Copies of the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E. L. James are seen for sale at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC, August 3, 2012.(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
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‘Jesus Calling’ Outselling ’50 Shades of Grey’

The reclusive Christian writer whose devotional books are narrated by Jesus

Stephanie Butnick
October 25, 2013
Copies of the book 'Fifty Shades of Grey' by E. L. James are seen for sale at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC, August 3, 2012.(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

The only person who can outsell the rabidly popular 50 Shades of Grey series? Jesus, apparently.

In today’s New York Times, Tablet contributor Mark Oppenheimer tracks down the mysterious writer behind the 2004 book Jesus Calling, the reclusive Sarah Young, who lives in Australia with her Presbyterian missionary husband, and whose devotional book has wrested book-selling success from the leather-gloved (possibly?) hands of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.

Since its 2004 release, Ms. Young’s “Jesus Calling,” a collection of 365 short daily “devotionals” interlaced with Bible passages, has sold 9 million copies in 26 languages. In the first half of 2013, it outsold “Fifty Shades of Grey.” She has written two follow-up devotionals, as well as tie-in books for children and teens and a “Jesus Calling”-themed Bible.

Yet unlike 50 Shades scribe E.L. James, and in fact most commercial writers, Young is nearly invisible, granting few interviews and making no appearances. As Oppenheimer explains, health complications including Lyme Disease and chronic dizziness keep Young homebound.

Young’s books, given their widespread success (Jesus Today, a sequel to Jesus Calling, was named 2013 Christian Book of the Year), are not without controversy, mostly owing to their structural nature: they are narrated by Jesus. There’s much discussion—and, on Young’s end, defense—about what it means to write in such a way, with such authority, and whether her books, bestsellers they may be, might even be heretical. Young insists they are not.

“I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying,” Ms. Young writes in the book’s introduction. She qualifies her project by writing, later, “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.”

But then she tacks back the other way: “I have written from Jesus’ point of view; that is, the first person singular (‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘Mine’) always refers to Christ. ‘You’ refers to you, the reader, so the perspective is that of Jesus speaking to you.”

It’s a fascinating read, which you can check out here. No word on whether Oppenheimer has gotten through 50 Shades Darker yet.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.