Evangelical Pharisees and the God We Serve

Too many are too quick to judge and condemn:

Evangelical and Bible-believing Christians know full well that Jesus saved his harshest words of condemnation for the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. They were not the good guys, in other words. Yet while evangelicals can rightly condemn the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, how many actually live and act like them today?

There would be many characteristics of the Pharisees, but certainly one general feature would be that of having a sense of religious superiority and looking down on others. The contemporary Pharisees are quick to judge and condemn others, just as the Pharisees of old were quick to judge and condemn Jesus and his disciples.

We see this so often, especially on the social media. A person either becomes a Christian, is thinking about becoming a Christian, or might be on the way to becoming a Christian, or says he is one – but of a somewhat different theological camp – and the evangelical Pharisees are out condemning them within minutes.

This grieves me deeply, as I am sure it grieves our Lord. Sure, the evangelicals doing this will say they are simply affirming sound doctrine and the like, but sadly that can be used to cover a multitude of sins. Claiming to stand up for solid biblical teaching, they too often are just acting fully like a Pharisee.

They sit in judgment on others as if they were God. They really act like judge, jury, and executioner. They show no grace, no patience, no mercy – they are out for the kill. All I can say is I am glad God did not treat me that way – especially when I was a new believer.

If these Pharisaic Christians were around then, and aware of my thoughts, words and deeds as a believer during my first weeks, months and even years, most would be certain I was not a Christian. Thankfully I am ultimately answerable to God who knows all things, and not to these armchair critics.

At the end of the day ONLY God fully knows the human heart and fully knows those who are his. We do NOT. Sure, there are tests we can make use of, and we must be biblically discerning. For example:

-A lack of sound doctrine CAN indicate that a person is not truly saved.
-A lack of Christian love and grace CAN indicate that a person is not truly saved.

So yes, knowing the beliefs of a person and knowing the fruit of a person is part of how we assess others. But still, great care is needed here. We are just all far too quick to rush to judgment. As I say, most of these Pharisees would have condemned me back in my early days as a Christian.

But a brand-new believer is simply a babe in Christ. What intelligent and caring person would condemn a newborn baby because he cannot feed himself or dress himself or do much of anything? It is the same in the spiritual realm. Cut these people some slack for heaven’s sake!

When folks like Russell Brand came out a week ago saying he is now with God and getting baptised, plenty of these Pharisees and heresy hunters were so quick to spring into action, assuring us that he was NOT a Christian, he was a fake, and we should have nothing to do with the guy. Good grief!

Some of the most unloving and ungracious “Christians” I know of are the various heresy hunters and self-appointed guardians of the faith. They have decided they will determine who is saved and who is not. They will take God’s place and assure us of who we can fellowship with and who we must avoid.

You almost wonder if they would seek to institute a new inquisition against some of these new believers. Sure, genuine cultists who fully deny the deity of Christ and so on can and should be assessed by what they believe or do not believe. But a brand-new Christian is not in that place.

We had the same with Bishop Emmanuel who was attacked and blinded in one eye by a teenage jihadist. Because he is in a different camp than most of us – an Assyrian Orthodox believer – plenty of these heresy hunters were out in force, warning us to stay well clear of the guy and have nothing to do with him.

Well, I for one will ignore these Pharisees and keep praying for the Bishop. Sure, I do not agree with all of his beliefs either, but to condemn him to hell as a false prophet because of some of these differences is not something I am prepared to do.

Simply seeing the love and forgiveness he has offered to his attacker does tell me something about the sort of person he is. Yes, sound teaching matters, but so does sound living. In many regards he seems far more of a Christian than I am.

But none of us are perfect, none of us have it all together, none of us have inerrant doctrine, and none of us are in a place where we should sit in judgment on everyone else around us. Yes, we discern, we evaluate lifestyles, we evaluate what a person believes, but we do so carefully and graciously.

And the same goes for a third group of people also being hammered by the Pharisees. I refer to those who still seem to be on a spiritual journey. Someone like Jordan Peterson is a clear example. I have seen so many evangelicals dumping on him, saying we should stay away from him and avoid him like the plague.

But as I have said so often now, if he does not sound like a Christian, that is likely because he is not one yet. So why would we expect him to talk like a perfect 30-point (or whatever) evangelical? And as I also say so often, if these critics would spend a fraction of the time praying for folks like Peterson as they do publicly attacking them we all would be in a much better place.

This goes for all these folks, be it Brand or Emmanuel or Peterson. How much are the armchair critics praying for these folks? Why do I suspect that many of these critics have not once prayed for them. How could they? They are far too busy condemning, denouncing, judging and attacking.

And much of this also falls back to the matter of co-belligerency. So many public figures and public intellectuals seem to be moving in the right direction. They are tired of where the secular world is at and are now looking at the God option. I stand with them in this.

As Russell Brand tweeted a week ago, “No one trusts the government. No one trusts the media. So why are we surprised that more and more of us are turning to God?” Now, does a generic ‘turning to God’ necessarily make one a Christian? No. Does being baptised necessarily make one a Christian? No. Does forgiving an assailant necessarily make one a Christian? No.

But instead of going on the attack in all these cases, I wish the Pharisees would actually get on their faces before the living God and pray something like this:

‘Dear Lord, I do not know if Brand is now really a born-again Christian or not. But I am thankful you seem to be working in his life, and he seems to be going in the right direction. Please help him fully become a child of yours if he is not already. And surround him with solid Christians to help disciple him and help him to grow in you.’

And again: ‘Dear Lord. I differ with the Bishop in many ways, in some beliefs and practices. But I also have quite a bit in common with him. And the genuine Christian love that I see emanating from him puts me to shame and makes me want to become much more Christlike in this regard. If you want him to change theologically in some areas, then make that clear to him. But in the meantime, bless him and keep him close to you.’

And again: ‘Dear Lord, I am not sure where Peterson is now at. I believe his wife and daughter may have become believers of late. I pray you would keep working in his life. You have used him in many ways to help so many people. It would be terrific if he did indeed become a real-deal Christian. So keep working in his life Lord.’

Now for me this is not just theoretical. I have a daily prayer time, and all three have been on my list – some for quite a while now. I try to pray for people like this just as much as I publicly speak about them. I wish some of my evangelical friends would do the same.

Yes I know: doctrine matters, and not everyone – be they a celebrity or not – is necessarily a Christian just because they say they are. But I am willing to cut these folks some slack, and maybe even give them the benefit of the doubt. No, I will not be gullible and throw out biblical discernment. But neither will I pretend I am God who can judge and condemn all those that happen to differ from me in various ways.

As I have also said before, there will be a lot of surprises in heaven. Some folks we were certain would not be there will be. And some folks we were certain would be there will not be. Moreover, it will not just be some evangelicals who will populate heaven. There will be some other Protestants, there will be some Catholics, there will be some Orthodox, and there will be some who have no clue which camp they are in.

Image of Divine Generosity: The Scope of Salvation in Reformed Theology
Divine Generosity: The Scope of Salvation in Reformed Theology by Mouw, Richard J. (Author) Amazon logo


I just picked up and read the newest book by Calvinist theologian Richard Mouw: Divine Generosity: The Scope of Salvation in Reformed Theology (Eerdmans, 2024). While I understand that Calvinists can sometimes be a feisty lot, often at war with one another, I happen to quite like Mouw – a Kuyperian Calvinist, for those in the know – and have a number of his books.

In this volume he looks at a question famously asked by B. B. Warfield back in 1915: “Are there few that be saved?” Others have also asked such questions, and I examine the biblical and theological material on the matter in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/04/01/are-there-only-a-few-who-will-be-saved/

In his short book he looks at a number of important figures such as the Hodges, Bavinck, Shedd, Vos, Spurgeon, Barth and others. Here are his closing paragraphs:

In the Calvinist community that formed me, I did sometimes hear things that pointed in the direction of a large-number scenario without actually arriving there theologically. This typically occurred for me on family occasions when someone would raise a question about a specific person. I remember my Dutch Reformed aunt speaking glowingly about her neighbor. “We have great conversations about things, and we often agree. It makes me wonder because she is a Polish Catholic—but often she actually sounds Christian!” Then someone else would remark (and this would usually end the conversation with heads nodding in agreement), “Well, you never know. Sometimes I think that when we get to heaven we will be surprised by who else is there!”


At its heart Calvinism is a theology of surprises. This is why even its gloomier expressions can serve to celebrate in our souls the wonders of sovereign grace:


Alas, and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?


And this experience of surprise in our deep places prepares us to be open to see God’s mercies reaching into the deep places of others—and even to more cosmic surprises. God so loved the world—the kosmos, the creation that in the beginning God declared to be good—that he sent the Son into our midst so that the whole creation could be saved and renewed through his redemptive mission. Then the risen and ascended Lord sent his Spirit to call an elect people into being, to bring divine blessings to all the nations of the earth. What the final nature and scope of those blessings will be brings the promise that great surprises are yet to come, by the power of the Spirit, who “worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.”

Second afterword

I just noticed that my friend Rod Lampard has posted something similar on the social media, so let me share it here:

Russell Brand credits Bear Grylls for helping disciple him. My takeaway from his “week 1 as a Christian” update is just how horrid the “he’s not really a Christian” has been. I empathised with RB, not because he’s a celebrity, but because 28-years ago, I experienced the same “he’s not really a Christian” dismissals. I understand the skeptism, and yes, Paul issues the imperative to test all things, but he also encourages (Rom. 14) to walk alongside those who are new in Christ. Pray for RB, pray for me, pray for every repentant sinner whose life has been wondrously interrupted by the saving grace of Jesus the Christ, and transformative power of the cross.

It is nice to know I am not the only Christian who thinks this way!

[2234 words]

11 Replies to “Evangelical Pharisees and the God We Serve”

  1. Thank you, brother Bill. Today’s message is a genuine treasure to me.

  2. Bill, With regard to celebrities it is hard to fathom whether professions of new found faith are sincere. That said, I predominantly take the view that until I see/read/here of convincing evidence to not take their testimony at face value, I will err on the side of belief that they are sincere. Some members of orthodox denominations put me to shame with the way they express and display their faith. We may be doctrinally or dogmatically different but their love for Christ is undeniable. Some surprises await us in heaven.

  3. I agree Bill, but surely being hesitant and careful is also not Pharisaic? Just had this conversation last night, was asked whether I believe Russell is a true Christian.
    I stated it’s too early to know, but, you will know him by his fruit.
    Haven’t seen it myself, but it’s claimed he still uses tarot cards, again, he’s a new christian and may not still be aware of what God/the bible forbids.
    I still remember when I was an early Christian, I still swore quite a bit, smoked and liked to drink (a bit too much on weekends) but, with the Holy spirit convicting me, I gave those things away, and 8 thnk God for his grace and patience (although I still am prone to cussing if I smack my thumb accidentally with a hammer)
    We are all a work in progress, but I will pray for Russell, as he will also be a great witness to many of his followers.
    But men like Kanye West also shows we shouldn’t be too quick in endorsing folk (specially when they’re celebrities) and little bit of healthy caution I believe is wise.
    He’s pretty much said and done things that would disqualify him, and would be a bad witness to many impressionable folk.

  4. Thanks George. As I said more than once in this article, as in so many other articles, yes we of course must be wise, discerning, careful, testing all things and not being gullible. So the biblical Christian must be both: not quick to judge and condemn, and not quick to believe everything they see and hear.

  5. I look at JP K West, JP and all these others the same way, no need to tweet it or text it, just BE IT and it will be known. When will we learn to be happy and hopefully but mindful of the difference in what is SAID and what is LIVED?

    I’m embarrassed that I am even commenting since the last time RB was in the news it was for very, very different reasons. I get it, he may have changed, we hope he has changed but lets see the change before we argue if there has been one. Paul the slayer of saints took 3 years in the desert and then STILL was not accepted by most.
    Never forget Hollywood has lots of starts, the vast majority are not shooting but falling,

  6. Thanks, Bill, for reminding us of grace. Your following article also gives wise advice to those of us who want to make sure that all nails are hammered into the fence firmly.

  7. Agreed. We need to pray for Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan.
    I’m also praying for, and writing a letter to Douglas Murray.

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