Hard-hitting yet faith-restoring look at Pharisees
December 8, 2012
St. Paul, MN
Books on the Pharisees make many people nervous or defensive. No one wants to be labeled a Pharisee, and we're all sure that whatever they were, they weren't us. Larry Osborne approaches this from a more gracious angle, he describes people as "accidental Pharisees" in his new book "Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith." If you're already suspicious of that title, let me encourage you to give it some thought. With everything in the Gospels about the Pharisees, perhaps God really does want us to take some time and study their unique problems and learn how not to be like them.
Osborne's writing style is light yet direct, he communicates with analogies from modern day life and personal anecdotes and has a mastery of humor. Yet his message is serious and at times, he spares no punches. His book attacks pride, exclusivity and the tribalism which characterizes so much of contemporary Christianity, whether we realize it or not. He shows the dark side of movement-based Christian movements such as "Spirit-led, missional, incarnational, gospel-Centered, or some other current Christian buzzword." As Osborne puts it, "You'll find it hard not to look down on those who don't even know there's a buzzword to conform to" (pg. 48).
Perhaps the best way to explain how close to home Osborne's analysis is will be to string together some quotes which capture the essence of both his style and his message. Fundamentalist Christianity such as I hail from, will be eager to write off Osborne's critique as extreme, unloving, or errant. I wish that conscientious fundamentalists would put down their defense, however, and give Osborne an ear. It never hurts to subject oneself to scrutiny. They might just find that his critique is restorative, and his objections spur them on toward a closer conformity to Scripture and a more holistic approach to spirituality that recognizes the need to encourage the weak and guards against the all-too-natural pull toward pride and exclusivity.
What follows then, are several hard-hitting quotes from Osborne:
"The gold-package fences were designed to keep sin out.... Apparently, God's fences werent' good enough. So we added some extra ones to help him out. For instance, God had a fence that said, "Don't get drunk," so we added one that said don't drink. He had another fence that said, "Don't fornicate," so we added one that said don't dance. he also had one that said, "Don't love money," so we added one that limited the size of the house you could live in and the price of the car you could drive.... It didn't take me long to sign up for the gold package. I wanted to be the best Christian possible. The extra rules and fences provided a track to run on and a great way to show God and everyone else that I was serious about following Jesus. I gave it my best shot. But I noticed that all the rules and fences didn't do much to make me more like Jesus. I still struggled with all the same sins as [I] did [with] the stripped-down model. Well, actually, I had one more to deal with: pride." (pg. 96)
"Legalism vs. Mercy
"The absolute worst thing about legalism is what it does to mercy. It casts it aside, then walks away. It leaves people who need mercy most to fend for themselves and castigates those who offer mercy as spiritual compromisers who water down the gospel.... Legalists offer mercy. But the mercy they offer has limits. They have plenty of mercy for those overseas, mercy for those who face tough odds, mercy for those who don't yet know Jesus. But there's very little mercy for struggling brothers and sisters in Christ. There's not much sympathy for people who are weak and faltering. For those folks, there's nothing but a harsh rebuke and stinging exhortations to catch up with the rest of us, often with a disclaimer that they're probably not even real Christians anyway." (pg. 103, 107)
"Ironically, the more fervently we pursue theological uniformity, the more the Bible takes a back seat, even among people who pride themselves on having the Bible in the navigator's seat. that's because the lens of uniformity insists that everyone interpret difficult or controversial Scripture passages exactly the same way. there's no room for differing opinions, blind spots, or simply being wrong. Those who don't toe the company line are cast aside. The result is that every time a tough biblical question comes up, we have to consult the tribal manual for the "correct" answer. Instead of our answers and theology flowing out of the Bible, we end up with answers and theological systems superimposed upon the Bible and read back into it. Eventually the Bible becomes nothing more than a proof text for what our tribe already believes.... But let's be honest. most of our most heated disputes are not about matters that, when we get them wrong, will send us to hell. Granted, many are about important things-very important things-but it's a stretch to call them eternal. And that's why it's also a stretch to think that God approves when we let our pursuit of theological uniformity escalate to the point that it tears apart his family or closes up the Bible." (pg. 146, 149)
I could go on and on quoting Osborne's insights. He speaks of idolizing the past, spiritual gift projection, drive-by guiltings and more. He also speaks of the importance of bearing one another's burdens and fighting for real unity in the church. Frankly, at times, Osborne hits too close to home, for comfort!
After hearing Osborne and his passion, let me insist that there is more to the book than harsh criticism of the harsh legalism that abounds in today's Christianity. Osborne lovingly helps those who see these tendencies in themselves, and he frankly admits that many of these traits were first discovered in his own heart. Ultimately this book offers hope and inoculates believers from a Christianity that is more about scoring points for the home team, then about pointing people to Jesus Christ. I hope you'll pick up this book and add it to your "must-read" pile for 2013. Or after reading it yourself, you may consider giving it to a friend who might appreciate this encouragement too.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
Overzealous faith has a dark side. And sometimes Christians, despite best intentions, end up pursuing an overzealous model of faith that ends up sabotaging the work of the Lord. (17)
The zeal is not the problem. We are to be zealous for the Lord. "The problem is unaligned spiritual passion, a zeal for the Lord that fails to line up with the totality of Scripture." (18)
Accidental Pharisees don't set out to be that way. They just end up there.
Osborne begins by looking at what a Pharisee is and what it means to be one. Then he investigates how one becomes a Pharisee, identifying the early warning signs, becoming confident in one's own righteousness and looking down on others. He also offers techniques for parents and spiritual leaders to make sure they do not foster that Pharisaical dark side.
He turns some of the current buzz words (such as radical, missional, New Testament Christianity) on their heads. He brings reality to those concepts.
Using Joseph of Arimathea as an example, Osborne wonders if any of us has the absolute devotion we think we do, even those "who trumpet such devotion as the only acceptable mark of genuine discipleship." (36)
He tackles seven issues:
Pride (when comparison becomes arrogance)
Exclusivity (keeping the riffraff out)
Legalism (Pharisees love a litmus test)
Idolizing the past (blind to the beauty of the present)
Uniformity (it's not biblical unity)
Gift projection (everyone should be called as I am)
There are discussion questions for each of the seven sections. This book would make a great choice for a small group of a Sunday School class.
Beware. You are bound to find your self in this book. I did.
I think just about every Christian will find some correction in this book too.
The following is from the back cover and explains what this book is about....
"Following Jesus is not a race to see who can be the most radical, sacrificial, knowledgeable, or burnt out for Jesus. Its simply doing whatever He calls us to do. whether its radical and crazy or simple and mundane. Nobody talks about it much, but our passion for God can have a dark and dangerous side. Larry shines light on the six most common dangers of overzealous faith and then shows us how to avoid them. If you're seeking to follow Jesus with everything you've got, or if you wonder what has happened to the Jesus who offers rest for the weary and an easier yoke to the overloaded, than this book is for you. You'll find Jesus' offer still stands."
Each of the 7 Parts has 3 chapters and then a discussion question section at the end to go over what you just read. I liked this format, easy to follow.
In part one, chapter 2 on page 24, Larry talks about Jesus and His sermon on the mount, which is about the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. But Jesus took these 10 commandments and added higher standards. Which Larry says are "one's that are impossible to reach". Then on page 25, Larry says "Gods standard of holiness is way beyound our best efforts"
These two statements bothered me....no... we cannot work our way into heaven....and yes will are all sinners....But to say it is impossible to follow the 10 commandments is not Scriptual and God does not ask us to do things that He knows we cannot do....I believe if we totally surrender and let Yahweh live through us ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!! Jeremiah 32:27 ! It is the only thing i disagree with in his book.
Larry writes about so many important things that we as followers of Christ do wrong and what happens when we do them. He has a wonderful and easy way of helping us see we ALL the needs to change. He shares very good insights on things such as legalism,arrogance, idolizing the past,uniformity and more.
I learned a lot about myself and how i handle things in the wrong way. I pray I change daily and this book helped me a lot in seeing where i need to do so..
I would recommend this book to followers of Christ Jesus, from teenagers and up. And as I always say..."Always compare Scripture with what you read to make sure it is truth and not just someones opinion"
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 .
Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith
Author: Larry Osborne
How did I get this book: A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC).
Why did I read this book: After becoming nauseated with â€˜arguments' over specifics in â€˜the law,' seeing some â€˜Christians' harshly judging others, and as the author puts it, people being â€˜more focused on thinning the herd than expanding the Kingdom,' just seeing this title alone was more than refreshing.
My initial impulse to review Accidental Pharisees was to figure out how a person goes from loving Jesus to becoming â€˜over zealous' and â€˜accidentally' becoming a â€˜Pharisee,' so that I could learn from their their mistakes in hopes of avoiding the same fate.
Although if I am being truly honest, the fuel behind my desire to find out more on this topic was also inwardly so that I would have â€˜ammunition' to confront these people and convince them of the error of their ways in hope that they would change. What I ended up receiving, however, was a lot more than I bargained for.
Review: When I first opened Accidental Pharisees and read all of the gushing, glowing reviews spilling over the first few pages, I thought to myself, "Okay, there's no way it can be that good," and I was right, it was better.
"Who were the Pharisees? How did their name become associated with hypocrisy and misguided zeal for God? And exactly how short (and subtle) is the journey from high commitment to high treason?" This work addressed these and many more questions, and the answers you receive, are surprising.
With Bible-based, sound Christian teaching, this thin book packs quite a punch. At the end of each chapter, there are sets of questions for the reader to answer on his or her own. The writing style is easy to read, very down to earth, and even at times brings forth laughter, but as valuable as this 'new' information is to the reader, it gets better still. The very best part about this book is what it shows you about yourself.
Some of the reviews in the front of Accidental Pharisees state with all conviction that this book should be read by everyone in church leadership. When I first read that concept and began to see it resounding again and again, I was skeptical, and now I disagree. Accidental Pharisees should be mandatory reading for all Christians.
If you know someone else who needs to change, this book is a great place to start, because without it, we would only see the spec of dust in their eye, and not the log in our own.
Thank you Larry, for providing believers with the knowledge to protect themselves from becoming an Accidental Pharisee, and for giving us knowledge to bring forth compassion and empathy instead of initial judgement, so what when we see a brother or sister who has crossed the line, we can pray for them instead of following suit to show them the error of their ways.