March Madness: A Fundamental Lesson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI haven’t watched much college basketball this season (I’m more interested in the NBA). When I tuned in for March Madness last week, one aspect of the college game jarred me. Often the shooters do not get set—balanced evenly on their feet—before shooting. They are fading away from the basket, leaning to the left, leaning in, or leaning to the right. As a kid, I was always taught to get set before taking a shot whenever possible. Perhaps along the way, young players are receiving insufficient instruction about the understanding and practice of the fundamentals of the game. Weakness in fundamentals keeps teams from doing other things, such as winning games and advancing in the NCAA Tournament.

There is an analogy in the religious world and in the church. If we are weak on the fundamentals, then we will also be weak in teaching about subjects that are less fundamental but still necessary. Here, I will explain a biblical definition of a fundamental biblical doctrine, and give examples of how a fundamental biblical doctrine implies other biblical doctrines and helps in understanding of doctrines that are less fundamental.

Consider that a biblical doctrine is fundamental because it has many biblical implications and connections. That is, if you believe biblical doctrine w, then you must also believe biblical doctrines x, y and z, and it will be easier for you to understand other biblical doctrines. Let’s consider an example, filling in w, x, y, and z, with biblical doctrines:1

  • w: God, the personal Creator of the Universe exists and relates to man (Romans 1:20-21).
  • x: Whatever truth this God has revealed to man must be understood and obeyed (Hebrews 5:9).
  • y: If God has revealed Himself in the Bible (and He has), then man must obey whatever biblical doctrines are binding on him (2 Peter 1:20-21).
  • z: Man is obligated to God to honor his his father and mother (Ephesians 6:2).

Biblical doctrine w is more fundamental than doctrines x, y, and z neither because w is more true than any of the others, nor because w is more necessary to Christian faith or practice than any of the others, but merely because w implies a greater number of truths. W is necessary in order for x, y, and z to be true. Also, an understanding of w makes it possible to understand the others. When a person meets with any of the doctrines w, x, y, or z, he must believe it based on the evidence which also will be presented to him. Yet one of the doctrines is more fundamental than the other three, and is part of the evidence supporting all of the others.

It is critical to understand the difference between the fundamentality of a doctrine and the non-negotiability of a doctrine. Those doctrines that are more fundamental are neither more true nor more negotiable than others, but simply have more logical implications for other beliefs. We must insist on the truthfulness of all biblical truth, while acknowledging that these truths stand in various logical relationships to one another.

If we fail to understand the difference between fundamentality and non-negotiability then we may, in emphasizing the need for teaching about fundamentals, unintentionally convey that there are certain “bulls-eye” or “core” biblical doctrines that must be believed, and other biblical doctrines that may be safely denied. This is basically what many in the religious world have done when they have said that belief in the divinity of Jesus is fundamental (read, “essential”), whereas other beliefs, such as beliefs about how one must worship in order to please God, are not fundamental (read, “negotiable”). What a tragic mistake.

We must be strong in the fundamentals in order to be strong in other areas of righteous belief and action. I hope to discuss such fundamental doctrines in subsequent articles.

  1. Notice that, for convenience’s sake, I am not including evidence that would, phrased as stages in an argument, make the reasoning from w to z a properly sound and valid logical deduction. 

- 2017