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Foundational Issues (1) – Introduction

If you are anything like me, I am sure you have found yourself frustrated by the level of public discourse. Too often so-called discourse devolves into shouting matches and name calling. Even when the discussion remains civil, it frequently feels like the interlocuters are missing the point and talking past one another. It is not uncommon to see points misunderstood, terms ill-defined, and arguments made without any grounding or justification. As a result, most public debates and discussions are completely useless—anyone watching with a prior opinion simply feels further supported in his or her opinion and people without an opinion are often turned off.

I believe that one of the reasons that public discourse is in such a poor place is because we are constantly discussing and debating conclusions, while we simultaneously are failing to discuss the fundamental issues on which those conclusions are based.

For example, we often discuss reforming schools, but never discuss human nature. Yet we cannot have a school that is fitted to train young men and women if we don’t know what a human being is! We talk about ethics in the market or workplace, but fail to discuss the nature of morality and how we as humans know and understand it.

It is my conviction that discipling our children requires us to not simply give our children the right conclusions, but to explain them and justify the grounding on which our conclusions rest. In this series of messages I am going to write about a number of foundational questions and discuss how Christians and great thinkers in the past have answered them. My intention is not to discuss any contemporary issue, except to show how it is connected to a foundational issue. Likewise, I have no intention whatsoever of expressing any opinion on contemporary issues. Instead, I hope to give you tools to think through the core ideas that influence the conclusions we come to in many of our debates. Over the next seven weeks I plan to write about:

  • The nature of reality
  • The nature of ethics
  • If/how we can know ethical truths
  • The ability of man to live out what he believes is true
  • The purpose of government and civil institutions
  • The difficulty of discussing these issues in a pluralistic society
  • How we can engage in moral discourse in our society

I have two brief disclaimers.

First, I am trying to write about very complex ideas in a way that is both accessible and concise. If you have studied these things you may at times think “he is over-simplifying this!” And you will probably be right. Authors have filled innumerable books in investigating these questions; I simply can’t do them complete justice in a series of Classreach messages.

Second, I am trying very hard to focus on areas of Christian agreement and to present all issues fairly. If I ever assume wrong, if I ever say ‘this is what Christians believe’ and your church or tradition teaches something different, please let me know! I am by no means trying to subtly critique or minimize any belief or tradition. If I make an error, please let me know, I want to be corrected in this. 

I will begin next week by writing about the nature of reality.