Accidental Pharisees, Book Review

 Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith
by Larry Osborne

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 an 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 Old 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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2 thoughts on “Accidental Pharisees, Book Review

  1. Cross Focused Reviews says:


    Thanks for being a part of the Accidental Pharisees book review blog tour. Larry’s message is much needed in the church today. As you say in your review, we have a tendency to go to absolutes and extremes. There’s a more balanced middle that is much more God-honouring and Christ-exalting.

    Looking forward to working with you on future book review blog tours. Have a blessed day!

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reveiws

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