “Yes! But remember the first hail must be that of the Magi in the Bethlehem stable” (p. 204).
“Christ” slips up on this last one. Matthew 2:9-11 indicates that the Magi arrived at Bethlehem a considerable time after Jesus was born. Note that verse 11 mentions their being at the “house.” The Magi never did visit Jesus at the stable, but the shepherds did (Luke 2:1 5-20).
Much more could have been given to illustrate the errors and problems in God Calling. One need not question the sincerity of the “two listeners,” but the method of guidance they employ is not Christian. Automatic writing is never accepted in Scripture. Indeed, it is a form of the mediumship which Scripture unequivocally condemns (e.g., Deut. 18:10-12). The good thoughts and inspiring statements attributed to Christ in God Calling often are combined with faulty theology and the misinterpretation of Scripture. True communications from the “Living Christ” would not have these defects.