12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me):
Finding Grace to Live Unmasked

by John Fischer, Bethany House, 2000, 170p.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

While the title of this book focuses on the problem of judgmentalism, a problem most of us wrestle with, the subtitle alludes to a positive solution. Underneath our judgmental spirits, asserts Fischer, lies the fact that we have not learned to live transparent lives that thrive on grace. Indeed, the sub-title, Finding Grace to Live Unmasked, might well have been the primary title, because that in the end is the formula for overcoming any addiction.

But it is precisely because he sees judgmentalism as an addiction that Fischer draws on the recovery model used by Alcoholics Anonymous to offer hope to those desiring to escape its clutches. He notes that there is a common pattern to pharisaical life styles in all ages. In his introduction to the book Fischer states, “The standard is set so that attaining it is difficult enough to weed out the undesirables but not so difficult as to become overly burdensome – and that’s the key. Armed with this new standard, Pharisees can then qualify themselves for righteousness and judge those who, according to their measurement fall short. Once this course is entered upon, it can branch into myriad avenues of arrogance, judgment, and false humility.”

So it is not surprising that the first step for recovering pharisees, comprising the first chapter, is “…to admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.” As is the case with alcoholics, so we can not be helped until we face our problem head on. Each of the ensuing chapters focuses on a further step that can be taken toward unmasked living in the grace of God. The first set of steps focus largely on admitting to the shadow sides of our lives – being honest with ourselves and others. The rest of the steps point more directly toward growing an unmasked life – free to leave judgmentalism behind and to embrace grace for oneself and others.

Fischer notes that like recovering alcoholics, recovering pharisees know their weakness and must take continual precautions so as not to slip back into their addiction of the past. That means living transparent, grace-filled lives in the context of a carrying community to which we are accountable.

As Phil Callaway writes on the back cover of the book, “Don’t buy a copy of this book. Buy six. John Fischer’s paragraphs are loaded pistols, his conclusions dynamite. Few books have the power and insight to change the church. This is one.” After studying this book with a small care group this winter, I can only say, “Yes! Right on!”