Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Good Parts of "Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne

I shared the basic premise of Larry Osborne's new book, Accidental Pharisees, yesterday. It is a book I struggled through as I read it, and for good reason. In many ways, I saw my life as a reflection of some of the basic concepts he shares in the book. It pains me to share these truths that I recognize about my own life. It pains me to realize how often I have failed, from my family to friends to church relationships. But these are realities that I have come to realize over the past five years and have tried to deal with them.

Let me say one more word before I get into these realities that Osborne does a great job of pointing out. I write this realizing I am completely responsible for my own actions. But these realities I have seen in my life are things that were taught to me by just about everyone who ever impacted my life. They might be more "caught" as opposed to "taught", but they have been present at different levels. And much of that has been filed under the banner of a "biblical philosophy of ministry." I am thankful for them in my life. My life would not be what it is today without them.

Saying that, let me share two ways I have noticed my life could potentially be on a trajectory towards becoming an "Accidental Pharisee."

First, I Lean towards Pointing Out the Negative Instead of Encouraging the Positives.
I don't know why, but I tend to be negative. I tend to never be satisfied with the spiritual growth I see in people. Or I should say, I used to. I do believe I have grown significantly in this area. I remember when I was a youth pastor, I was never satisfied with the growth of our students. I wanted them to get to be at "Z" and failed to celebrate their growth from "A" to "L." In my mind, they still were not where they needed to be. Maybe that was my perfectionist mindset, but it really hindered my ministry. I wish I could apologize to all those students. I wish I could go back to them and encourage them in their small steps of growth.

Osborne points out that we need to learn from how Paul began his message to the messed up church at Corinth:
"The first thing to notice about Paul's rebuke of the Corinthian church is the way he starts out. He begins with praise. Not contempt. Not critique. Not a scolding. Though there was plenty to rant about. He finds the good and praises it, sincerely and genuinely . . . most of our stinging rebukes have not a word of praise . . . We start with the bad and move on to the horrible. Our tone can be scornful as we ridicule, mock, and question the salvation of everyone who's at the back of the line . . . Paul wrote with a broken heart. He felt great distress. He shed many tears. He loved the Corinthians as if they were his own children. Yet many of the harsh critics that I hear and read today seem to have far more disgust than tears" (132-133).
That is what I want to be. I want to be more of an encourager of the positives, which hopefully would open the door for me to talk about the negatives.

Second, I Have Died on Many Hills.
When I was younger, I would have died on almost any hill of theology. That is what I was taught. That is what I saw modeled in just about everyone around me. If it is wrong, it is wrong and we shouldn't be associated with that person. That thought obviously assumes that we are right. We are saying they are wrong and we are right.

I remember when this first became a reality with me. I was having to shepherd a friend who was being removed from teaching at his church because of what I would call a secondary theological issue. He did not respond correctly, but I'm not sure the leaders of the church did either. It was a hill for them. But it started me thinking about what hills I would die on, or should die on. From that moment, the list started to shrink.

Don't get me wrong, there are many hills I would die on today. But the older I get, the smaller the list becomes. I often joke now that there are some areas of doctrine I would give my life for; there are some I would give a limb for; and there are some I wouldn't give a friends limb for. Osborne makes the connection in this way.
"We become accidental Pharisees when we lay down boundary markers that are narrower than the ones laid down by Jesus and then treat people who line up on the wrong side of our markers as if they were spiritual imposters or enemies of the Lord. Our goal may be to protect the flock. But boundary markers that are narrower than the ones Jesus laid down don't protect the flock; they divide the flock. They so discord among brothers, something God says he's not too fond of. They also result in a rash of friendly fire" (142-143).
I do realize that for some of my more hard core friends, this is going to be a turn-off. It might even put me on the other side of the battlefield with them. I hope I never receive that sort of friendly fire that could come as a result of this. I have learned, and hope to continue to learn, to work with those that are not 100% in line with me doctrinally. I am not settling, but I also know that I can learn from them.

Those are just two ways in which this book really hit home with me. But I cannot leave the impression that everything in this book was helpful. That is what I will share tomorrow. At the risk of acting like an "Accidental Pharisee", I will share a few of the bad things I found in the book.


  1. Thad, I can no longer associate with you, because you read this book... ;-)

    1. I know your joking, but I'm sure there are some who think I am going soft. Not because I read this book, but my conclusions that I'm not big into the "friendly fire" game.


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