Pharisectomy (In Review – Incomplete)

Derek Ouellette —  February 5, 2013

Everyone of us have books we’ve started but never completed. Usually book reviews are on books that reviewers have completed, and for good reason. But if you trust my reviews, wouldn’t you be interested in why I might not have finished a book? So this year I’ve decided to include incomplete books to my roster of book reviews, beginning with this one.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases
Peter Haas
(Kindle . Paperback)

When this book came across my desk I began to read the introduction which I found funny and whimsical. So I took it home and began to read it. In the end, however, I didn’t finish it. Before I get to why not let me offer some props.

Pharisectomy is about overcoming legalism. It is clearly targeted for “churched” folk, people who are definitely not of the Frank Viola, Matthew Paul Turner, George Barna type. It is not terribly written. Anybody who has found themselves in legalistic churches or may be struggling with legalistic tendencies themselves may want to read this book. I won’t be the judge of whether or not it could be of some use. After all, I didn’t read the whole thing.

Here’s why I put it down.

First, I felt like the author had a lot to say about himself and his “rebellion to glory” story. Remember back when Rob Bell wrote Velvet Elvis and in it he talks about how he founded Mars Hill and that whole success story? Well it seems that Haas attempts to do the same thing only he doesn’t do it right. Don’t ask me for specifics. It just felt like his account was more ego-driven.

Second, I found that the author, for all of his “rebellious” vibe, very much bought into the whole “church” thing. Meaning he seems somewhat stiffed at the whole “we may not go to a church but we are the Church” movement.

Third, it simply lacked depth for me. Others may disagree. He does talk about the three different categories of laws in the Old Testament (the moral code, the natural laws and so on) and he goes a tad bit into first century Phariseeism by talking about Hillelites and Shammaites. But in the end he seems to conclude that a Pharisee is still a Pharisee, no matter what stripe they are.

This leads to my fourth and perhaps biggest issue with this book. At the time that I was reading Haas’ description of the different types of Pharisees in the first century I happened to also be reading that same bit of information from N.T. Wright in What Saint Paul Really Said. And I came away with two radically different pictures of what a Pharisee was in the first century.

For Haas a Pharisee was someone who attempted to earn Gods favour. For Wright, a Pharisee was someone who was zealous for God, but who already believed they had God’s favour. For Haas, a Pharisee was a legalistic and Paul left Phariseeism for Christianity. For Wright, a Pharisee was a faithful Jew and Paul remained a committed Pharisee throughout his life, even after becoming a Christian.

In Haas’s book there seemed to be some confusion as to whether a Pharisee in his mind refers to a saved person who is living legalistically or to an unsaved person who is trying to get saved through works-based salvation. Both individuals may be churched – presumably – since the book is written to people in the pew. So there seems to be some confusion and inconsistency with what Haas means by legalism (i.e. Pharisee).

In the end if Wright is right, and of course, I think he is, I found the whole premise of Haas’ book collapsed on itself. For the analogy of a Pharisee cannot be used to depict either a person who is attempted to earn God’s approval or earn salvation.

However, cut out that whole analogy – meaning come up with a new title, a new cover and black out 2/3’rds of the book (I scanned through it) – and the main premise that we should not be legalistic still stands. But, again, I did not read it word for word.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • CGC

    Hi Derek,
    Good thoughts and and Wright is right :-)

    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks bro.