Let me confess something very personal to you in this ‘safe’ context known as the internet: I am a Theological Nitpicker.
Admittedly, I would love to rewrite the above sentence by adding the word “recovering” right before the term “Theological Nitpicker,” but if I’m honest I don’t think I’m quite there yet.
“Nitpicker” is a fun word. It’s not a fun activity, but it is a fun word. Here is how my friends at Dictionary.com define it:
a person who nitpicks, especially habitually.
Isn’t that beautiful? Like me, you’re probably asking “what does it mean to nitpick?”
Here you go:
1. to be excessively concerned with or critical of inconsequential details.
2.to criticize by focusing on inconsequential details.
3.a carping, petty criticism.
4.of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a nitpicker or nitpicking.
Back to my original confession: I am a Theological Nitpicker.
I love to be precise. I have a passion for the Bible. I want to make sure that what I believe (and especially what I teach) is sound. I feel an incessant pressure when it comes to accountability to the Spirit-inspired words of the Scriptural text. I am naturally skeptical. I have never really struggled with confidently asserting my opinion. I have a tendency to assume I’m right. I give myself the benefit of the doubt (to a fault). I am a learner. My hunger to learn at times stems from my own pride. I like to give people advice. I love to teach. I want to share knowledge with others. I tend to ‘think’ more than ‘feel.’
I pick Nits.
If anything in the above paragraph describes you, you may be a fellow Theological Nitpicker.
Here is my problem with myself as a Theological Nitpicker: Theological Nitpickery leads me to assign orthodoxy to my own theological assumptions (tied to my experiences of course), while assigning heresy to those who disagree with me. A Theological Nitpicker is never more satisfied with the orthodoxy of a belief system than when they’re looking in the mirror.
Don’t get me wrong, God has a role for Theological Nitpickers. He used one of them to write most of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul never met a Nit he didn’t want to pick. But God used him profoundly. When he was known as Saul, his Nitpicking tendencies led him to persecute the young Jesus movement within Judaism. He assumed a great deal about his own orthodoxy and it led him on a murderous crusade of the heretics. But then Acts 9 happened. When Jesus flattened Saul and began turning him into the man we know as Paul, the Nitpicking precision developed into things like the Letter to the Romans, the multiple missionary journeys, and an impact for God’s kingdom still felt 2,000 years later.
How does God use Nitpickers?
He breaks them. He humbles them. He breaks them again. Through it all He teaches them the essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who was broken so that we could be healed, and is alive to lead us into His truth as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God.
Maybe this is why Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners.”
The phrase “nitpicker” is derived from a pretty disgusting activity. Originally, it refers to the task of removing tiny eggs of lice (nits) from someone’s hair and clothing.
This is what Theological Nitpickers do the best. We identify bugs in other people’s theology and we pick them. Sometimes it takes less time to just smash the person in the head with a giant board, in an attempt to crush the little bugs and their eggs. This is efficient and easy, because Theological Nitpickers usually have huge planks handy.
As you can tell, nobody Nitpicks Nitpickers like a Nitpicker.
What’s my point?
Be aware of your own sin. Be aware of the fact that as Bonhoeffer said “When Christ calls a man, he bids him, ‘come and die.'” Like Paul, as you and I look in the mirror, let’s be cognizant of our own fallibility before we get to the business of straightening out everyone else.