The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Ken Samples. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today I’m speaking with philosopher and theologian, Ken Samples. He is senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, and he is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference. He’s contributed to numerous other books as well. He’s written articles for Christianity Today and Christian Research Journal, and he regularly participates in RTB’s podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. So, thanks so much for speaking with me today, Ken.
KS: Hi, Brian. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I enjoy your site and enjoy an opportunity to interact with you.
BH: Well, for those who may not be familiar with you, could you tell us a little bit more about your background and how you came to be a philosopher and a theologian?
KS: Yeah. Brian, I grew up in a kind of a nominal Catholic family, and by the time I kind of hit my teens, I was really kind of looking for deeper answers in life. I just kind of felt like I needed a greater sense of purpose and significance and meaning, and I began kind of asking the big questions: How do I know that God exists? Where do I find meaning in my life?
My sister, who had become a Christian a few years earlier, gave me a book by C.S. Lewis called, Mere Christianity. My second year in college, I was studying philosophy. I read Lewis’s book and was just very amazed by it, impressed by it. Again, I kind of grown up Catholic, but didn’t know much about historic Christianity and certainly didn’t comport my life with Christian ethics. So I read the book, and Lewis really taught me historic Christian thinking, and not long after that, I dedicated my life to the Lord, and I immediately thought that I wanted to know more about the Bible. I wanted to know more about my faith, and I began studying philosophy.
I took my undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Social Science, so I was always interested in history and philosophy; then later, I took a graduate degree in Theology at Biola University at Talbot. And those were always kind of burning areas for me. I love philosophy. I love to think and reflect. I love history. I’m a big World War II student. My father was a decorated serviceman in Europe during the Second World War. And, of course, I love theology. I love the Scriptures, and a philosophical perspective. So that’s kind of my educational background, and my areas of interest.
BH: Well, you mentioned C.S. Lewis. I’ve heard many people have been so influenced by his books and writings. Were there any other apologists, while you were starting out, who were influential for you?
KS: Yeah, there were. In fact, out of that education, I met Walter Martin, who had a big influence on me. Dr. Martin, of course, was the former, the kind of the original Bible Answer Man, if you will, his popular radio program, call-in radio program, and I worked with Walter. I used to go to his Bible classes that were held here in southern California. And Martin encouraged me and challenged me to read more about Christian philosophy and theology.
Some people that I really admire in theology: Athanasius, the 4th century father who defended Christian orthodoxy against the Arians. Today, we kind of see modern Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unitarians embracing a type of Arian theology.
Augustine is probably my favorite Christian thinker outside of the New Testament. I love Augustine’s Confession, City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity. Pascal, the very famous 17th century French thinker, mathematician, religious writer. I love his book, the Pensées. I mentioned Lewis.
I think that it’s important that Christian apologists mentor future apologists. I think that’s part of the way in which we kind of grow in our apologetic goals and our calling in life. Martin was a big influence on my life. Ronald Nash, who wrote very, very fine apologetic book called, Faith and Reason, he also had a big influence on me. So there are a number of ancient thinkers and modern thinkers that have really challenged my apologetic, theological, and philosophical thinking.
BA: I have to say that your resources, through your podcasts and your audios and things from Reasons to Believe, have been really helpful to me, so I appreciate what you’ve been doing in apologetics. Can you tell our listeners more about your apologetics ministry as it is today?
KS: Yes. I worked previously at the Christian Research Institute, and my time there was more in the area of counter-cult apologetics. After that, I spent a lot of time teaching philosophy of religion in various colleges, and then about almost thirteen years ago, Dr. Hugh Ross, who’s the president of Reasons to Believe (RTB), asked me to come on board here. Reasons to Believe is a science-faith think-tank. We engage in discussions about the doctrine of creation and interact with people who hold evolutionary views and things of that nature, and my role in the ministry is largely to provide more philosophical and theological input into what we call our creation model. RTB, I think, has a very robust ministry in kind of reaching out and help people to feel comfortable that you could be a Christian and also be a person who has great confidence in math and in science.
BA: You had mentioned different mentors in your life and part of the reason for this interview is to kind of gain insights from your experience, and so I want to ask you, what advice would you give to those who are just starting out in apologetics and who want to go deeper?
KS: That’s a really important question, and I appreciate that, Brian, because I think back to being a very young Christian, being interested in apologetics, not being sure about what my vocation or calling was, and I was always kind of a cerebral type of person and sometimes the church I would attend weren’t terribly oriented toward ideas and arguments. It was kind of a struggle working through that period.
I think there are a number of things that I would offer in terms of advice. I think one thing that I would say is that it’s very important that, if you’re interested in apologetics, that you appreciate that in the ancient world, apologetics was seen as a branch of theology. And what I mean by that is I think it’s very important in apologetics to tie your apologetic thinking—whether you’re interested in science apologetics, or historical, philosophical, maybe counter-cult apologetics, or even literary apologetics, the kinds of things that we see in Lewis and Tolkien and others—that you tie those areas to a very robust Biblical theology or maybe Walter Martin would put it, that apologists also need to be theologians. I think sometimes apologists can make a mistake if they, you know, they become Mormon experts, experts on Mormonism or experts on a particular area. It’s very important I think to know what you’re defending, to have an appreciation for Biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophical theology. I don’t want to give the impression, though, that an apologist has to know everything, but to have a very robust approach to the Bible and to theology. To me, that’s something that I think would be very significant to young apologists.
BA: So would you say the best approach for someone would be to study theology first or alongside, sort of in tandem, with his or her apologetics studies?
KS: I think it’s something that they could benefit from: keeping it right there—that is, rather than becoming an expert in a particular area, look to integrated it: How does my interest in apologetics integrate with my Christian faith? If I have a background in science, how does science and faith integrate, or if I’m interested in the field of literature, how do I bring the truth of scripture, of robust historic Christian thinking, into that kind of thing.
And again, some apologists will pursue a more formal route. They’ll look for a graduate degree in apologetics or in theology. Others may choose more of a lay ministry, and there they would want to integrate their own personal self-discovery in terms of theology. But apologists, I think, need to be deeply connected to theology—and a good breadth of theology, not just, as important as Scripture is, also understanding historical, philosophical, systematic theology. That can be very robust in making a strong apologist.
BA: Now how would you say the academic route of apologetics compares with, say, a non-academic route. For instance, what sort of things should someone emphasize if they’re training themselves, so to speak, in apologetics if they choose not to go an academic route?
KS: Yeah, that’s a good question. I had a friend, Bob Passantino, who had a ministry for many years, Answers in Action, with his wife, Gretchen. Bob did not pursue a college career, had a family, and a lot of other things. Bob was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met—incredibly well-read, was a very thoughtful and forceful Christian thinker without, you know, ever going the formal academic route.
I kind of think of it, Brian, in these terms, it’s kind of formal versus informal. You either follow an instructor or you follow a kind of self-discovery. I think one thing that, if you are going to be a lay apologist, I think it’s important to expose yourself to critical analysis, maybe developing a mentor type of relationship. [It’s] important to network. I mean, if you’re not going to be in the classroom, there’s one thing I think you’ll miss out on and that is, when you are in a classroom with really good professors, they can serve as a corrective; that is, they’ll respond to your sloppy thinking or they’ll help you kind of balance out what your thinking on something. Sometimes when you study by yourself, you don’t get that. So networking with other people, maybe mentoring. And again, it’s important on the part of [an] apologist, I think, to look to do that kind of thing.
So obviously one of the benefits of not going an academic route is you can read what you want, you can kind of set your schedule. Others are going to want to follow an academic route. They’re going to want to get a solid degree. It may open up opportunities to teach or to teach in the church. So, I encourage people to consider carefully the academic route, but I know there are people who can be very powerful apologists in more of a lay context.
BA: Now do you think there are particular, essential areas of learning that the apologist should master?
KS: Yeah, that’s really, I think, a great area of inquiry. In my book, A World of Difference, no actually, it’s my book, Without a Doubt, the subtitle of that book is Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, and the last question is, “How do I prepare myself to give reasons for faith?” I think there are some really essential areas. Again, I think, connecting it to theology, a study of systematic theology is going to be very, very important for an apologist.
Another area is logic, exposing yourself to areas of argumentation, the laws of logic, informal fallacies. That can really revolutionize your whole thinking, where your mind becomes much more disciplined to the categories of logic.
Brian, I also think rhetoric is very important. I know that term is a bit controversial, but rhetoric is the persuasive use of language, and I think that that’s very powerful; that is, how do we speak clearly? How do we communicate concisely and persuasively? Speech and debate can be very, very useful and a powerful tool in apologetics context.
I think maybe a broad category that is helpful is worldview thinking. You know, it’s one thing to know something about a particular religion like Islam or the Latter-day Saints, the Mormons. It’s another thing to kind of learn about worldviews—naturalism, post-modernism, worldview of pantheistic monism. These kind of give you a broad perspective, kind of up on a plane at thirty thousand feet.
So I think those areas are important: (1) Systematic Theology, (2) Logic, (3) Rhetoric, (4) Worldview Thinking. Those are categories, those are areas of discipline that I think would really broaden out a person who’s interested in defending the faith.
BA: Well, I think that’s extremely helpful. You, yourself, have taught logic, so what would you say is the best book for learning logic?
KS: Yeah, boy, it’s awfully good to get a really solid logic text. I tell ya, one book that I’ve used for many years teaching college and university courses in logic is a book entitled, A Concise Introduction to Logic by Patrick Hurley. This is probably the most popular book in universities today in the field of introduction to logic.
Hurley does this really good job of conveying ideas clearly. There are lots of charts and diagrams to help you understand the content, but it’s also very readable. Some logic texts can be a bit intimidating. They can be a tome that you feel like you can never get through. Pat Hurley does a great job of kind of balancing careful content with clarity of expression.
If I could be so bold as to even maybe recommend my own book. I have a section in A World of Difference on logic. There are a couple different chapters there on it, and the reason that I did that is that when I was working on writing this book on worldviews, I tried to read every worldview book or every significant worldview book written in the last hundred years, and virtually all of these great books said that, you know, people need to be able to think carefully and clearly, but very few worldview books include kind of a logic section or a logic lesson, if you will. So that could be, the chapters I have, could be a good stepping stone to moving further on the topic.
BA: Now sort of along the lines of logic would be the area of critical thinking. How would you say that one could intentionally develop that area of their thinking, so that they can be a better critical thinker and analyze arguments maybe without going, you know, maybe heavily into logic or do you think there’s big overlap there, and they tend to go along the same lines?
KS: First of all, there’s more of the traditional introduction to logic where you would, you know, study the formal laws of logic, principles of argumentation, language. You’d probably also be taken into a bit more of the formal areas and sometimes that would even include symbolic logic, which is a bit more of an investment and commitment.
On the other hand, critical thinking…maybe the way of thinking about that is critical thinking has greater application, and so you would look at how arguments break down. You’d look at the informal fallacies, the ad hominem, the straw man type of thing. I think that all of these areas are very, very helpful.
Logic—and I draw from Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, who we call the Father of Logic—Aristotle said that logic is a tool or an instrument that helps us discover the truth, and logic is about ordering your thinking. I remember thinking introductory logic courses over and over again for over a 10-year period, and I tell you, Brian, it really helped me, because my mind began to be shaped by these principles, and I learned the principles that will help you have a very strong, robust argument, and I learned the areas where I had to be careful. You know, the fallacious areas, the ways of reasoning that make your argument unravel. I think that that kind of investment is very, very valuable, and I think getting some good materials, working through them, reflecting upon them could help, not only the apologist, not only the minister, the theologian, it can help just the average, everyday Christian, because what is more important than the way we think? I mean, in the Biblical context, we call it discernment. That is very, very valuable, something I highly recommend. Something that’s been a huge help for me, personally.
BA: Yeah. What qualities do you think are the most crucial for an apologist to cultivate? ‘Coz I’m thinking along the lines of, of course, being a critical thinker, thinking logically, developing yourself intellectually, but what about just overall being Christ-like and having the sort of character that is winsome. Would you talk about character traits and habits that the apologist should develop?
KS: Yes. I’m so glad that you asked that, because this is so important. You know, Apologetics 315, I mean, that makes us immediately think of 1 Peter 3:15. Peter there not only tells us that we need to prepare ourselves to give to every man an answer, a reason for the hope that we have. Peter there uses the very word apologia—to give a reason, defend. But the rules of engagement are also laid down by Peter—that it’s to be done with gentleness, respect, keeping a clear conscience, and we’re to submit ourselves to Christ’s Lordship. I think immediately that [those are] the kinds of qualities or attributes that we want to work into our life through the power of the Spirit.
Devotion. We are devoted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We’re not professional, you know, defenders of the faith. We are disciples. We are followers of our Lord.
I think respect for other people. Humility. Knowing that even though we’re cerebral types (most people who are interested in apologetics, arguments and reasoning tend to kind of come easily), we need to recognize that we are finite creatures, that we have been scarred by sin, that we’re limited, and we are deeply dependent upon God’s grace in our life, that it’s not about winning arguments. It is about helping people to move obstacles out of the way so that God’s Spirit can work in people’s life.
I also think that courage is a very important trait. Courage is a rare attribute, both in and outside the church.
Intellectual integrity. I talk about the Golden Rule of apologetics, which I define as treat other people’s arguments and beliefs the way you want yours treated. You know, I’ve written on Seventh-Day Adventism. I’ve written on Roman Catholicism. I’ve written on other particular groups. I think we want to analyze other people’s beliefs with the sense of carefulness, fair play, accuracy. You know, this is important.
Again if I can reference Aristotle: Aristotle talks about logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is the argumentation, the reason. It’s the logic. Ethos, where we get our word ethics has to do with credibility. I need to be a credible source. My reason and argumentation may not be effective unless people perceive me as morally credible. And then pathos, which I bring it down to the person and show them how it’s connected in an interpersonal type of manner. So I think it is very important that Christian apologists, Christian thinkers, Christian leaders, the average, everyday believer think very carefully about character traits.
BA: You had mentioned ministering as, like doing the Bible Answer Man program. The question I have there is, do you have any tips as far as developing yourself as a public speaker or giving a public answer or thinking on your feet? What helped you to develop skills in that area?
KS: Yeah. I compliment you, Brian. These are really good questions. I mean, I think you’ve touched on the kinds of questions that we should be talking about, and we should be reflecting upon.
You know, I think interacting with Walter Martin—Dr. Martin was a very difficult act to follow. He could speak off the cuffs extemporaneously, and speak in perfectly grammatical sentences, and I then would have to come up and speak after him. I thought, “Boy, this is not an easy thing to do,” but you know, Martin kind of modeled for me the importance of communication. He mastered communication skills on radio and TV and, therefore, was a very powerful force for historic Christian thinking.
I kind of talk about the Four C’s, Brian. When I speak, I want to be clear. I want to be concise. I want to be cogent and compelling. I think that sometimes public speaking is one of the very important areas. We want to be able to communicate intelligently. We want to be able to communicate in a context where people say, “I understand. I really am gripped by those kinds of things.” You know, it’s easy to become an apologist and only talking in language [or] vocabulary that makes sense to people with a couple of graduate degrees.
Is it clear? Is it concise? Is it cogent? Does it hold together? Is it compelling? Is it accompanied by a winsome spirit? And so I often tell my students—you know, they are studying maybe to be a nurse or an engineer or a doctor—and I tell ‘em, I think probably some of the most important courses in your major are not in your major. They’re courses like Logic, Critical Thinking, Public Speaking. These are things that can be very valuable in terms of communicating the Gospel to various venues.
BA: When we’re dealing with people, we’re dealing with a variety of different issues: their minds, their hearts, their emotions. What role do you think that prayer plays in the life of an apologist or an evangelist, and what’s the sort of role that the Holy Spirit would play in ministering to people?
KS: Well, it’s so, so important. You know, I think the pitfall, Brian, for the apologist is clearly that we are very cerebral type of people. I’d sometimes jokingly said I’d rather read a book than pray, or I’d rather read a book about prayer than pray. But that kind of thinking, that kind of action is going to, I think, lead us on a road that we don’t want to go down. It’s easy to get out of balance and to think I can argue people into the faith.
You know, prayer is communication with God, and C.S. Lewis used to say that he could not not pray. It just kind of flowed out of him. I think that as an apologist, and I’ve known some very distinguished apologists, and I hate to say [that] some of them have had bad experiences in life. Their life has gotten out of balance. They’ve had divorce. They’ve had struggles with family issues. You know, all of that is tied to our devotion, our time of, not just study, but our study of Scripture; not just learning something so we can communicate it but feeding on the Word of God; having a life that’s characterized by prayer.
People do not become converted to Christianity merely by the clever arguments that we come up with. God’s Spirit has to illumine their minds, soften their heart, and incline their will to believe. It’s important to realize that without the Holy Spirit, no one is going to come to believe the Gospel. I think it’s also important to realize that God uses argument. Arguments are important—but as they’re used by His Spirit. So I think apologists again have to fall back on the tremendous importance of being the first devotional believers, themselves, and inculcating a sense of humility. You know, look, when you’re really good at something and people acknowledge you, it’s easy to begin to think, “Wow, I must be a hotshot apologist.” You know, that’s very easy to get out of balance, and so the devotional life, the life of prayer, life to your family, commitment to your wife—these all need to come together I think in a very effective ministry.
BA: You had mentioned, you know, these different pitfalls, so to speak, of self-dependency and getting imbalanced, and earlier you had also mentioned how sometimes you don’t listen to the person you’re speaking to. You haven’t been a good listener. Back along the lines of pitfalls and conversations with people, do you think there are particular pitfalls that are common and that can be avoided in personal interaction?
KS: I do. I do. I think one pitfall is again to think [that] this is all one big intellectual argument or game, and failing to appreciate the spiritual realities of life. The biblical context is spiritual warfare. I think when we begin to think it’s one big cerebral argument and we detach it from the spiritual life, that can be a very big obstacle. In addition to that, I think when we start treating people as if they are obstacles to be overcome or arguments to be defeated rather than treating them like people, you know, sometimes people reject your arguments, not because you’ve got bad arguments, but because they don’t particular certain character traits in you, or they don’t like your snobbish kind of attitude.
Again, I don’t want to give the impression to anybody who would hear our interview today, Brian, that you have to be perfect, because, boy, there are times I look in my own life and I realize that I’m a broken person, that sin has deeply impacted me. I have challenges and difficulty just like anybody else, but I think to be a very effective apologist, it involves not just the way we reason and the way we talk, but also the way we live. And so sometimes, it is that getting out of balance that I think can be a problem in the field of apologetics.
BA: I think that’s extremely helpful. Now you’ve mentioned in one of the courses I’ve enjoyed of yours was the Learning 101 course. In that course, you had mentioned that you have a goal of reading one book a week. So you’ve obviously spent a lot of time in studying and reading and researching. I would want to ask you, what are your favorite tips or insights for being a life-long learner?
KS: Yeah, that’s a class I love. I absolutely love to teach that class. We call it Learning Skills 101, learning how to learn using Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s great book, How to Read a Book. I kind of bring my own experiences and some of my own writings into the course as well.
Brian, I want to talk about what I call The Life of the Mind to the Glory of God; and that is, scientists, neurologists, people who are experts, neuroscientists—they tell us that the human brain/mind is the most complex mechanism in the known universe, that the complexity, consciousness, personhood are these profound realities that scientists grope to kind of explain. Well, the Lord has given us this gift, and I think using our mind to God’s glory. I mean, He’s given us our brain/mind, and this is part of what it means to be made in his image—our ability to think and to reason, to read and understand.
Animals don’t do logic. They don’t read. They don’t engage in the arts. This is part of what it means to be made in the image of God, what we call in Latin the Imago Dei . I think we need to see that as part of our devotion to Him. If He’s given us these profound faculties and qualities, we want to use them, not to be Mr. Smart Aleck, not to be, “Look at me, how smart I am, how many books I read,” but, no, I want to use this to His glory. I want to stand before Him and say, “Lord, I desire to love you with everything I am, my heart, my mind, my soul”—I think what Jesus is getting at there: my entire being.
To me, knowledge, learning, wisdom needs to become a daily priority. I think we need to commit ourselves to learning over entertainment, over recreation. I’ve set a personal goal when I was a young adult to try to read three hours a day. I haven’t always been able to meet it. I know [for] some people that would be very difficult to do. I’ve been very fortunate to have the kind of jobs that involve a lot of reading and preparation, but I think setting some intellectual goals. I’ve started a couple of reading groups connected with my church where I talked about New Year’s resolutions for the mind. How about reading six really good books a year? One every two months.
Again, not to promote intellectualism. God doesn’t love intellectuals over non-intellectuals. But I think the way of thinking about it is I want to use everything I have to His glory, and therefore, learning, thinking, reasoning needs to be a daily priority in my life maybe over watching television or for me, a big Lakers fan, maybe watch a little less Lakers game once in a while, devote myself to a bit more reading and thinking. Those are the kinds of things that I think we can put into action that can revolutionize our life. And if you have trouble in reading, Adler’s book is very, very insightful about how to become a more comprehensive reader. Have trouble in logic, I try to summarize things that’ll help students to develop logical principles in my writings as well.
BA: Now you’re part of the Biola Apologetics Program. Could you tell us a little bit more about that, and how you’re involved, and who should take part in that course?
KS: Yeah. I have been serving as an adjunct professor at Biola for, boy, more than ten years now. I teach in both the M.A. in Apologetics and the M.A. in Science and Religion. I think it’s a very strong program. First of all, they’ve got some really good people teaching there. Kevin Lewis, a friend of mine, who is a very good theologian, has a degree in law, and does great work in terms of kind of Christ and culture type issues. John Bloom is the chairman of the Science and Religion Program. He has two doctoral degrees in Physics and another particular discipline in science. Craig Hazen is the chairman of the program, so it’s got real good people.
I think it is very appealing to a lot of people, Brian, because it’s an online program. You don’t have to move to Southern California. You can take courses online. You come to California for a couple of weeks in the summer to hear lectures and interact with your professors. But I think it is a program that can be very appealing to people who want to take a graduate course, who can fit into their schedule in terms of the online context. And for people who aren’t looking for a degree. You can also get a certificate. That could be very useful to people who maybe don’t have a Bachelor’s degree or aren’t looking for maybe a focused Master’s degree. So it’s a good program. Got some really good people there. Some good course work. It can be a solid bridge academically to moving ahead in the enterprise of apologetics.
BA: Excellent. Now also in your ministry at Reasons to Believe, they have RTB chapters. Could you tell us about that and what are those? How can someone be involved in that?
KS: Yeah, we are very excited at Reasons to Believe about some of the things that we have to offer folks. We have chapters all throughout the United States and even a couple outside the United States, in other countries. We have people who are very interested in science-faith issues. Maybe they have a background in engineering or maybe they have a background in medicine or physics, and they’d kind of like to integrate faith and science. So we have programs here where we help people to become RTB volunteer apologists.
A lot of educational apologetic information can be had through Reason to Believe at reasons.org. There are people in various cities throughout the country who collectively have kind of come together and become chapter members. They have regular meetings. They engage in outreaches at churches, at universities, at various places. All of this is available to people who would like to learn more about science-faith, who’d like to derive some of these benefits
In fact, Brian, RTB offers in many ways almost a free apologetics education. We have regular podcasts. I think there are three or four podcasts that you can listen to almost every week. Daily, there are blog apologetic articles in science, philosophy, theology being written by our team of scholars. We regularly produce books and tapes, and so RTB is, I think, a very, very good resource for helping people to think through particularly the science-faith area. So, again, they can go to reasons.org and get a lot of really good information.
BA: Well, I enjoy your ministry and all the podcasts have been extremely helpful, so I commend it to the people who are listening. Well, Ken, I’ve enjoyed speaking with you today. Thanks again for taking the time.
KS: Well, Brian, I want to say thank you. This was really a lot of fun to chat with you about these issues. I also want to endorse and recommend your great ministry, Apologetics 315. I’ve been on your site. I think you do a great job of highlighting various apologists, people who are involved in apologetics in different areas. I think you’re very prudent about the resources that you select to highlight. I think you’re doing a big service, and I want to encourage people to really partake of what you are doing, and thanks for chatting with me.