Book Review: Accidental Pharisees

accidentalA few weeks ago, I read a book by Pastor Larry Osborne called Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith. I heard Larry Osborne share about this book during a church conference simulcast, and I wanted to find out more.

In the American church, trends come and go. One of the current trends is a much needed emphasis on the importance of discipleship. I have read and been challenged by books like Crazy Love, Radical, and Not a Fan. But I have noticed that many read the same books and walk away with feelings of guilt and shame, feeling that they will never measure up to a standard of extreme Christian discipleship. That is where this book steps in and provides balance and clarity to the topic of discipleship. God desires our obedience and faithfulness, but we must also remember that each person has different gifts and abilities. Not everyone is called to sell everything and travel to the other side of the world to spread the gospel to unreached people groups.

A book like this is helpful to bring balance and perspective. In our eagerness to promote discipleship, we must be careful to not start a new type of legalism, emphasizing works and efforts over grace. I enjoy reading books by Osborne, because they are practical and based on his pastoral experience as Pastor of North Coast Church in California. This is an interesting book because it counters some of my recent favorite reads. I do feel that at times, Osborne fails to obey some of his own cautionary advice as he critiques other movements and terminology within the church. Overall, this was a helpful book, but please don’t use it as an excuse for a failure to obey and follow Christ. It is far too easy to rationalize our faith and make excuses, so being radical is not always a bad thing.

Quotes from the Book

  • But as you press forward, it’s inevitable that you begin to notice that some people lag behind. And it’s at this point that your personal pursuit of holiness can morph into something dangerous: a deepening sense of frustration with those who don’t share your passionate pursuit of holiness.
  • If you allow your frustration to turn into disgust and disdain for people you’ve left behind, you’ll end up on a dangerous detour. Instead of becoming more like Jesus, you’ll become more like his archenemies, the Pharisees of old, looking down on others, confident in your own righteousness.
  • I think it’s because we misunderstand God’s commands. We think of them as difficult and burdensome. We hear sermons and read passages about counting the cost, dying to self, and leaving all behind, and we assume that God’s commands are designed to separate those of us who have what it takes to become a true disciple from those who don’t. But God’s commands are not burdensome. They’re beneficial.
  • Jesus didn’t come to thin the herd. He didn’t come to recruit “special ops” Christians. His goal was to expand the kingdom, to bring salvation to people who previously were excluded. He came to seek and find the lost, including a large group of folks no one else wanted to invite to the party. Everything about Jesus’ ministry was designed to make salvation and the knowledge of God more accessible.
  • Our ultimate goal can be nothing less than full obedience to everything Jesus taught. It’s the only way we can fulfill the second half of the Great Commission. But our attitude toward people who struggle and even ignore what they already know needs to be aligned with the compassion and ministry of Jesus rather than the disdain, disgust, and exclusivity of the Pharisees.
  • 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.
  • One thing that makes legalism so dangerous is that it always flows out of the best of intentions. Legalists never see themselves as legalists. They see themselves as obedient. They never think of their extrabiblical rules as extrabiblical. They consider them to be profoundly biblical, the careful application of all that the Bible implies.
  • 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.
  • Our hope is not in what we do for God. Our hope is in what God has done for us. That’s the gospel. That’s discipleship in a nutshell. And that’s what keeps people like you and me from becoming accidental Pharisees.
  • Following Jesus is not a race to see who can be the most radical, sacrificial, knowledgeable, or quickest to burn out. It’s not a contest to see who’s willing to take the hardest road. That’s asceticism, not discipleship.
  • But in the end, the pathway to becoming an accidental Pharisee always starts with the same three steps. It begins with a failure to grasp the true gravity and depths of my own sin. It’s followed by a heightened disgust for the sins of others. It’s then justified by a cut-and-paste theology that emphasizes some of the hard sayings of Jesus while pretty much ignoring those that speak of his compassion, mercy, and grace.


 From the author:

Zealous faith can have a dangerous, dark side. While recent calls for radical Christians have challenged many to be more passionate about their faith, the down side can be a budding arrogance and self-righteousness that ‘accidentally’ sneaks into our outlook. In Accidental Pharisees, bestselling author Larry Osborne diagnoses nine of the most common traps that can ensnare Christians on the road to a deeper life of faith. Rejecting attempts to turn the call to follow Christ into a new form of legalism, he shows readers how to avoid the temptations of pride, exclusivity, legalism, and hypocrisy, Larry reminds us that attempts to fan the flames of full-on discipleship and call people to Christlikeness should be rooted in love and humility. Christians stirred by calls to radical discipleship, but unsure how to respond, will be challenged and encouraged to develop a truly Christlike zeal for God.


I am a former design engineer who now pastors Cornerstone Community Church in Galax, Virginia. I'm passionate about following Jesus and I love technology. I've been married to Jennifer for 28 years, and we have three adult children.

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