There’s an old story about Sherlock Holmes that has made the rounds several times. In case you haven’t heard it, here it is.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good
dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” exclaims Watson.
“And what do you deduce from that?”
Watson ponders for a minute.
“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
And Holmes said: “Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent.”
I love that story. Some people like to state it more succinctly as in, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” I prefer this longer version, but to each his own.
True of Preacher Types, et. al.
The way Watson was reading the sky is often the way people like to read the Bible. We, so often, get caught up in the minutiae of things, we don’t see the basic principle that’s present. This is particularly true of us preacher types, but a lot of other folks get bogged down in this stuff too.
It’s not that the little details aren’t important—they are. Still, one can get so mired in the intricate realities behind the writings, we miss the point entirely. It’s a little like going to a ballgame and focusing so much on one or two players we lose sight of the game itself. You come away having to ask what pitcher won and who had the most hits. You were an eye witness. How could you miss these things?
Alistair Begg is one of my favorite preacher/teachers. When tackling a difficult passage, he’ll often say, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” In other words, don’t get so hung up on the background details that you muddle what’s up front and clear.
Not the Sum and Total
The finer points are important because they can bring clarity and focus to the passage at hand. They can help us flesh out the direction of God in the midst of a meaning that could otherwise get lost on us. They can provide context and direction when we’re attempting to discern the will of God. They are not, however, the sum and total of the Gospel story.
Majoring in the minors is often a lot of fun. It’s interesting, and it stimulates the mind. But before we go on to those things, we might want to make sure the tent is still there.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]