Review of Larry Osborne’s Accidental Pharisees

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We invited EFCC pastor Neil Bassingthwaighte to write a review of Larry Osborne’s latest book.



“Let’s be honest.  Passionate faith can have a dark side – a really dark side.”

Those are the opening words of Larry Osborne’s latest book Accidental Pharisees. They are somewhat surprising words since most of us desire to live passionately for Christ.  For those of us, like me, who are pastors; we desire that our people live passionately for Christ.  So why would Larry begin a book with this kind of statement?

I think that it might have something to do with Larry’s heart. I don’t know Larry, but I have heard him speak. You may have as well, because he was our speaker at the 2012 EFCC Conference. He is also a prolific author, and I have read some of his writing.  I have also been listening, over the last number of months, to messages from North Coast Church where Larry is one of the pastors.  What I know of Larry’s heart comes from those experiences.  However, it might best be summed up by the material from the third chapter of this book entitled, “Joseph of Arimathea: the Disciple Nobody Wants to be” (If you were at Conference you would have heard a message based on the same material).  In this chapter he paints a picture of Joseph: the disciple who is afraid to boldly follow Jesus, the disciple who lags behind in the shadows.  Yet he plays a vital role in the story.  Larry asks us to make room in the Kingdom for disciples just like Joseph.  After all we might find ourselves in that camp.

The problem is that many of us in pursuing a passionate faith forget about the average Joe (Joseph) disciple and we stumble head-long into becoming an accidental Pharisee.  That is precisely what this book is all about.  Larry says,

“Accidental Pharisees are 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.”

Then Larry lays out six ways (which comprise the sections of the book) in which we can stumble into being one:

  1. Allowing spiritual comparisons to turn into pride and arrogance.
  2. Thinking that thinning the herd (raising the bar) is more important than expanding the Kingdom.
  3. Imposing legalism by choosing the wrong litmus tests.
  4. Letting our idealism about the past distort present reality.
  5. Demanding uniformity in our call to unity.
  6. Projecting our unique God-given callings onto others.

I deeply appreciate Larry’s words in Accidental Pharisees.  Over the last few years it seems to me that there have been increasing efforts to purify the church, create more radical disciples for Jesus, etc.  I have no problem with that on one hand.  In fact it is very important and maybe necessary.  However, how we go about that task is crucially important.  Accidental Pharisees is a caution against going about the task in entirely the wrong way.

My hope and desire is that you can get your hands on a copy of Accidental Pharisees and read it for yourself.  That is one of the reasons that I didn’t give away too much of the book.  I don’t want to spoil any of the good stuff in there, but I do want to raise your interest.  It isn’t a long read.  Each section only has three chapters and those are quite short.  Larry is easy to follow.  I think he believes that average Joe disciples should find his writing accessible as well, so he writes very conversationally.  But his point still thunders home.  Just in case you want to do some extra work with the book, Larry includes study questions that are placed after each section.  I like that he positioned them there rather than at the end of the book like many authors do.  It made me stop and actually work through what I had just read as opposed to ignoring the end of the book. I hope that it will do the same for you.


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