Vol. 1 - No. 12

November, 1982

Book Review

by Byron Gage

THE PHARISEES' GUIDE TO TOTAL HOLINESS, by William L. Coleman, Bethany House Publishers, 1977, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a well written and interesting book indeed. The dangers of “Phariseeism” are real and apparently ever--present. We all, I fear, fall prey to the same difficulties, inconsistencies, and yes, even the same attitudes that the Pharisees manifested just prior to and during the time of our Lord's personal ministry upon this earth. This book is another of several books, articles, and sermons of late which sees, in some group or other, similarities (whether real or imagined) to the Jewish sect of the Pharisees.

Labeling, as the author states, is a fool's sport at best, and to state or imply that a particular group of individuals today are the new “Pharisees” is exactly that. The problem with this folly should be evident in that Jesus dealt more with the attitudes of the Pharisees than with their actions. The most scathing rebukes delivered to the Pharisees by our Lord were those which dealt with their hypocrisy and misguided motivation. No matter what the past was for the Pharisees, the present was full of egocentricity, pride, and religion for show (hypocrisy).

Chapter One of this book deals with the “fence laws” which were of human origin. These laws added to God's laws for safety's sake. They were somewhat stricter than the actual law regarding a certain practice in order to keep one “fenced” a certain distance from God's actual law thereby insuring that God's actual law would not be violated. The author flatly condemns this, but does not acknowledge the validity of such. Do not misunderstand. The validity of which I speak is that we too often go where angels fear to tread, close to the precipice of violation of God's laws, flirting with disaster, courting the world, and subjecting ourselves to very real dangers and pressures all the while glibly announcing that we're strong enough not to fall. Granting that erecting fences for everyone else is going too far, nevertheless the applications and examples of the dust cover of our book are too much: “Evangelical Christianity's list of regulations which spell out 'separation from the world' have an uncanny resemblance to the Pharisaical 'fences' -- 'Thou shalt not' go to the movies, dance, play cards, smoke, drink    and the list could go one and on, depending on the particular holiness standards in a specific group.” Has God no revealed concepts of holiness and does James become a “separatist” when he writes “...keep oneself unspotted from the world?”

The basic information, arguments, and assertions in this book are good and I have few real problems with it. However, I do have some with the implications scattered throughout the book. The author would seem (my opinion, of course) to confuse “conservatism” with “legalism” in its bad connotation and such is a very real mistake. We often forget that to loose where God has not loosed is just as sinful as to bind where God has not bound. The former is extremely popular of late.

The Pharisees were not so guilty of misinterpreting God's law as ignoring some portions of it, and, they were not so guilty of new legislation as they were of improper motivation. Their extra-Biblical rules and regulations were indeed wrong, but the real leaven of the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. We must be very careful in labeling brethren or anyone else a Pharisee!

Although this review may appear somewhat negative, I recommend this book highly, and for the most part its material is excellent.