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Posted January 28, 2009
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Kenneth Samples is a research scholar of theological and philosophical apologetics for the science apologetics organization Reasons to Believe. <BR/><BR/>In this book Samples compares and contrasts the major philosophical or religious systems found in the world today. These include naturalism, postmodernism, pantheistic monism (the prominent Eastern philosophy), and Islam. He compares these systems to that of historic Christianity. Rather than taking on details of differences, Samples analyzes the major ideas of each system. The worldview of each system leads to vital differences in understanding, practice, and ethics.<BR/><BR/>A large portion of the book is an explanation of the Christian system and worldview. He concentrates primarily on those truths that Christians of all denominations hold in common (in a similar manner to C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). This discussion is facilitated by his analysis of the Apostles¿ Creed. However, when certain important teachings arise, such as those dealing with the way of salvation, the providence of God, and the authority of the Bible, Samples openly approaches those topics from his own Protestant, Reformed perspective. He is always fair and charitable when discussing topics in which various Christian denominations differ. This is one reason his book is very helpful for all readers, even those who may disagree with his position.<BR/><BR/>In order to test the various worldviews and seek out the best one, Samples employs what he calls worldview tests. He lists and discusses nine of these tests: coherence (logically consistent), balance (balanced between simplicity and complexity), explanatory power and scope, correspondence (agrees with well-attested facts and experience), verification (verifiable and/or falsifiable), pragmatic (practical, workable), existential (internally satisfying), cumulative (has multiple, converging lines of evidence), competitive competence (competes well with other views). Samples concludes that all the various worldviews do well in some of these tests, but all of them, with the exception of Christianity, fail in others. The Christian worldview is the only major view analyzed that passes all these tests. Samples concludes that Christianity is superior to its competing worldviews, and should be adopted by anyone who thinks through these issues.<BR/><BR/>An interesting feature of the book is the brief introduction at the beginning of each chapter. Samples himself recently suffered a nearly fatal disease of the brain, and most people thought he probably would die. As it worked out, he recovered fully, for which he gives credit to God. Samples provides here a glimpse of his thoughts and feelings during those trying days, as he discovered personally that his worldview was not simply a mental exercise, but provided him with the encouragement, strength, and comfort he needed.<BR/><BR/>The book contains a helpful worldview comparative chart in the appendix, study questions at the end of each chapter, extensive endnotes and documentation, and a useful bibliography. I believe it is very useful for Christians, to increase their understanding of the basic, foundational beliefs and implications
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Posted April 10, 2008
By just beginning to read this book, we affirm two of Kenneth Samples' many contentions--namely, that 'a' humans are rational creatures, and 'b' as such, they are given to reflect on the meaning of their own existence. If either of these were untrue, we'd simply not care to examine mutually exclusive belief systems that claim to answer 'the big questions of life.' As it is, we do care, and Samples does us all a service in the pages of this very readable, yet analytical book. He feeds our need to know by examining the essential features of the leading major worldviews and calls us to judge their validity by 'using our cognitive faculties to the fullest extent.' He writes within the context of his own battle with a life-threatening illness--an ordeal, he says, that simply heightened for him the importance of being solidly grounded in one's beliefs. An unapologetic Christian apologist, Samples nevertheless applies the tools of a well-versed logician in a way even skeptics couldn't fault. After beginning with a quite useful primer on critical thinking and laws of logic, he introduces the book's unique feature--a tidy nine-question test that equips the reader to consider competing claims from a measured, dispassionate perspective. This examination of 'testable truth' assesses aspects like: Coherence--is the view internally consistent? Correspondence--does it match up with known facts and experience? Verification--is it subject to investigation and testing? Pragmatic--does it provide direction for living and solving problems? These and five other questions create a filtering framework that reveals how well the culture war's leading contenders address inescapable questions like: Who am I? Where did we come from? How should I live? What kind of God, if any, exists? Through the clarifying lens of this test, Samples looks at the truth-claims of Christianity and those of its chief rivals. What he sees is each competing worldview dealing adequately with some of life's big issues, but none adequately addressing them all--except Christianity. A brief 'Sampling' shows where the others fall short: Pantheistic monism 'think 'New Age'' can't explain personal consciousness, and its idea that reality is an illusion contradicts the evidence of our reason and senses. Postmodernism, by claiming that reality can't be known and asserting that everything is a matter of perspective, becomes self-refuting. Naturalism's physical determinism cannot explain rational intelligence or purposefulness. Islam's grand revelatory claims about the Qur'an and Muhammad can't be supported historically. Christianity, according to Samples, suffers from none of these flaws. He shows how it is both intellectually and spiritually viable, actually inviting historical investigation and scrutiny. It makes sense of all our scientific, moral, aesthetic and religious experience. And in its offer of a redemptive relationship with an incarnate God, Christianity stands as the unique source of hope and meaning in this life. If Samples is right that we are rational beings, he is also right to fix our focus on the 'grounding' of the belief system we choose. By his analysis, Christianity abounds in it while the others do not. In sum, his book supplies intellectual assurance for Christians while posing a formidable challenge to those in opposing camps. If inclined to contend with Samples' conclusion that 'Christianity answers the crucial questions of human existence far better than its rivals,' one faces daunting choices: You must either 'a' explain away the logical contradictions, incoherence, and subjectivity in the competing belief systems, or 'b' justify a stance that rationality, coherence, and objectivity are irrelevant to a viable worldview. Against Samples' case, either tack is bound to be fruitless. Having experienced Professor Samples both in print and in the classroom, I can attest that his work is growth-producing in it
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Posted July 29, 2013
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