My wife and I just starting watching BBC One’s Sherlock Holmes. Watching Marvin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch interact on screen has been good fun.

And darn it all, I just want to have a mind like Sherlock.

I want to be able to observe and notice with such acuity. I want to have a brain that can instantly see the connections of scanty details. I want to be able to get to the bottom of critical scenarios taking place all around me throughout the day.

Just think how having a Sherlock Holmes-type mind could help in pastoral ministry. A couple comes in for counseling and within minutes you have the whole situation pegged. You ask someone how they are doing but you notice the slight alteration in their pupil or the syntax of their response to know they are actually struggling in secrecy.

And just think how helpful such a mind would be in my daily work as a reader of texts. What if I could see the intertextual connections between John 19 and Ezekiel 34 and 37 with instantaneous clarity, observing the logic of the Fourth Evangelist’s use of the ancient shepherd prophecies in his Shepherd Discourse. I just saw Sherlock crack some code that ended up being airline seat numbers. What if I could see the textual variants, citations, echoes, and shifts in verbal tense to discern the theological program governing the inspired author?

Ok, probably most people would not think of applying Sherlock’s deductive gifts to ministry or to the reading of biblical texts. You do have to admit, though—such skills could come in handy.

But alas, I am mortal.

Sherlock is portrayed as a “freak.” Like all our (super)heroes, he possesses certain powers that normal folks lack. Now, the Sherlock of Benedict Cumberbatch can beat up CIA field officers and wield a gun with great skill. But the power most exemplifying Sherlock is that of intellect. We live in a cultural context in which it is possible for him to claim that “smart is the new sexy.”

Yet just as we lack Superman’s strength, we all lack Sherlock’s brain.

This does not mean, however, that I am called to do ministry or read sacred texts relying on my own limited and mortal capacities. God has sent the gift of his immortal Spirit to indwell us and empower us. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit’s job is to make us superheroes. I am not claiming here that “Charismatic is the new sexy.” Nor am I suggesting we ignore developing skills of observation—these can be extremely helpful. But weakness and brokenness become the most prominent platforms of the Spirit’s work in our lives. It is quite unheroic, and probably not very good for television.

I’m just saying that superheroism is unnecessary. There is a supernatural power at work amidst our soupy mix of flesh and blood, ignorance and limitations. Somehow, God’s Spirit enables his church to see, observe, notice and assess what is going on all around us in our culture. Our job is not so much seeing and deducing. That’s part of it. But mainly we are called to abide and listen….





One thought on “Sherlock Holmes, Pastoral Ministry, Hermeneutics, and the Holy Spirit”

  1. Man oh man do Matt and I love some Sherlock? Have you seen the season two finale yet. I can just hear Miranda’s reactions 🙂

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