American Pickers is a television series about a couple of guys who own an antiques business in Iowa. They travel around the United States digging through old barns, attics, warehouses, and just about any other imaginable place where things accumulate in order to find items for resale. They buy and sell everything from old cars and motorcycles to old toys and signs. I enjoy watching it from time to time because some of the places they “pick” remind me of my grandparents’ home in Texas, a place I loved to explore when I visited as a child. Recently, while watching the program, my son Joseph grinned and said that someone needs to make a show called American Nitpickers. I told him that I was going to have to borrow that title, and he said that was fine as long as I gave him credit for thinking of it. So, a tip of the hat to Joey for the title.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a nitpicker as “a pedantic critic; one who searches for and over-emphasizes trivial errors.” Before proceeding any further, let me clarify by mentioning a few things that, in my opinion, certainly do not qualify to be dismissed as nitpicking. It is not nitpicking to desire and expect excellence in your own work and the work of others. It is certainly not nitpicking to point out mistakes when people’s lives are on the line. If a supervisor at an airline maintenance facility discovers that an employee has made an error that would result in catastrophic engine failure if not corrected, the supervisor is not being nitpicky. Note again that the definition of a nitpicker involves trivial errors.
It is also not nitpicking to seek precision in our understanding of Scripture. Some people, even many professing Christians, would relegate all theological debate and criticism to the category of nitpicking. They consider most or all differences over biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine and practice to be trivial. It doesn’t matter what you believe about God or Jesus Christ or the atonement or justification, they say. What matters is that we tolerate one another. Of course, if the Bible were merely a human book and if God did not exist, they would be correct. However, if God is who He reveals Himself to be (and He is), and if Scripture is His inspired Word (and it is), then we need to think twice and then think again before treating His self-revelation so flippantly. Seeking clarity and precision in biblical interpretation and theology is not nitpicking because when God speaks, it is not trivial. Nitpicking is searching for and pointing out trivial errors. While some theological errors are more significant than others, none are trivial, because all theological errors concern God in some way.
In short, recognizing and pointing out important errors is not nitpicking. The question I would like to consider is this: Do we ever encounter nitpicking in the church? A better way for each of us to ask this would be, Do I ever engage in nitpicking in regard to the church? Before you answer the question, try a thought experiment. Imagine that you found out someone had secretly placed a recording device in your car and had recorded your conversations every Sunday on the way home from church. Imagine they had a year’s worth of recordings. Now ask yourself whether you would want anyone to hear those conversations. Would you want your pastor to hear those conversations?