Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith -- Book Review

Do you love Jesus and want to be all He called you to be?  Do you look down on people who don’t share the same passion? Do wimpy Christians annoy you? Do you get upset with people who call themselves a Christian but don’t act like one?  If so, you might be a ‘Pharisee’.

Spiritual passion is truly a gift, but it also puts us at risk of pride and exclusivity.  In Larry Osborne’s book Accidental Pharisees, he shows that the problem isn’t spiritual zeal, because we are called to be zealous. The problem comes when we mix out spiritual passion with a hyper-individualized spirituality, which yields toxic results.

We immediately think of being a Pharisee as being a bad thing.  It means being self-righteous and hypocritical, doesn’t it?  True, but Osborne reminds us that Pharisees were highly committed to God. They meticulously obeyed Scripture – and they weren’t searching for loopholes. Their rules came from rigorous study of Scripture and hours of debate.  They didn’t take reverence for God or Scripture lightly.  However, their passion made it easy to fall into a harsh trap of legalism.

Osborne shows us how this can happen to us.  In the desire for a pure church, we may still welcome the worst of sinners into our midst, but we snub the weak believers.  We don’t have room for people who are secret disciples, weak in faith, or are ladder climbers.  Jesus didn’t do that.  Osborne explains how and why.

There will never be a shortage of unhealthy Christians. So don’t get disgusted.  Don’t help Jesus yank out the weeds in the wheat.  It’s not our job. Besides, if we try, we might be pulling out wheat instead of weeds.

We scoffed at previous generations who were trapped in legalistic rules that ‘real’ Christians don’t drink, smoke, dance, go to movies, or play cards. But today, we are considered hip if we do those things, being in tune with the culture so that we can be ‘relevant’.  We might think that an authentic Christian works out and takes care of his body, doesn’t live in luxury and indulgence, lives in a modest home so he can be generous with his money, goes on mission trips instead of vacations to the beach, and uses buzz words like ‘radical’, ‘missional’, ‘gospel-centered’, and ‘organic’.  These are just a few examples.  Welcome to the new legalism.

I found much freedom throughout Osborne’s ideas in this book! We don’t have to feel guilty if our gifts and calling don’t fit with the flavor of the day.  God made us to be or do what he gifted us to do. If He wanted me to be an overseas missionary or world-wide evangelist, he would have given me an outgoing people-personality with the drive to take risks.  We so easily by-pass the verses that tell us to live a quiet life or work with our hands because it doesn’t fit with what is popular Christianity right now. 

This book is phenomenal!  It opened my eyes to blind spots that I never guessed even existed in my life.  It helped me recognize that I have been carrying a load of free-floating guilt of never doing enough.  God used this book to release me from feeling like I have to keep being better and keep doing more to be all He created me to be, and instead, just follow His leading and live a life of love.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan publishing in exchange for my honest review.


  1. You review so many good books that I want to read! Thanks.


    A favorite defense for those who do not want to obey God's terms for pardon, is to label strict obedience to God as Phariseeism. Is Phariseeism keeping God's law to the letter?

    LEGALISM DEFINED: Strict and literal adherence to law.

    Were the Pharisees guilty of legalism? No they were not. The Pharisees practiced illegalism. They were not legal.

    Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so they might put Him to death.

    Is obtaining false testimony an example of strict adherence to God's law?

    Matthew 28:11-13...the chief priests...12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and sole Him away while we were asleep.'

    Is conspiring to bribe men to lie, strict adherence to God's law?

    Matthew 23:14[ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]

    Was devouring widow's houses an example of legalism or illegalism? Were the Pharisees literally following God's law by devouring widows' houses?

    Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

    Jesus did not reprimand the Pharisees for their strict compliance to God's law? No, it was the exact opposite. The Pharisees were neglecting strict obedience to the law.


    The legalism of the Pharisees was because they followed man-made traditions, not because they followed God's law to the letter.

    Mark 7:1-7 .....5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" 6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips. But their heart is far from Me, 7 'But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the precepts of men.'

    Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching the traditions of Men. Jesus did not scold them for literal obedience to God's laws.

    Mark 7:8 Neglecting the commandments of God, you hold to the traditions of men."

    The Pharisees were not practicing legalism by strict obedience to God's law. They were illegal for neglecting God's commandments and keeping man-made traditions.

    Is teaching what Jesus said in, Mark 16:16, being Pharisaical.
    (Mark 16: He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved....)

    Would it be a tradition of men to say that "has been baptized shall be saved?" No it would not; it would the words of Jesus Christ.

    To claim that Christians are practicing the legalism of the Pharisees because they say you have to be obedient to God's terms for pardon in order to be saved, is factually incorrect.




    A. FAITH: John 3:16
    B. REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38
    C. CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10
    D. WATER BAPTISM: 1 Peter 3:20-21

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    1. You should read the book! I don't think he contradicts what you are trying to say at all! He points out a lot of good points about Pharisees. Don't judge a book by its cover. Or its title.