The Virtue of Being Precise

I’m a musician. Well, sorta. Perhaps I should say that I am becoming a musician. Allow me to explain. I’ve studied piano off and on for the last few years and can play moderately well. I’ve also tinkered with the violin, guitar, mandolin, and the Irish penny whistle. Yet at the end of the day I’m not sure that I’m willing to call myself a full-fledged musician just yet, and here’s why: I cheat. That’s right, I admit it, sometimes when I’m playing Mozart and I come to a difficult passage I fudge it a little. In fact, I’ve skipped entire lines of music to avoid difficult or demanding passages and I’ve often tweaked the music to make it easier. In a word I’m imprecise.

Now you may be wondering why this should be such a big deal. After all, who cares if we don’t strive for perfection and precision? Aren’t people who fuss over precision (whether grammatically or musically) missing the big picture? Besides, it’s the heart that matters right?

In his book Worldly Saints: The Puritans as they Really Were, Leland Ryken tells an interesting story about precision: “When the English Puritan preacher Richard Rogers was lecturing at Wethersfield, Essex, someone told him, “Mr. Rogers, I like you and your company very well, but you are so precise.” To which Rogers replied, “O Sir, I serve a precise God.””

I think the Puritans were on to something here. You see, they understood that getting things half-way right, or even mostly right, is no guarantee. Especially where the gospel is concerned. Details matter. The Puritans were famous for the precision of their theology. Many of them were willing to die over issues that many in today’s church would consider trivial or secondary. Why was this? Were the Puritans just being too picky? Were they simply making a mountain out of a mole-hill?

I don’t think so. The Puritans understood that we are called to be like God, and God is precise. When we say that the details of theology don’t matter we aren’t been magnanimous, we are denying a part of God’s character. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we need to go around picking fights in the name of “precision” nor am I arguing that we break fellowship with believers that disagree. What I am saying is that those disagreements do matter. We can disagree about a detail of God’s character without declaring a brother to be anathema, but we must never say that that detail of God’s character is unimportant.

The Christian, like the musician, knows that the details are important.
So I think I’ll keep practicing my piano. After all, I serve a precise God.

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