Some people know sports. Others know theology. Dr. David Chadwick, as a former member of the 1969 NCAA Final Four Basketball Team who now holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the prestigious Columbia Theological Seminary, knows both intimately. Few others are as qualified to explain the most elusive aspects of Christianity through the more-familiar lens of sports, as Chadwick does in his book, “From Superficial to Significant: What it Means to Become Great in God’s Eyes.”
Sometimes, theology can get a little complicated, and concepts like sin, redemption, and faith can feel out of reach for the uninitiated. But Dr. Chadwick’s work helps readers to explore these issues—and more—while making them accessible through the stories of his days as a skilled basketball player.
To help you decode the path to living a remarkable Christian life, let’s take a look at a few of the lessons from Dr. Chadwick’s book.
Play the Imitation Game
Just after graduating from high school, Chadwick attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Conference, where he had just signed a basketball scholarship to play at the University of North Carolina. His spirits were high, and according to him, he “had a bit of a swagger” over his abilities on the court.
At the end of one of the conferences, Chadwick participated in a basketball game, and was paired off with an experienced NBA player. Excited for the challenge, Chadwick did his best, but the more experienced player thoroughly beat him, scoring at will.
Chadwick didn’t even score one point.
After the bout, Chadwick approached the player, and asked the man to teach him everything he knew. Fortunately for him, the player agreed, and for the rest of the week, taught Chadwick, giving him tips on how to up his game. His method of training was simple: “Just watch what I do, and then do it. Copy my moves. Play as I play.”
Training this way worked well for Chadwick, and as a result, he got better—way better.
Dr. Chadwick writes that we can understand Christ’s teachings in much the same way. His command to “follow me” is an invitation to play the imitation game.
While it’s important to get the details of the game right by knowing the rules, we can’t stop there. We have to really look at how Jesus lived, how He made his decisions, and how He executed them.
We need to do what Jesus did, and then do it. We need to copy His moves. We must play as He played. In that, we find a simple way to understand how, exactly, we can follow the teachings of Christ.
Be Willing to Get Traded
One of the more interesting times in baseball is July 31st, because it’s the final day a team can make a trade. By four in the afternoon, all baseball teams must have finished up swapping players.
Dr. Chadwick uses this baseball principle to illustrate the concept of what some theologians call “The Great Exchange”—the idea that God made a huge, eternal trade with humanity, taking away human sin and leaving us His righteousness. In baseball terms, this would be an incredibly one-sided trade—one that would be ridiculous to turn down.
Except, sometimes, we can get pretty comfortable on the teams we’ve been on our whole lives. We know the other players won’t hold us accountable. We know the coach won’t demand much. We can just sit on the bench, and occasionally step up to bat when, and if, we feel like it.
But that’s now how God wants us to live. He wants us to be willing to get traded to His team.
We have to be ready, though—He’s going to push us like we’ve never been pushed before, and hold us accountable when we fail. But He’s also going to forgive us, extend us grace, and keep teaching. In other words, God is the perfect coach, and it’s only under His guidance that we’ll ever reach our full potential.
Sounds like a good trade, doesn’t it?
The Paradox of Weight Training
When Dr. Chadwick played basketball in the ‘60s and ‘70s, basketball players didn’t weight train in the traditional sense—it was thought that bulking up would contribute to inflexibility, which could throw off a player’s shot off.
But as Chadwick was training, a machine was invented called the Universal Weight Machine, which promised to allow basketball players to weight train without risking their shot. Chadwick made use of this, improving his strength while maintaining the integrity of his basketball shot.
Dr. Chadwick writes about the science behind weight training—when you lift weights, you’re breaking down your muscles, which makes you weaker for a time. But as the body heals itself, those same muscles are built back up, they’re made stronger than before.
In this way, the only way to become physically strong is to become weak. This is the paradox of weight training.
This same principle applies to spiritual matters, as well. Dr. Chadwick references Matthew 5:2, which reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall receive the kingdom of God.” This theme appears throughout the Bible, and for good reason—it is only when we let go of our ego and self-centered desires that God can work through us.
We must be willing to be broken down, like a muscle, so that God can powerfully work through us, building us back up as we should be. After all, God has an infinite view, and sees all ends. He knows what where we should go, what we should do, and how we should do it so much better than we ever could.
A Final Word From Dad
Throughout his book, Dr. Chadwick mentions small lessons from his father, who was also a pastor. One of the most important involved the prophet Jeremiah’s disciple, Baruch.
When we follow the lessons Dr. Chadwick writes of, we begin to draw closer to God. That doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives will improve, but this change can, at times, bring with it a sort of unhealthy pride, and we can begin to feel better than those around us who are not as “enlightened.” The lesson of Baruch, however, keeps that holy pride in check.
Baruch was Jeremiah’s pupil, and his likely successor, but in 45:5, Jeremiah tells him, “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.”
Dr. Chadwick’s father used this small story to show his son that the ministry is not the place to seek greatness for oneself—it is the place to glorify God.
And so when you gain a greater understanding of God’s will through Dr. Chadwick’s work, remember this final lesson of humility above all else. Don’t be that skilled, professional player who’s constantly taunting the other team, shunning his own teammates, and acting out outside of the court.
Those aren’t the players who change the world. So take Dr. Chadwick’s advice and listen to the Big Coach upstairs. Let God be your guide, and you’ll leave a mark on the world that will never fade.