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Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Accidental Pharisees" (Larry Osborne)

TITLE: Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith
AUTHOR: Larry Osborne
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (208 pages).

This is another book against religious practices that resemble the Pharisaic behaviour, the kind criticized by Jesus in his time. Larry Osborne brings to light that there are many things we often do that resemble the Pharisees of the old times. In the book, the phrase "Accidental Pharisees" is defined as: "people like you and me who, despite the best of intentions and a desire to honor God, unwittingly end up pursuing an overzealous model of faith that sabotages the work of the Lord we think we’re serving." Key to the diagnosis is the detection of any spiritual misalignment of personal zeal with biblical principles. The moment we move out of line with scriptural principles, whether intentional or not, we become "accidental pharisees." Overzealous faith in such unaligned practices will make things worse. It is what Osborne calls "the innocent and dangerous path." 

Osborne zooms in on seven pitfalls that can turn one into "accidental pharisees." For each pitfall, he moves through a three-phased structure. First, he details how a good intention turn from nobility to legality. He points out how a major spiritual experience, a powerful learning, or a vibrant personality, can begin well but ends badly. When holy zeal becomes overzealous, it becomes the very disease Jesus speaks out against. Second, he points out the reasons and processes that turn one's zeal awry. Third, he shows the way to correct or to prevent one from falling into the traps. For Part One, Osborne explains how and why the ancient Pharisees are respected, and marvels why the modern perception of Pharisees are negative. He also zooms in on a much ignored Joseph of Arimathea, offering a refreshing read on Jesus' call for his disciples to give up everything and follow Him.

In Part Two, Osborne directs his cannons at pride, showing how the unholy trinity of "log-eye disease," "self-deception," and "an innocent act of comparison" can turn into arrogance. He observes that it is not the comparison per se, but what we do with the information that is telling. Here his style becomes more evident, that it is not the reading or the obedience to Scripture that is the key, but the "proper" reading and obedience that is crucial. For example, rather than using our knowledge or experience to beef up our own ego, we must always direct all glory and credit to God. Otherwise, pride leads us to self and to self-destruction.

In Part Three, Osborne focuses on exclusivity, something I find increasingly common in comfortable Christian communities. Instead of playing to expand the kingdom of God, such people and groups choose to restrict participation according to people they want. Such "thinning the herd" is not Jesus' idea at all. If Jesus died for all, why do we tend toward choosing only certain people to join our communities? Such behaviour leads to lukewarm states.

In Part Four, Osborne deals with legalism, where grace and mercy plays second fiddle to rules, regulations, and rites. In fact, Osborne boldly mentions words like "radical, crazy, missional, gospel-centered, revolutionary, organic," and other buzz words that appear on the outside to make one's church look superior than the rest. I am familiar with these buzz words, but if the fruits are not forthcoming, the words are mere mists. These buzz words can make Christians busy with their own self-image rather than God's image. When this happens, Scripture is not primary. One's interpretation of Scripture becomes primary. The worst result of this is the disappearance of mercy.

In Part Five, Osborne warns against idolizing the past, where one's sense of reality is clouded by idealism. Some think always of the good-old-days being better. The Church, the leadership, and the culture are all far from perfect. Yet, we often have romanticized image of them. How then do we learn from the past without idolizing them? How can we also learn from the past without condemning the present?

In Part Six, Osborne covers the importance of understanding the difference between unity and uniformity. We need to learn about what are the things that are worth and NOT worth fighting for. Seeking agreement must never be more important than learning to bear with one another.

Finally, in Part Seven, there is an interesting take on giftings. The problem happens when one, especially an influential leader starts to project his or her own gifting/calling on the rest. This is followed by envy of gifts and the way the have-nots are made to feel guilty by the haves.

One of the most interesting points made by Osborne is how many Christians built their discipleship from the gospels and fail to put sufficient focus on the epistles, which are essentially a theological reading and practical discipleship applications of the gospels. Why are some more interested in Jesus' words in red in the gospels, and fail to equally emphasize the words of Paul in the epistles? After all, is it not true that all the Bible is God's Word?

My Thoughts

I read this book with an open mind. Yet, I can sense that Osborne can easily be taken to task for some of his harsh observations, especially the part about the buzz words of Christianity. They can be seen as an effort to nullify the good works of people like Kevin Harney, David Platt, Francis Chan, and many others. This is a fair accusation, but I urge readers to be open about this. It is not the actual practice of renewed vigour and zeal that is the problem. It is to make sure that every revived action, every zealous effort, and every powerful thought be tampered with grace, peace, and mercy. 

We are all susceptible to the temptation to become "Accidental Pharisees " The way ahead is to understand our own sin. Let their be a heightened awareness as well as disgust for them. Then learn to show mercy and grace, the way Jesus has showed mercy and grace. Osborne helps to anchor our basis of Christian living as follows: "Our hope is not in what we do for God. Our hope is in what God has done for us."

Well said, Larry Osborne.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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