Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Bad Parts of "Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne

I have shared some thoughts the past two days on Larry Osborne's new book, Accidental Pharisees. My hope is that someone who reads this post will take these comments understanding what I have said the past two days. But nevertheless, I assume there will be some that will think this book is about me after reading this post. As I read the book, I felt I needed to point out a few of the books weaknesses as well as its strengths. This is the weaknesses post.

I hope people can see my heart as I write this. I am not trying to "go after" Osborne, but there are a few things I need to point out that I believe will help people understand not only this book, but also how to have healthy arguments.

First, Osborne Seems to Use the Obscure to Justify a Casual Christianity
Let me be clear with this. I do not think Osborne is advocating that people should seek a casual Christianity. I believe he desires people to full-heartedly follow Jesus with all they have. He just thinks it is okay if they don't. Or at least, we shouldn't question their Christianity if they don't.

The bulk of this book is based on the phrase "secret disciple" that the Apostle John uses of Joseph of Arimathea. He says,
"Frankly, if I came across a modern-day Joseph, I'd be more likely to call him a fraud and phony than a disciple. I might even use him as an example of everything that's wrong with the shallow and uncommitted Christianity of our day. Except for one small problem. Jesus didn't call him out, write him off, or tear him apart. He used him for his glory . . . he was a rich and secret follower, afraid of what he might lose, before he stepped forward to claim the body of Jesus" (35-36). 
But the point is that HE DID STEP FORWARD. God used him in a might way by stepping forward to care for the body of Jesus. As I read this, it came across with an "its okay to be a secret follower of Jesus." He is taking this one phrase in opposition to the countless texts by Jesus on what it means to be His follower. Jesus says to count the cost. He says that we must die to ourself. Take up our cross. Deny ourself. Be willing to give up your family. Over and over, Jesus articulates the radical call of what it means to follow Him.

And Osborne says that it is wrong to make that the standard because of one situation where someone is called a "secret disciple" who eventually does something radical? I would turn it around. Is there anyone that was a follower of Jesus that didn't at some point in their life do something that would have been deemed risky? Anyone? Joseph's story is one of someone who did publicly follow Jesus. And don't forget, we are talking months, maybe years in this story. Not decades or a lifetime.

This is just one example of many throughout the book. I would argue that it is not helpful theology to base an entire thought on a few obscure examples when the vast majority of evidence seems to be pointing the opposite direction.

Second, Osborne Seems to Have an Issue with David Platt, Francis Chan, and their Tribe
I am not trying to make controversy where there is none, but it sure seemed to me as I read that he is not favorable with the Platt/Chan tribe. I define this group as those who think a Christian should live a sold-out life for Christ. I believe I am discerning this accurately, especially when he describes the "New Legalism" in the churches today.
"No one wants to be called a Pharisee anymore. The word no longer connotes the idea of being different and separate. It now signifies someone who is self-righteous and hypocritical. So we've come up with new phrases to describe ourselves as more committed than most. We've coined words like radical, crazy, missional, gospel-centered, revolutionary, organic, and a host of other buzzwords to let everyone know that the our tribe is far more biblical, committed, and pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses who fail to match up" (90).
It is hard to see this as anything other than a shot at people like Platt and Chan, among others. Beyond calling them the "New Legalism," this concept keeps coming up again and again through the book.
"A luxury car in the driveway or an expensive house is to a radical what cold beer in the refrigerator is to an old-school legalist. It's proof positive that your priorities are messed up" (92). 
"The poverty gospel also assails the American dream. It has no room for a God who blesses us with good things to enjoy. Instead God wants us to live as simply as possible so that we can give away as much as possible. They won't come right out and say it, but all you have to do is listen to their sermons and read their books, and it becomes clear that today's money police are quite sure that no true disciple would buy a big house, drive an expensive car, go on a fancy vacation, splurge on a nice restaurant, wear designer clothes, or attend a church with elaborate facilities" (186-187).
I am not trying to defend Platt, Chan, or anyone else associated with them. And it is not that I did not ever have any of those thoughts as I read Radical or any of their books. But I just can't get to where Osborne goes by calling it the "New Legalism." Never have I thought or felt as I read their material that they believe they are more "pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses."

It seems as if Osborne writes angry. He seems ticked off by those that challenge Christians to rethink that the purpose of Christianity is not the American dream. After all, he did write that the poverty gospel goes after the American dream. I agree. It does. But where do we ever find that God has called us to pursue riches as our dream. Yes, I agree that God does bless some people with riches. And it is not sinful for them to have riches. It is not sinful to have a nice car or a larger house. But that should never be the dream of any Christian.

I read this book right after getting back from the Advance13 conference. It struck me as I was reading that Osborne spoke minutes before Platt spoke. I wish I would have been a fly in that green room. Because love hopes the best, I assume they were cordial and have talked through these issues. I just found it somewhat humorous as to the timing of their sessions.

Once again, I hope you take this post in light of the previous two. I think there are some very helpful things in this book that helped diagnose some attitudes in my heart. But at the end, I'm not sure I would fully recommend this book to many people. 


  1. The problem is that his definition of a Pharisee is taken from American folk religion rather than the Bible. Who is more radical than Jesus? Hate your father and mother, sell all that you have and follow me, cut off a limb if it makes you stumble, follow me instead of attending your father's funeral, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, etc.

    A biblical Pharisee is one who makes excuses as to why he does not need to be radical in following God through His Word. That's why they emphasized the ritual law so much, and why the Lord condemned them for annulling the Word of God and replacing it with their easy, externally-focused religion.

    I can't help but think, then, that if he were to meet Jesus on the road, he would consider Him a Pharisee. I can't also help but think that Jesus would consider him one. That's the problem with his whole foundation. It's built on a flip-flopped definition of what it means to be a Pharisee and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

    1. You said it better than I did......Thanks!

  2. Great post! Finally, someone addressing these issues. Thanks for your post.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and not referring to me as a Pharisee :)

  3. Thanks for this post. As I have been reading the book I've been struggling with some of the same thoughts. Interesting that quiet humility seems to be the response of the Platt, Chan clan by not answering Osborne's "not namin' names" assessment.

    1. That helps me out hearing people say they have struggled with some of the similar things I struggled with. And I am glad that Platt & gang have not responded, even though, clearly it is directed at them.

  4. This book was highlighted in a church this past Sunday. I have a reformed perspective in a heavily Arminian congregation. Numerous times I had to 'shut up' about my views of predestination but the Arminians can speak freely. I do keep quiet at times because I don't want to be a point of contention. During the sermon this book was highlighted and what was pharisaical example of to theological, being 'too Calvanistic'. I'm prayfully considering going to my pastor and, in HIS love, expressing this. If it seems I'll continual to be in a contentious position I may have to simply leave and begin the search for a church home...advice welcome, I'm a bit dismayed at the moment.

    1. If I were you, I would gently approach your pastor and ask him several questions about what he said. Is he trying to make the "arminian vs. calvinism" an issue? Is his plan to take a very vocal stand on that issue?

      The way he responds to such things may indicate whether you need to start looking for a new church. But the thing I would highly recommend is to not talk to other people in the church before you talk to your pastor about it.

  5. Thank you for your honest review. We go to an evangelical free church, and our pastor told us to read this book and had them for sale after the service.

    1. I hope you read the other posts as well. Don't get me wrong, there are some good warnings we need to heed in this book. But I believe there are also some dangers we need to avoid...

  6. A while back, our youth pastor had the young people go through the book Radical. I read the book and found it eye-opening, convicting, but in no means condemning. I did not take it that the author was railing on me if I bought a Caribou or a fast food meal. I only took his writing as informational. I did not take it as an attack. I plan on rereading it to see if I was mistaken, and then reading this book. I think that sometimes when we are a little convicted about something, we misconstrue the message and messanger the conviction comes through. I think that if I feel like attacking something, I need to step back and ask myself, "Why do I feel like this? Is it hitting on something I don't want to give up?" I never thought Francis Chan or David Platt were saying that their lifestyle was better than someone elses or that their following of Christ was the only way to behave. I hope that my perception is true and if it is that they keep on the high path.


    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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  8. I'm reading the book now. Appreciated your thoughts; they resonated with what I was thinking too. Keep up the good work.


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