Customer Reviews: Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith
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on March 27, 2013
I must say that I think what Larry Osborne constantly brings to the table in his books is the reminder to stay balanced and not swing to extremes. This tendency in modern Christianity, as he notes in Accidental Pharisees, is to swing wildly from emphasis to another. I do think this is helpful to keep us from jumping from one "this is key" to the next "this is key".
His premise that there is something about the current emphasis on the danger of extreme expressions/expectations of Christianity is very helpful. His warnings against using words like "radical", "sold out", "reckless", "crazy" and other descriptions serves as a great reminder that our use of hype or extreme language is problematic. In using such language it can have the effect of feeding pride and exclusivity leaving a sense of either you are one of the sold out or you are mediocre.

But here's my critique of the book. Right out of the gate, I'm not sure if the word Pharisee is the best word. It's an old word that has a particular meaning in a particular context and maybe it's overused today. It's kind of like the word "Nazi" where the use of the word means more than what historically it meant. I think there are other words to use that describe what Larry is getting at without any of the other baggage. But to call someone even an accidental Pharisee, in my opinion, is not very clear.

Second, in highlighting the extreme language of some proponents, maybe the goal was not to "out" people but there is only one quote from David Platt as representative of this position. It would be helpful to cite references where extreme language is used. I also take a bit of an issue with painting all people concerned with being gospel-centered and missional as representative of this new Phariseeism. Of course, it's possible for people to take the gospel or mission and use it like hammer on people but that has not been my experience. To include a whole groups of people and to paint a caricature of a person or group so you can knock it down is what we call setting up a straw man in philosophical language. It's not only uncharitable but reductionistic. My simple question to demonstrate this would be, "Would you include Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Lesslie Newbigin or Tim Keller in the category of accidental Pharisees?"

Third, I would want to know what Osborne is for. Most of the book is about deconstructing a "radical" faith and I appreciate the wisdom involved. But in what sense is Christianity to be lived counter-culturally if there's not a "radical" flavor to it? I get the critique of the extreme but what makes Christianity good news? I would want Larry to construct a picture of what the normal counter-cultural Christian life looks like instead of just deconstructing a particular view. Further, he states that Jesus was about gathering people. That is true, but there seem to be times when Jesus actually said things to thin the crowds out. That deserves more than one sentence in the book. I wonder if the Christian life is more than just a 1 Thessalonians 4 living quiet lives and attending to your own business. I want more of the context as to why Paul said this particular thing to Christians. Osborne takes that one passage and seems to make it the standard by which to live.
Fourth, while I agree that setting standards as far as sacrificing materially can leave people with a sense of guilt, what are we to do with examples of Christians around the world and in history that sacrificed? What are we to do with people like Hudson Taylor or CT Studd? Are we just supposed to say that their devotion to Christ was merely something appropriate for their time period or country? What are we to say to believers in parts of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith? Are we simply to tell them to live quiet lives? That seems to be to be where the book falls short.

In some ways there are wise words from Osborne about the excessive language we use to motivate people. That point is well taken. I do think he could have built a much more nuanced case in the book.
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on October 10, 2012
Accidental Pharisees is a book that calls us back from the extreme. We have a tendency as Christians to swing wide from absolute to absolute, without achieving balance. "God is loving and compassionate and full of mercy" or "God is holy and hates sin." "We only need liturgy" or "We need no liturgy in our worship." "Salvation is about faith and depends on grace" or "True salvation has to show up as works." Always Either/Or.

We're experiencing a new wave of what Larry Osborne terms "over-zealousness" in our churches that is having the unfortunate effect. It's transforming the modern church into a group of pharisees, albeit accidental ones. We've begun to judge and criticize, add works-based expectations onto salvation, and insinuate that in order to REALLY love Jesus, you need salvation PLUS.

His argument took some convincing for me and there were times I put the book down and actually said aloud, "I just don't know what to make of this book." There are elements of truth in each of the movements he talks about and their books are extremely persuasive and convicting. But the problem isn't being zealous, it's being OVER-zealous. The problem isn't obedience. It's when we expect God's call on every one else to be the same He's given us.

I myself have reviewed book after book after book by every bestseller author out there it seems, all saying the same thing--we have to do radical, crazy, life-changing things in order to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. At the end of each book, though, I've felt frustrated and more than a little disillusioned because God didn't call me to move my family oversees to be a missionary or sell my house and live on a commune or adopt from Ethiopia. Am I supposed to do those things anyway just to keep up with the current trends in Christianity?

I don't think any of the well-meaning pastors and Christian leaders who wrote those books ever meant to guilt-trip Christians into extra-Biblical, extra-God-commanded behaviors just so we can look as sold out and on fire as others.

But it happens. Christians read the books, feel spurred on to do more for God, buy the bumper sticker and the t-shirt, change the license plate on their car to the new catchphrase, and become a devoted follower of their favorite author. Then they start to notice that not everyone is doing the same things. What about him? How come he's not managing his finances like me? What about her? Shouldn't she be bringing up her children like I am? Sometimes they are even moved to separate from other Christians in the church who aren't experiencing the same religious experience, choosing instead to just meet with others who read the same book.

And then we began to judge one another, with religious pride and arrogance, we begin to imply from the pulpits that salvation requires more than just faith--it requires all of this extra, as well. Larry Osborne notes: "We've coined words like radical, crazy, missional, gospel-centered, revolutionary, organic, and a host of other buzzwords to let everyone know that our tribe is far more biblical, committed, and pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses who fail to match up." This leads to what Osborne terms, "The new legalism."

Osborne hit on several problems with the new Christian crazes, but the one that I myself have been increasingly troubled by is the elevation of one Scripture passage or one verse over the rest of the Bible. I picked up a book yesterday that blatantly said the words of Jesus in the New Testament matter more than any other Scripture in the whole Bible and that Jesus is more important than the God of the New Testament. Unfortunately, we're taking small passages and one-liners from Scripture and developing an entire theology around out-of-context quotes. Scripture matters; in its entirety and in its context and in its complete representation of the character of God.

One of this other issues is the way we are elevating the New Testament church as our model of what church should be like. He clearly and very bluntly outlines some of the highly significant problems the New Testament church had! They weren't perfect. They shouldn't be set up as demigods or heroes. They were grace-needing Christians who stumbled their way along to figure out what it meant to be the church.

That means passages that describe what they were doing shouldn't be prescriptive; they are simply descriptive. It's fine to meet in small groups in people's homes (Larry Osborne's church, after all, is built around the community group model), but we don't HAVE to function exactly like the New Testament church in order to be right or effective. This extends, of course, to the fact that we don't have to sell all our stuff and live in a commune together, or meet every single day for worship and fellowship.

It's so important to search for balance. As he says, "There is nothing praiseworthy in a feel-good, lukewarm, consumer Christianity that never asks us to change or do anything. it makes Jesus gag. But we must never forget that there is also nothing praiseworthy in a spiritual zeal that looks down on others or sublimates Jesus' grace and mercy in order to emphasize our radical obedience and sacrifice. That too makes Jesus gag."

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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on October 27, 2012
The Pharisees

What were they thinking?

The Son of God himself shows up full of grace and truth, and all they wanted to do is argue over weekends and hand washing! Glad I'm not like those sinners. I wouldn't have been so foolish. It just goes to show that some people, just don't get it!

Wow, I'm starting to sound a little Pharisaical myself. It seems that even when we have the best of intentions to love and obey God, we can sometimes end up fighting against him.

This is exactly the sort of thing Larry Osborne discusses in his book Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith. It seems that it is often those who earnestly seek God the most, that succumb to the same errors that have made the Pharisees infamous.

I'm not going to lie. At times, I found myself becoming a little uncomfortable while reading this one. Osborne takes on some of today's most popular ideas, explaining how that by taking even "good" ideas too far, they can lead us into the life of the Pharisees. He covers the topics of pride, exclusivity, legalism, idolizing the past, the quest for uniformity, and gift projection. Each of these are approached with a loving, yet critical eye through the lens of scripture.

To highlight a few points, his treatment of exclusivity was rather well done. It seems we can sometimes be more preoccupied with thinning the herd as opposed to expanding the kingdom. Another topic Larry Osborne expounded upon, was the difference between unity and uniformity. As Christians we find our unity in our belonging to and life in Christ. The problem arises when we insist on uniformity instead of unity. While there are non-negotiable beliefs to be defended, there are less detrimental doctrines where it is acceptable to agree to disagree.

The topic I most appreciated was part five, Idolizing the Past: When Idealism Distorts Reality. Were the good old days, all that good? By taking an honest look at the church throughout history, Larry shows us that today's mess of a church, isn't all that much different. So often we lament the current state of affairs, not realizing that God has always "drawn straight lines with crooked sticks."

"But a strange thing happens with the passage of time. The farther removed we get from the stick, the more likely we are to credit the stick (rather than the divine artist) as the reason for the straight line. And the closer we are to a crooked stick, the harder it is for us to the straight line being drawn."

One last thing I'd like to address is gift projection. This can cause many problems. We can begin to look down on anyone who doesn't share our God given gifts. Those who are blessed with say, the gift of evangelism, can sometimes look at those without it as less committed Christians, or maybe not even Christian at all. It can also lead to an over emphasis of one particular gift that may currently be the most popular, to the neglect of all others. Going right along with the dangers of uniformity, we think everyone should be just like us.

Everyone one needs to read this one. I don't think anyone can deny that we all suffer from at least some of these temptations.

I'd like to thank Cross Focused Reviews for sending me this free copy for review.
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on August 29, 2013
I was recommended this book by a friend who thought I had recently become too "radical" for Christ, and the title intrigued me, so I figured I would give it a shot. The sad thing about this book is that it could have been really good, but overall I was dissatisfied with the content. The book seems to be a direct attack at books like "Radical" by David Platt, or "Desiring God" by John Piper. The author's basic premise is that not everyone has to go to the mission fields and preach the Gospel, study the Bible for multiple hours every day, or share their faith to every stranger who walks by. If the author had stopped there, it may have been a really good book, but, unfortunately, he doesn't.

Instead of showing people ways they can still be "radical" for Jesus without mission trips, extensive Bible studies, and evangelism, the author advocates for a type of quiet and complacent Christianity. I have no doubt that people will use this book to justify their carnality and spiritual stagnation. I don't think that is the author's intentions, but it may be an unfortunate consequence of writing a book like this. There is some good in the book, but the bad slightly outweighs the good. As far as I can tell the author seems to have a liberal (relative) interpretation of the Bible. He seems to hold to the essential doctrines, as far as I can tell, but veers off in his interpretations. For example, He uses the fact that Jesus hung out with sinners as a justification for Christians to hang out with what he calls "consumer Christians." Jesus hung out with sinners, just as we should do, to share the Gospel, but the Bible forbids us from associating with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is in unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 5:11). There are also issues of church discipline to factor in. The author neglects to explain when some actions are appropriate and when some actions are not.

The author seems to believe that we are to merely "live a quiet life and mind their own business." He takes 1 Thessalonians 4:11 completely out of context to justify this. He neglects to mention verse 12 which is the reason why we are supposed to do verse 11. If you look at verse 11, by itself, as he does, it has a completely different meaning. He is doing cut and paste theology here which he also criticizes in the book.

The author also seems to misrepresent his opposition. He might label me as a "Radical" and "Gospel-Centered" Christian (both in a derogatory sense). Most of his attacks do not truly represent these types of Christians. I don't know of anyone who says that everyone should be a Bible scholar, or everyone should go to the mission fields, or that everyone should sell every possession that they own and give the money to the poor. We simply say, don't get sucked into the American dream and store up treasures on earth.

The book is not all bad. There are some very good points about pride. One line that I loved is "God is more disgusted with your pride than your porn" (paraphrased). He also has a section on idolizing the past which was very good, but my favorite section was on Gift Projection. This was very good because we naturally have a tendency to criticize other people for the things that we are naturally good at.

Overall, I was disappointed in the book, because this book could have been a great resource for people to be "radical" for Jesus who are not naturally gifted in certain areas. The book blatantly misrepresents its opposition, and will undoubtedly allow people to feel justified in their carnal stagnation and complacency.
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on October 25, 2012
As a newbie in Christ I reasoned that what God wanted for one believer was what he wanted for all believers so I mimicked my seniors in the faith and did what they did because I thought it's what God wanted me to do. On top of that I pushed my beliefs about what I thought God wanted for me on others and judged them disobedient for not living up to the standards I had become accustomed to. I also fancied myself as something of a master discerner; able to spot demonic activity and the intentions of people's hearts in a single stare.

Without knowing it, I had become a Pharisee, and that's what Larry Osborne's Accidental Pharisees is about: well-intentioned believers taking things a bit (or way) too far, but not intentionally so. The thing about Pharisees is that they think they're pleasing God. They really believe themselves to be doing God a service. I know that my zealous Christian infancy was marked by a strong desire to please God. It wasn't until I learned that God wasn't pleased with what I was doing and how I was acting that I eventually sought deliverance.

Page after page of Accidental Pharisees offers personal anecdotes, vivid vignettes, and examples from Scripture, which all show just how easy it is to think you're doing God a service when in fact you're nullifying his abundant grace and mercy. Osborne's message is convicting; no doubt about it. But I worry that it's a little too easy to spot all these Pharisees. It seems like most everything falls into some pharisaical category or another. Granted, Osborne recognizes the need for holiness, and he talks about righteous judgments in essential matters, but that's where it gets kind of squirrelly. Pharisees, accidental or otherwise, generally see the matters they harp on as essential. And even if we can reasonably show that the issue itself isn't essential then it's usually not that difficult to connect it to an essential.

That's a problem I'm willing to live with. In the end I think Osborne has done the body of Christ a great service with this easy-to-read volume and I'd love to see it in the hands of believers everywhere. The layout makes it perfect for group settings (each part is concluded with a list of discussion questions) such as book clubs or Bible studies. So make every effort to grab a copy and read it with your Bible close at hand. I'm convinced that you'll be a better person for it.
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on March 9, 2013
Borrow this book from someone and read the parts 6-7 (chapters 16-21).

It seems to me, after finishing the book, that the author's issue is books written by Christians who've had some sort of experience or epiphany, or recognized something they were doing wrong or not doing to their own potential. Books by people like Francis Chan, David Platt, Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, Tim Chester & Steve Timmis and a host of others. As a pastor, Osborne was asked by congregants if they were sinning by not 'selling out' to the degree that some of these authors were. The answer, of course, is an emphatic 'no.' These authors would tell them the same thing.

The problem is, Osborne doesn't simply point out that these people are writing about their experiences to encourage other believers to fulfill their own calling, as those people would say. Rather, Osborne seems to vilify those other authors, painting them as pharisees and simultaneously telling readers that they need to be growing in faith, but that no one should be telling them that.

I agree with Osborne that people reading those books shouldn't feel guilty and shouldn't try to emulate them, that's actually a message that really needs to be pointed out! But I thought his way of going about it was awkward and divisive. The book felt disjointed and agressive, exactly what he was arguing against.

This book is broken down into seven sections. The first three are dreadful. He seems to have an agenda and be writing in response to something, but he doesn't make clear what that agenda is. He just builds a series of straw men that he tears down, and not always that well. He does an atrocious analysis of Joseph and Arimathea that paints the man in a light the Bible doesn't and proceeds to use that model as a standard. I found myself continually asking in frustration, "WHAT IS YOUR POINT?!?" throughout these chapters.

Parts four and five were pretty good, although I had a hard time separating them from the previous parts. He did a pretty good job at looking at some major problems and causes for division and derision in the contemporary American church. I especially appreciated his analysis of the early church and our tendency to look at the past with rose-colored glasses.

Parts six and seven are actually quite good and finally reveal his overall issue, which I wrote about above. They have some really good wisdom for people who read about others' experiences and feel inadequate.
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on November 23, 2012
This book definitely has some bits of truth as far as what to watch for so we don't become performance based Christians.

However, I felt like the bulk of the book was dedicated to creating avenues for complacency and cop-outs. I realize that by saying this, many will think I am like the very people the author is writing about, but I just don't see how we are called to a life of being okay with sitting on the sidelines. That's just not what I see in Scripture.
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on November 10, 2012
I thought that would get your attention. But in truth, you might not be able to handle this volume called "Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne and published by Zondervan. I say this not because it isn't good, but because it is so good! It tackles many preconceived notions with, of all things, what the Bible actually said. Novel approach? Well, you might not like it when you realize you have believed something yourself that the Bible doesn't say.

I've reviewed several books at this point, yet I barely know what to say. There is so much challenge here, so much to consider, so much to answer for. By the way, don't assume that you know what he is going to say since he speaks of Pharisees. It's not just an attack on legalism as you expect, but an expose of the Pharisee that lurks somewhere down inside us all.

I loved every chapter, except when I hated it because it seemed to me that he pegged me exactly. You may seem filleted, but then again, it will be refreshing as you can't help but believe that it is exactly what Christ would want you to think. I can only hit a few highlights though deep insights fly off of every page.

He describes Pharisaism as an overzealous faith. It's a faith with a good beginning, as were the Pharisee's dedication, that somewhere goes awry. He shows the depths of our dark hearts in our desire to make Christianity more exclusive, or with the bar raised ever higher, to lift ourselves up. He calls it "thinning the herd", and shows how that becomes bigger to us than the mission Christ actually gave us. Putting litmus tests to distinguish the inferior Christians from me is part of it too. This is all part and parcel of being a Pharisee and Jesus fought it at every turn. If He didn't like it then, He doesn't like it in me.

He shows how extra rules are used to distinguish Christians even farther. Not clear Bible commands, but extra rules to make us even better is what he speaks of. Something could make us better than what God said? It all really is absurd. The worst of it is that it throws mercy along the wayside-you know, that mercy that so defines our God!

I love how He discusses what Jesus actually said. He attacks head on our stated interpretations that can actually run contrary to what was actually said. This is, to my mind, the most challenging part of the book. Do we derive our beliefs from Scriptures themselves, or spotty interpretation from the past? If our goal is to follow God's Word, this should in no way make us afraid. Watch him look freshly at the Early Church in Acts.

Then he explains how we've high jacked the Biblical admonition of unity and replaced with the much inferior uniformity. Uniformity kills unity. It's this idea that unity must be based on thinking exactly like me. That doesn't exactly sound like unity, does it? Then he shames us for taking this uniformity to the extreme of picking our own favorite teacher or demonination as the standard. That leaves no place for the Lord and His Word, does it? Ouch.

Finally he talks about gift projection. That's where I make my gift the essential one and judge every Christian on that one criteria. He's right-that's wrong and it makes no sense to do it.

The book isn't perfect. You will not agree with every detail. You likely will be mad here and there. At times when he tells us to be easier on struggling Christians, he could almost sound like great dedication isn't important. I'm sure that is not what he meant, but he waxes eloquent at times. Still, he provokes thought, real thought down avenues you might never have thought of before. What more could a book give us?

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 .
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on October 12, 2012
Why do we always see our motives as sincere, but others' as vengeful or just plain wrong? Why, when we do something wrong, is it an accident or we misspoke, but when others do the same thing, we consider them sinful,mean-spirited or Judgmental?

This is the main subject of "Accidental Pharisees". We all, whether we admit it or not have a tendency to act like Pharisees. It is in our fallen nature to cover up our sin. Look at Adam and Eve.

Pharisees were the main religious leaders of New Testament times. They had knowledge of the Bible and a fervor for living a Godly life. In hindsight, we see all of their faults, but people living in that time looked up to them.

In reality, their fervor was misplaced and they hated the very Messiah they proclaimed to wait for. Much like us, they saw themselves as guardians of truth while those who oppose them were the enemy.

I really enjoyed this book. It not only rebukes the reader, but also encourages them. Like a masterful surgeon, Osborne uses a scalpel to cut out the tumor but patches us back up and uses salve to heal the wound. He uses illustrations and scripture to show how there is an Accidental Pharisee in all of us. We do not even realize we are Pharisees, but everyone else does.

When we think of Pharisees, we think of people who are against make-up and jewelry or believe that Christians should not go to movies. But we know the Pharisee and He is us.

I saw so many areas where I have become a Pharisee. God help me see these things and give me the Grace to change.

I loved this book and highly recommend it. I would even suggest that you buy a few copies and give to your friends and family.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

*This book was provided free by Cross Focused Reviews and Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.
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VINE VOICEon March 21, 2013
Larry Osborne has given us a very compelling and well written book that should cause every pastor as well as lay leader to sit back and examine why they do the things that they do. Osborne takes us through a great discussion of how the Pharisees meant well (in their minds) but actually caused all kinds of problems for the people in Israel 2,000 years ago. That is why Jesus took great patience in telling his parables and in teaching the masses, so that they could see where taking the law to far can cause Legalism rather than Spiritual Depth.

In Accidental Pharisees we get a picture also of today's church culture and how often times with good meaning we take a particular issue or stand way to far and then become Pharisees ourselves. Why does that happen? It happens because we start to get to full of ourselves and believe that we have the corner on the market for spiritual life and pursuit.

We have a great reawakening happening among the Christian Church in regards to Spiritual Disciplines and even many colleges and seminaries are putting together Spiritual Awareness curriculum and having staff who help students do a better job of delving deeper into spiritual truths. What we need to be careful of is that we don't become so enamored with ourselves that we start to look down on other Christians who don't have the same zeal or passion that we do for the Gospel and for Spiritual Disciplines.

We need to remember that everyone grows at their own pace and in their own way. We need to stress the need to continue to grow and to continue to have spiritual development, but we shouldn't start pushing out the people around us who don't seem as passionate as we are about an issue.

Whether that issue be Pro-Life, Gospel Oriented, Pro-Marriage, anti-drug, etc. We need to not take an issue and make it the litmus test of whether a person is a "solid, growing believer."

If we get to prideful or exclusive then we will push people away from the Lord rather than help draw them into His arms. Be careful that you don't become an accidental pharisee that drives people away from the Gospel and the Lord.

This is a great read, I recommend it for all.
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