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The Dark and Dangerous Side of Overzealous Faith
Let's be honest.
Passionate faith can have a dark side—a really dark side.
Just ask Jesus.
When he showed up as God in the flesh, those who thought of themselves as God's biggest fans and defenders wanted nothing to do with him. They tried to shut him up. When they couldn't, they had him killed.
That's obviously passion gone bad.
But the ancient Pharisees aren't the only example of the dark side of overzealous faith. Our history books are filled with other examples. Think of the Crusades or the Inquisition, for starters.
But that's not why I've written this book. It's not about ancient Pharisees. It's about accidental Pharisees—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.
The problem is not spiritual zeal. That's a good thing. We're all called to be zealous for the Lord. The problem is unaligned spiritual passion, a zeal for the Lord that fails to line up with the totality of Scripture.
Unfortunately, most of us think of unaligned zeal as someone else's problem. We have a hard time seeing it in ourselves.
It's easy to see the scriptural misalignment in the crazy guy on the street corner with the "Turn or Burn" sign. The same with the cut-and-paste theology of people who toss out the Scriptures they don't like. It's also easy to spot it in the pompous coworker with a big Bible on his desk, a chip on his shoulder, and a tiny heart in his chest—the self-proclaimed great witness for the Lord—whom everyone tries to avoid and no one wants to eat lunch with.
But we seldom see it in the mirror.
That's because for most of us, areas of biblically unaligned and overzealous faith are unintentional. They're the result of blind spots, not sin spots. We're doing our best with the knowledge we have.
But it doesn't matter whether someone is overzealous by choice or by accident. Either way, it messes up everything. It hurts everyone, the overzealous and the victims of their zeal.
Jerks for Jesus
You've probably known a jerk for Jesus, someone who thought they were advancing the cause of the kingdom when in reality they were simply embarrassing the King.
I think of a man in our church who sees himself as a mature, front-of-the-line Christian. He's passionate about the Scriptures. Loves to study. Digs deep. He knows far more than most, so he's taken it upon himself to become a spiritual watchdog to protect the rest of us.
He barks at and then attacks anyone who misspeaks or who misuses or misunderstands the Bible. He thinks he's helping out Jesus by keeping the heretics out.
But all he does is scare the hell out of people.
Not literally. Just figuratively, unfortunately.
The problem is that God never asked him to be a pit bull for right doctrine. God does ask him (and all of us) to contend for the faith. But he asks us to do it in a manner exactly opposite of the way my pit bull friend defends the gospel. We're supposed to avoid quarreling, to be kind, and to gently instruct people who oppose us.
My friend's pit bull methodology illustrates the biggest problem with overzealous faith and the reason why it's so hard to self-diagnose. It's almost always true to Scripture, but it's not true to all of Scripture. It's partially right. It fixates on one area of God's will (for instance, defending the faith) while ignoring other parts (doing so kindly and gently).
Unfortunately, for most of us, when we think of having overzealous faith and being a jerk for Jesus, we picture someone with bad breath, bad theology, and no people skills. So it never dawns on us that we could be included.
But the fact is, we all have areas of unaligned faith and incomplete understanding. We all have blind spots, and we all have sin spots; when the two mix, it's a dangerous combination. It's hard to get everything right. That's why I call those of us who step over the line into overzealous and unaligned faith accidental Pharisees. We've stumbled into a place we never wanted to go.
No one starts out with the desire to become a Pharisee. They're the bad guys. We all know that. In the same way, no one ever looks in the mirror and sees a Pharisee. I've never heard anyone describe himself as a Pharisee. I bet you haven't either. The word always describes someone else.
But the truth is that accidental Pharisees are made up of people just like you and me, people who love God, love the Scriptures, and are trying their best to live by them. The thing to note about accidental Pharisees is just that. They're accidental. They're like dinner at Denny's. No one plans to go there. You just end up there.
So how does it happen? What are the early warning signs? What do we need to watch out for?
The Innocent and Dangerous Path
The journey to becoming an accidental Pharisee usually starts out innocently enough. It's often triggered by an eye-opening event.
Sometimes it's a mission trip, a conference, or a powerful new book. Sometimes it's a small group experience that makes everything else feel like you've just been playing church. Or perhaps it's a new Bible teacher who opens your eyes to things you've never seen before.
So you step out in faith. You make some big changes. You clean up areas of sin and compromise. You add new spiritual disciplines as you excitedly race off toward the front of the following-Jesus line.
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.
This is the critical juncture.
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.
That, of course, is a terrible place to be.
But actually it can get worse.
If you continue farther down the path of contempt for those who fail to keep up, you'll end up in a place of arrogance. Fewer and fewer people will measure up to your definition of a genuine disciple. Inevitably, being right will become more important than being kind, gracious, or loving. Thinning the herd will become more important than expanding the kingdom. Unity will take a back seat to uniformity.
And your metamorphosis will be complete. You will have arrived at a place you never intended to go. You'll be a full-fledged Pharisee. Accidental, no doubt. But a Pharisee nonetheless.
In the following pages, we'll discover how to recognize and avoid these dangers. We'll turn to the words of Jesus to uncover the early warning signs of a budding Pharisee and to expose the subtle indicators that a particular path of discipleship (even if well worn and hugely popular) is actually a spiritually treacherous detour to avoid.
In addition, if you're a parent or serve in a position of spiritual leadership, we'll look at steps you can take to make sure that the things you teach, the structures you create, and the way you lead don't unintentionally foster the dark and dangerous side of overzealous faith—or worse yet, create your own little brood of accidental Pharisees.
But first, we need to begin with an accurate understanding of what it means to be a Pharisee. Who were the Pharisees? How did their name become associated with hypocrisy and misguided zeal for God? And exactly how short (and subtle) is the journey from high commitment to high treason?
Excerpted from Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne Copyright © 2012 by Larry Osborne. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part 1 Accidental Pharisees
The Dark and Dangerous Side of Overzealous Faith
1 Accidental Pharisees: The Dark and Dangerous Side of Overzealous Faith 17
2 The "P" Word: How Did the Pharisees Get Such a Bad Rap? 23
3 Joseph of Arimathea: The Disciple Nobody Wants to Be 29
Discussion Questions for Part 1 39
Part 2 Pride
When Comparison Becomes Arrogance
4 The Curse of Comparison: What T-Ball Taught Me about Pride 43
5 Pride's Unholy Trinity: Log-Eye Disease, Self-Deception, and Comparison 49
6 Overcoming Pride: The Proper Use of Scripture and a Proper Understanding of Obedience 57
Discussion Questions for Part 2 63
Part 3 Exclusivity
When Thinning the Herd Becomes More Important Than Expanding the Kingdom
7 Exclusivity: Raising the Bar to Keep the Riffraff Out 67
8 The Reason Jesus Came: Why Thinning the Herd Can Be a Bad Idea 73
9 The Sinners Jesus Liked to Hang Around: Why "Consumer Christians" Deserve a Little Love 79
Discussion Questions for Part 3 85
Part 4 Legalism
When Sacrifice Crowds Out Mercy
10 The New Legalism: The Danger of Litmus Test Christianity 89
11 Extra Rules and Extra Fences: The Danger of Adding to God's Word 95
12 The Death of Mercy: The Darkest and Most Dangerous Side of Legalism 103
Discussion Questions for Part 4 109
Part 5 Idolizing the Past
When Idealism Distorts Reality
13 The Problem with Rose-Colored Memories: Why These Might Be the Good Old Days 113
14 Learning from the Past without Idolizing the Past: An Honest Look at the New Testament Church 121
15 Speaking the Truth in Love: Confronting the Present without Lionizing the Past 131
Discussion Questions for Part 5 135
Part 6 The Quest for Uniformity
How Uniformity Destroys Unity
16 Unity and Uniformity: How Uniformity Kills Unity 139
17 Are Your Study Notes in Red? Why the Quest for Theological Uniformity Undercuts the Bible 145
18 Agreeing to Disagree: Why Bearing with One Another Matters 151
Discussion Questions for Part 6 157
Part 7 Gift Projection
When My Calling Becomes Everyone Else's Calling
19 Chocolate-Covered Arrogance: The Dark Side of Gift Projection 161
20 Gift Envy and Drive-By Guiltings: Why Evangelists, Missionaries, and Bible Teachers Make Us Feel Guilty 171
21 Money Police: What Ever Happened to the Epistles? 181
Discussion Questions for Part 7 191
A Final Word 193
Posted December 8, 2012
Books on the Pharisees make many people nervous or defensive. No one wants to be labeled a Pharisee, and we’re all sure that whatever they were, they weren’t us. Larry Osborne approaches this from a more gracious angle, he describes people as “accidental Pharisees” in his new book Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith. If you’re already suspicious of that title, let me encourage you to give it some thought. With everything in the Gospels about the Pharisees, perhaps God really does want us to take some time and study their unique problems and learn how not to be like them.
Osborne’s writing style is light yet direct, he communicates with analogies from modern day life and personal anecdotes and has a mastery of humor. Yet his message is serious and at times, he spares no punches. His book attacks pride, exclusivity and the tribalism which characterizes so much of contemporary Christianity, whether we realize it or not. He shows the dark side of movement-based Christian movements such as “Spirit-led, missional, incarnational, gospel-Centered, or some other current Christian buzzword.” As Osborne puts it, “You’ll find it hard not to look down on those who don’t even know there’s a buzzword to conform to” (pg. 48).
Fundamentalist Christianity such as I hail from, will be eager to write off Osborne’s critique as extreme, unloving, or errant. I wish that conscientious fundamentalists would put down their defense, however, and give Osborne an ear. It never hurts to subject oneself to scrutiny. They might just find that his critique is restorative, and his objections spur them on toward a closer conformity to Scripture and a more holistic approach to spirituality that recognizes the need to encourage the weak and guards against the all-too-natural pull toward pride and exclusivity.
Osborne speaks of idolizing the past, spiritual gift projection, drive-by guiltings and more. He also speaks of the importance of bearing one another’s burdens and fighting for real unity in the church. Frankly, at times, Osborne hits too close to home, for comfort!
After hearing Osborne and his passion, let me insist that there is more to the book than harsh criticism of the harsh legalism that abounds in today’s Christianity. Osborne lovingly helps those who see these tendencies in themselves, and he frankly admits that many of these traits were first discovered in his own heart. Ultimately this book offers hope and inoculates believers from a Christianity that is more about scoring points for the home team, then about pointing people to Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll pick up this book and add it to your “must-read” pile for 2013. Or after reading it yourself, you may consider giving it to a friend who might appreciate this encouragement too.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
Posted November 8, 2012
Having seen much of, on the one hand, division/hatred (I actually don’t think hatred is too harsh of a word for some of what I’ve seen) and, on the other hand, blindness to sin in the church, I was interested to see what kind of balance Larry Osborne would strike in defining a Pharisee. More importantly, how would he define a balanced Christian?
Several of the issues he described as elements of a Pharisee (or of becoming one) are the following:
1. A lack of mercy
2. Viewing obedience as something that merits praise (i.e., we are really only doing our duty in obeying)
3. Comparing among ourselves (judging who is “most spiritual”)
4. Focusing on trivial issues (that are hotly debated topics precisely because they are not all that clear in Scripture)
5. A higher view of those who hang out only with those who are “most spiritual”
6. Idolizing the past
7. Idolizing a human being (e.g., Bible teacher, pastor)
Several others were included as well, such as arrogance and pride, of course—a given.
All of these issues are clearly discussed and warned against in Scripture, which should lead us to the conclusion that we really have no excuse for being Pharisees. So why do we so easily fall into that trap? Because, as Osborne noted, the problem is that we often miss our own problematic behaviors in our focus on the issues at hand. It bears mentioning that in the day when the term was coined, being a “Pharisee” was considered a good thing, just as the concept (though not the word itself) still is today.
I took one star away because I felt that he went overboard in his attempt to show that missionaries and others in the Lord’s service are not necessarily any more committed than anyone else is (p. 175). His comment was that if a person hasn’t been specifically gifted to go to the mission field and goes anyway, that person is out of the will of God. I believe that comment is extreme and erroneous based on the fact that GOD did not qualify His command to “go into the all the world and teach about Jesus” with the ending Osborne adds: “…but only if you have a specific gift, because IF YOU DON’T HAVE THAT GIFT, YOU’RE OUT OF MY WILL.”
I feel that he was misinterpreting the concept of “service and gifts”; I do not see anything in Scripture indicating that overseas service entails having a certain gift; all of the same gifts can be used in any location.
I really liked his discussion of how Jesus chose both Simon (a zealot) and Matthew (a tax collector) to be on his small team of disciples…and to get along. We, too, are diverse in personality and background and should pursue Christian unity and love.
Finally, I enjoyed several discussions, spread throughout the book, of how Jesus spent time with those “known” to be sinners—loving them, never viewing them as somehow not quite as worthy of His attention as those who diligently studied the Bible. I’ve always loved the story of Jesus hollering up to Zacchaeus, “Come down! I’m coming to your house for lunch!” And I’ve wondered how many of us, as “Christians”—a term stemming from the word Christ, or followers of Christ—would do the same. Or would we whisper, “Look at that THIEF up there…I wonder why he is spying on us”?
As Osborne noted, as Christians, it seems we have much to learn about the One we are supposed to be following…so it behooves us to get into the Word and find out how to do a better job of that.
Posted November 3, 2012
Reading Accidental Pharisees - Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity , and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne was an adventure. His style of writing is very conversational, which makes it very easy to read. His stories draw the reader in, and the book was very infuriating and convicting. I really enjoyed it. Reading the book was and adventure. I found myself, at many points, saying to myself, "yes, yes, yes - hey, wait a minute!" And I think that's the point. I found myself in many sections in the book, places where I didn't expect to find myself establishing extra-biblical rules and regulations in the name of holiness. Osborne does a great job of defining how personal sanctification can lead to unbiblical identification of sin. For example, I may establish specific rules for myself, as I feel this is what God is asking me to do for my own walk toward sanctification. When I apply those rules as universal, however, I'm out of bounds. One issue I had with the book was Osborne's use of "a friend of mine." He does share some first-hand stories, but the frequent use of others' stories left me with the impression the author saw himself as above some of the critique he made. I repented, and I think he would identify himself in the pages of the book, as well. Overall, I would endorse this book. I feel, however, it's more appropriate for a more mature Christian, someone who's walked in the faith for a time, as I think the book could do more damage to a younger believer and could even confuse them in their faith. I received this book for free through Cross-Focused Reviews (a service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) for this review.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.