One of the most widely recognized apologetics organizations is the California-based Reasons to Believe. The apologists comprising the scholar team at Reasons are highly sought after speakers with seemingly endless speaking schedules. So, I am very thankful that one of the scholars, Ken Samples, set aside some time to answer ten questions.*
Dayton: “Ken, for those who may not know, could you tell us a little bit about what you do at Reasons To Believe and how you ended up on the scholar team?”
Ken Samples: “I serve as a senior research scholar at Reasons To Believe (reasons.org), a science-faith think tank founded by astronomer and Christian apologist Hugh Ross. I focus on apologetics issues from both a theological and philosophical perspective. Broadly speaking, my role in the organization is to help provide theological and philosophical assistance in RTB’s apologetics-oriented integration of historic Christianity’s two revelatory books (the metaphorical Book of Nature [God’s World] and the literal Book of Scripture [God’s Word]).
My activities at RTB include writing articles and books, presenting lectures at churches and universities, doing radio and TV interviews, as well as participating in the weekly podcasts, I Didn’t Know That! and Straight Thinking. Prior to coming to RTB, I worked first as a research scholar at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) with the original Bible Answer Man—Walter Martin. After leaving CRI, I lectured on philosophy and religion at a couple of Southern California colleges for about five years.
I first met Hugh Ross when he gave some talks on science apologetics for the CRI research staff. In 1997, when Hugh gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse, I came to work for RTB!”
Dayton: “I understand that at one time you were on the fast-track to becoming a professional baseball player. So, what happened? How did you go from pursuing professional sports to spending your life as a Christian thinker?”
Ken Samples: “I would describe my pursuit of a baseball career in much more modest terms. After high school I played semi-professional baseball in the Los Angeles area for a couple of years. I was fortunate enough to play with a number of athletes who went on to Major League careers, such as Darryl Strawberry. I was scouted, but I never signed a Major League contract.
Though raised in a nominally Catholic family, I became a Christian my second year in college after the premature death of my older brother. C. S. Lewis’ apologetics writings played a significant role in my thinking through the big questions of life, especially the problem of suffering.
Studying philosophy in college seemed a natural fit. My World War II veteran father always said I asked far too many philosophical questions and one of my baseball coaches even gave me the nickname “Professor.” I ended up earning undergraduate degrees in philosophy and history and a graduate degree in theology. While in college I had the privilege of going to work for Walter Martin and my interest in Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics has never waned.”
Dayton: “Which Christian thinker, outside of the Scriptures, has most influenced your thought/theology?”
Ken Samples: “St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) is my favorite philosopher/theologian. His classical writings combine a powerful theology of grace with an intuitive ability to defend historic Christianity. He is arguably the greatest Christian thinker outside of the New Testament writers. History knows him as a philosopher, theologian, bishop, and tenacious defender of orthodox Christianity. Moreover two of his books are literary classics of Western civilization (Confessions and The City of God).
Six important apologetics related factors paved the way for Augustine’s conversion to Christianity (detailed in Confessions). He later attributed all of these factors to the sovereign grace of God at work behind the scenes of his life. These six factors can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his sovereign grace, prepares people for faith.
1. Removing philosophical objections to Christianity
2. Removing theological and exegetical objections to Christianity
3. The example of other believers
4. The existential reality of death
5. Confronting mankind’s sinful condition
6. The study of Scripture
Outside of Scripture, Augustine may be as close as we get to a universal Christian voice (especially in Western Christendom).
I might add that I’m very fond of Blaise Pascal and Benjamin Warfield as well, but both of them identified themselves as strong Augustinians.
Dayton: “I know you have a very demanding schedule with all that you write, your various speaking engagements and weekly podcast programs. Yet, you make time to serve a vital role in your local church. How important do you believe it is for Christian thinkers to remain active servants, leaders and teachers in the local church?”
Ken Samples: “I think my church activities are among the most important things I participate in. Christian thinkers and scholars should be integrally involved in their local church. Our churches need what scholars can provide and the scholars need the benefits that come from experiencing the life of the church. Historically, Christianity’s greatest apologists have also been churchmen. For the past 17 years, I’ve taught a regular Sunday class (emphasizing doctrine, evangelism, and apologetics) at my church. Much of the content found in my apologetics books first appeared as lectures in my church class.”
Dayton: “For many Christians the age of the earth debate is very divisive. What is your take? Is it an essential issue? Should Christians debate the age of the earth with one another?”
Ken Samples: “I think the age of the earth and universe is a very important scientific and apologetics topic. I also think it is quite appropriate for Christians to engage in debates and dialogues concerning these controversial science-faith issues. Unfortunately, this has become a very contentious topic for many Christians. Some believers seem to struggle to treat the people with whom they differ over this issue with appropriate respect and grace.
Personally, I’m persuaded that science overwhelmingly supports the old-earth creationist position and that the position is quite compatible with a viable interpretation of Scripture. However, I have no problem respecting people who happen to hold a young-earth viewpoint. Before I discuss theological differences with other Christians, I insist on first identifying what we hold in common.”
Dayton: “If someone were looking to explore issues regarding human origins and the age of the earth from a Christian perspective, what resource or set of resources would you recommend?”
Ken Samples: “Regarding human origins, I would highly recommend the excellent book Who Was Adam? coauthored by my two science colleagues Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross. To study three different positions on the creation days of Genesis (and, to some extent, the age of the earth question), I recommend The Genesis Debate edited by David Hagopian. Three teams of scholars represent the different positions: J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall for the 24-hour view, Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer for the day-age view, and Lee Irons and Meredith G. Kline for the framework view. For a defense of the old-earth position, I would highly recommend Hugh Ross’ book A Matter of Days.”
Dayton: “I have greatly enjoyed reading your books with my favorite probably being Without a Doubt. Do you have anything new in the works?”
Ken Samples: “I’m pleased that you have found my apologetics books helpful. Writing is hard work. When asked if I enjoy writing, I usually say, ‘I enjoy having written.’ Presently, I’m working on a new book tentatively titled Historic Christianity’s Seven Dangerous Ideas. In disciplines like philosophy and science, dangerous ideas are those that challenge the standard paradigm (accepted model) of the day. These ideas go against what many people naturally assume to be true and real. Such revolutionary ideas tend to threaten accepted beliefs and often contain explosive world-and-life view implications for all humanity.
Numerous historic Christian beliefs (such as the resurrection, the Incarnation, the Imago Dei, etc.) are theologically and philosophically volatile, in the best sense of the term. The Christian faith’s powerful doctrines and truth-claims have succeeded in both turning the world upside down and transforming the church. So that’s the writing project currently taking up much of my time.”
Dayton: “How important is it for Christians to have a ‘thinking faith?’”
Ken Samples: “The relationship between faith and reason is a very important issue for me as a Christian. Failing to appreciate the need for a thinking faith has led to many negative features in present-day evangelicalism. Historic Christianity doesn’t require believers or nonbelievers to choose between faith and reason, as though the two are unalterably separate spheres. Rather, Christianity is uniquely a reasonable faith (a trustworthy and reasonable belief system). The events that form the core of Christian belief—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—are rooted in history. For 2,000 years, apologists have presented diverse evidences and arguments for embracing Christian truth-claims.
While specific doctrines—such as the triune nature of God and the union of the two natures of Christ—certainly transcend human comprehension, Christian belief never violates reason itself. In fact, philosophers have argued that the God of the Bible uniquely provides the metaphysical foundation for logic and rationality. The consensus throughout church history is that faith and reason are compatible and complementary.
The New Testament word for “faith” or “belief” (Greek: pisteuo, the verb; pistis, the noun) is rich in meaning. To have biblical faith in Jesus Christ for salvation includes: (1) a genuine (factual and historical) knowledge of the gospel events, namely, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; (2) a personal assent to the truth and importance of those events; and (3) a confident trust in the object of that faith (the risen Lord Jesus Christ). Faith, in a biblical context, is therefore not separated from authentic human knowledge of truth and reality.”
Dayton: “To what do you attribute the renewed interest in the American church regarding the practice of apologetics?”
Ken Samples: “I would attribute this renewed interested to two factors:
1. I think many Christians have grown to appreciate the need for a genuinely integrated faith and worldview (faith and reason).
2. A shrinking world has brought worldview competitors together and many Christians realize that evangelism must be backed up with a robust apologetics enterprise.”
Dayton: “In closing, could you share something you have learned over your time in apologetics that you wish you would have known when you first began defending the faith? Any easy-to-make mistakes you would encourage others to avoid?”
Ken Samples: “Two things come to mind. First, historically speaking, the enterprise of apologetics is a branch of theology. Therefore, a viable apologetics system should be tied closely to historic Christian theology. Moreover, apologists should be well acquainted with the various branches of theology (biblical, historical, philosophical, systematic).
Second, apologists need to engage in sustained reflection and prayer concerning the demeanor and character traits that the Apostle Peter says should accompany the apologetics enterprise (1 Peter 3:15–17). Those winsome characteristics of gentleness, respect, and the keeping of a clear conscience are nonnegotiable features.”
Ken, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
*Please note that I do not necessarily agree with or endorse every theological position of those being interviewed. However, we are in agreement on essential issues of the faith (i.e. the Gospel, deity of Christ, etc…)