Precision makes us squeamish. But not just any sort of precision. We don't get uncomfortable when someone says that 2 + 2 = 4. That is very precise, but we don't have a problem with it. We wouldn't call a math teacher "narrow-minded" for teaching it to our children. Why? Because we are convinced that there is no question about its truth value. What is more, there are no profound spiritual or moral implications surrounding the solution. No one is going to stand up and shout, "That's just your opinion," or, "I am offended!" But if the claim is something like, "Jesus is the only way to heaven," then people (even Christians, provided they are in the company of non-Christians) start getting very antsy. All of a sudden, precision becomes a very "dirty" thing. Why is that? I think the answer is quite simple really. Precision requires us to confront the thing in question. When the concepts and language are vague, there is no real concern that any disagreement might arise, and that keeps our minds at ease, but when things get specific, and there is a potential confrontation looming, our Spider Senses start tingling.
An example of this dynamic can be seen in the account of Paul's encounter with the philosophers at the Areopagus (Mars Hill). In Acts 17, verses 18-21, we learn that the philosophers were intrigued to hear that Paul was teaching new spiritual concepts and (as far as they were concerned) new gods. They loved talking about that sort of thing so they brought him to their court to teach. It is strange that Luke (who wrote the book of Acts) points out in verse 32, the exact moment when people started getting uncomfortable. It was when Paul talking about the resurrection. Some people even began to mock him. But is it any wonder? Just take a quick look at Paul's sermon. He tells them about the unknown God. He tells them that God is not made with human hands, that he created all things, that in him we have our being, and that we are his offspring. Of course, in hindsight, we know exactly what Paul was going from the very beginning. And when we hear Paul talking about God, in the Bible, we know which God he is talking about. Even so, it is not hard to imagine that the philosophers were nodding their heads for most of Paul's presentation. They didn't have the benefit of hindsight, and they were probably just fine with all of that sort of language. But in verse 30, Paul gets painfully specific. He says, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now, before you get too sidetracked thinking about how you dislike biblical judgement language, here is my question: what is the reason that Paul gives for why it is now time to repent and make a decision? Answer: the resurrection. He was very precise. He essentially said, "Your search is over. Jesus rose from the dead, which confirms that what I am saying is true, and that means it is time to make a decision." That was not what they wanted to hear. Some of them were probably thinking, "What a lame ending." Why? Because it forced them to deal with the claim being made.
So, there are two big issues that I see here. One is a problem of practice and the other, of truth. First of all, practice. I think that many churches have over-emphasized what it means to be "seeker-sensitive" to the point of becoming "seeker-centered." The result is the development of an entire Christian sub-culture (becoming more mainstream all the time) that is virtually indistinguishable from any other therapeutic, self-help, moralistic, pseudo-spiritual, system. God wants you to be happy, successful, and to love others. The key difference is usually just that the name of Jesus sprinkled in (though it is not clear what they believe about Jesus), and often people describe encouraging spiritual/emotional experiences that they have had. In such a culture, precision is actually viewed as an enemy of faith.
On the other hand, there is the problem of truth. The precision problem reveals that many people (if not all of us) are not always convinced that what they claim to believe about ultimate reality is objectively, actually, (really, really) true. When they say "I believe X," that is as far as they are willing to go. Of course, believing something (no matter how passionately) doesn't make it objectively true. I may fervently believe that chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream, but that would be a subjective claim (true for me, but not necessarily for anyone else). Unfortunately, I think the problem of precision reveals that many of us (if not all of us in some way or another) have conflated subjective and objective truth values when it comes to claims about ultimate reality. Why? Because it helps us avoid confrontation. In many cases, even if the person is fairly confident about his/her truth claim, they are often not certain that it has any significant consequences. They really do believe it, but they are not convinced that it matters if anyone else does. Thus, there is no real reason to get precise and risk a confrontation. Like I said before, no one gets squeamish about mathematical precision. But if the topic in question has to do with ultimate reality and has potentially signficant consequences, then we start doing the "potty dance" (you know, the dance kids do when they have to go to the bathroom really, really badly). We don't want to face the impending confrontation. Doing so reveals that we may, in fact, still be on the fence about whether or not the claim is actually true. And that takes us back around to the first problem--let's just spiritualize it away. Then we can hold to it, but it won't be offensive.
The problem is that the biblical writers won't let us get away with either of these. Luke addresses the practical problem. He cuts us off before we can try to water down the potentially confrontational nature of Christian truth claims. When he tells us about the resurrection of Jesus, he goes to great lengths to explain that Jesus actually, physically, (really, really), rose from the dead. It isn't just a nice story to keep you going when times get tough. In chapter 24 of Luke, Jesus says to the disciples, "why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Lk 24:38-39). Then Jesus asks for a piece of fish to eat. Why? To further demonstrate that he was really there. And Luke specifically tells us that it was a broiled piece of fish. Why does that matter? Because those are the sort of details that you don't include if you are making stuff up! He is giving us a report, not a fictional story. Luke is trying to say, "Yeah, it seems crazy, we thought the same thing, but it is the truth." John reiterates the sentiment, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 Jn 1:1). In short, Jesus (and the claims he made) cannot be spiritualized away into some feel-good, all-about-my-happiness, sort of thing.
Finally, Paul addresses the problem of truth. He writes to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor 15:1). That is pretty clear. If it isn't true--if it didn't actually happen in history--then we are wasting our time. There is no room for "true for me, but not for you" Christianity. That option has not been left open to us.
So what is the point of all of this? Simply this: we need to face our fear of precision. Please don't misunderstand me. I am talking to myself here as much as anyone reading this. If we avoid precision in order to stay comfortable and avert confrontation, the result is that we totally marginalize our views. Or, to use a Kung Fu analogy (see, I can tie it all together somehow), we sweep our own legs out from underneath ourselves. I am not saying that we have to be tactless or intentionally confrontational. However, I am saying that it is not possible to remain faithful to Christ without being precise--maybe even awkwardly precise--at times