My wife and I are competitive ballroom dancers, competing at the highest amateur level. At this level, the instruction is way beyond simply learning the steps. In fact, it’s ultimately back to the basics.
All dancers, when they begin to learn, naturally focus on wanting to learn the steps. But there comes a time if the dancer truly wants to excel, that he/she must move beyond simply learning the steps. You need to understand essentials like contra-body movement position, swing versus sway, and the simple physics of moving. You need to be able to keep balance through the most intricate movements. You work on training individual muscles to do what’s required to execute a world-class routine. You must know how to move your body in perfect unison with your partner while in close contact. Your frame must be rock-solid. This is all difficult stuff that takes years to learn. It’s the “basics” of dancing.
The interesting thing is that all new dancers mistakenly believe it’s simply a matter of knowing the steps. Know more steps and you’re a better dancer. Know complex steps and you’re an advanced dancer.
The steps are only as good as the basics underlying it. Lousy basics equals lousy dancing no matter how advanced the steps are. Think of “steps” like icing and “basics” like the cake underlying it. Terrific icing will never make up for bad cake. The problem is that the “basics” tend to not be flashy and beginning dancers naively think that flashy steps signal progress.
There’s a parallel here to the Christian life.
It’s the basics under-girding our understanding that ultimately determine how strong our faith is. Things like the nature of truth, grace, Trinitarianism (God), sin, death, faith, justification, sanctification, the sovereignty of God, etc. I can’t tell you how many Christians I encounter who are unable to articulate an orthodox explanation of the Trinity. Or what it means to be justified before God. Or how to correctly read and understand Scripture.
A typical contemporary group Bible study consists of reading a passage and then going around the room with everyone saying what it means to them. What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. What if I’ve written the following sentence?
”It’s good to be gay.”
What did I mean? What if I wrote it 50 years ago?
A lot of Christians are simply indoctrinated in their beliefs. That is, they believe something because someone they trust told them – i.e., a parent, a pastor, a spouse, a friend, etc. While what they believe may well be true, there’s a problem. If they don’t know WHY they believe, their faith is shallow and poorly grounded. (Hint: If you feel threatened when your beliefs are challenged, that’s a pretty good sign that your beliefs are more the result of indoctrination than reflection. You know “what” you believe, but not “why”.)
Sadly the basics aren’t glamorous enough for many Christians who are more excited by “cotton candy” theology - i.e., colorful and tasty, filled with hot air, and melting in your mouth with no true spiritual nutrition. Go into any Christian bookstore and peruse what’s up front on the “bestseller” shelf. Then compare and contrast those books with the ones that have stood the test of time as classics in terms of teaching the basics. The classics are usually on some back shelf gathering dust – or you have to special order them because the demand is not great enough.
It’s a solid and deep grasp of the “basics” that characterize strong Christians. Lose the basics and you’re on shaky ground. Paul warns the Galatians that their abandonment of the basic principle of grace (Gal 4:8-20) will enslave them once again. He warns the Corinthians about the allure of “super-apostles” with the latest faddish teaching (2 Cor 11:4-6.)
Decades years ago, I was convicted of a desire to deepen my relationship with God and become the most effective servant I could. The result of my conviction? It was back to the basics, diving into a much deeper level of understanding. Want to be a world-class ballroom dancer? Focus on excelling at the basic techniques of ballroom dance, not merely learning as many advanced steps as possible. Want to be a powerful kingdom-class Christian? Dive deep into the basics of the faith.