As a pastor of a church plant with many new Christians, I found 7 Truths that Changed the World by Kenneth Richard Samples, to be a great foundation for a sermon series on the simple foundational truths of Christianity. The author does a great job of taking very complex subjects and making them palatable for the common reader like me. The book is not overbearing with the amount of information, nor is it too weak in defending the truth. It is a perfect balance between the academic and practical.
The book is built around the seven truths, with a section devoted to each of them. Samples articulates and defends the specific truth and also explains the positions of other prominent worldviews. This review will focus on a brief summary of the author’s explanation and defense of each of the seven truths.
Dangerous Idea #1: Not All Dead Men Stay Dead
The hope of Easter is defended quite well by Mr. Samples. Samples deals with the following seven historical facts: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, the short time frame between actual events and eyewitness claims, the extraordinary transformation of the apostles, the greatest conversion in history, the emergence of the historic Christian church and the emergence of Sunday as a day of worship. Each of these points are summarized and a fundamental defense of the resurrection of Christ is advanced.
In this section, I particularly enjoyed chapter two. Here the traditional and contemporary arguments against the resurrection are examined. For example, the legend or myth argument, which simply argues that myth has encrusted the facts of Jesus’ life, is dealt with thoroughly. Samples insightfully points out that resurrection accounts are not written like other mythological writings of the day, that the apostles knew the difference between fact and legend and that there simply was not enough time for a legend to develop between the resurrection and the penning of early apostolic creeds (i.e., 1 Corinthians 15:3-6) and the gospels.
Other errant theories addressed include the stolen body theory, the wrong tomb theory, the second burial theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, the twin brother theory, the disembodied visions theory, and the superior explanatory theory. Even though I had never heard of some of these, such as the twin brother theory, it was helpful to see what is being argued today and what people actually believe as a plausible explanation of the supernatural.
Mr. Samples ends by explaining how this truth changed the world. The author states, “The historic Christian church has been the most powerful force for good in the history of the world. Its very existence is an enduring evidence of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave” (pg. 40).
Dangerous Idea #2: God Walked the Earth
Clearly the incarnation of God is a uniquely Christian truth that has changed the world. Samples does a good job summarizing the views of world religions and bringing clarity to an often-confusing subject. He walks through the hypostatic union and the doctrine of kenosis with brevity. He makes use of several charts to organize the scriptural and creedal support for the incarnation being a historical truth that is uniquely Christian.
In this section Samples also details the arguments and answers for Christ’s life. In this section he covers legend hypothesis, learned man hypothesis, liar hypothesis, lunatic hypothesis, lama hypothesis, and lunar alien hypothesis. The great thing about this is how the author handles both common explanations and new explanations for the divine.
Dangerous Idea #3: A Fine-Tuned Cosmos with a Beginning
To be honest I wanted to rush ahead and read this section knowing that there is a rising trend of apologists such as William Lane Craig and Tim Keller who reject young earth creationism for a more compromised position. Samples seemed to drag his feet before clearly stating the world is nearly 14 billion years old aligning himself with Craig and Keller. Samples states:
The universe appears to be a contingent reality. Big-bang cosmology gives powerful evidence that the universe is contingent. As we saw earlier, this prevailing scientific view of cosmology asserts that the space-time-matter-energy universe had a distinct and singular beginning nearly 14 billion years ago. Therefore, the universe appears to be an effect—dependent on something outside of and beyond itself (a transcendent causal agent)—unless one affirms the incredible claim that something can come from sheer and utter nothingness. (pg. 100)
Here it is clear that Samples does not except a more literal rendering of dates found in the Old Testament. Although the author never clearly states his official position or interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis it is hard to imagine that Samples adheres to a strict literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic there.
He does a masterful job, however, in giving other evidences for the need of a creator and explaining the cosmological argument thoroughly. Even with this strength in mind, truth number three remains the most disappointing part of the book. To see men like Samples abandoning a literal grammatical hermeneutic is troubling. I believe they do so partly out of intimidation, and partly out of the false delusion that the academic community rejects the truths of Christianity solely on intellectual grounds rather than from a depraved heart.
Dangerous Idea #4: Clear Pointers to God
To avoid making this review too long the reader should simply know that this truth covered the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. These are logical (not scientific) arguments, and they are not familiar to your average young earth creationist. But these truths are powerful, and making oneself familiar with them is highly recommended.
Dangerous Idea #5: Not by Works
In this section, Samples thoroughly explains how all other religions are based on some sort of works based system. He details the view of the man on the street, demonstrating that most believe in some sort of works based system. Here the problem and ramifications of sin, both personal sin and the sin nature, are explained. And the author also provides masterful exposition of Ephesians 2:8-9, which was the highlight of this section. Samples then closes out the section by explaining the full impact of Christ’s death on the cross.
Dangerous Idea #6: Humanity’s Value and Dignity
The author details how humanity’s value and dignity is taught and championed by Christianity. Most helpful was the clear explanation of what it means to be created in the image of God. People are spiritual beings like God—personal, self-conscious, rational, volitional, relational, immortal, and powerful. The author also briefly explains the three major views of what being made in the image of God means: the resemblance view—humans possess a formal nature that serves to resemble God; the relational view—humans are most like God when it comes to their unique relational qualities; and the representative view—humanity is most like God when exhibiting dominion.
Dangerous Idea #7: The Good in Suffering
In this section, one of the greatest arguments against the existence of God—suffering, is revealed as good and as one of the greatest truths that changed the world. I found Samples’ four reasons why God allows evil and suffering very helpful:
- God has a morally sufficient though not yet fully disclosed reason for allowing evil and suffering.
- God allows evil and suffering because of the greatest good that results from it.
- God may use evil and suffering to get a nonbeliever’s attention and ultimately draw that person to himself.
- Natural evil or physical forces, while capable of unleashing much destruction and harm, are actually necessary for making Earth a habitable planet.
Samples also covered other reasons for suffering in the life of the believer and did an excellent job covering all aspects of this subject.
In all, this book serves as a good resource and as a decent primer for the busy pastor or layman who would like to cover traditional and contemporary issues in apologetics. I found the book both encouraging and edifying. In reading this book, you will encounter seven dangerous truths that changed the world. These truths also have the potential to change your faith.
About the Author
Kenneth Richard Samples is a senior research scholar with Reasons To Believe, the premier science-religion think tank. An adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University, Samples is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.