What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by Baker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Ken Samples has given the church a gift in giving us a guide to understanding other religions and not only what they believe, but good ways to interact with them. His work is meant to compare Jesus to other religious leaders. How is He similar? How is He different?
Samples takes a hard look at the other religions, but also a fair look. He points to beliefs that are exemplary in those religions. These are areas of common ground that can be agreed upon. We can often make a mistake when we study another religion where we say that everything it is wrong. This is quite likely not the case. It’s hard to think of a worldview where absolutely everything is wrong. (In fact, if we begin discussing evidence in objective reality, we at least agree that there is an objective reality.)
He also includes reading for those interested. If you want to go to the scholars of that religion themselves and the ones who hold to it, he goes there. If you want to know about Christians who have written on the topic, he also goes there. I think Samples’s treatment is quite fair. I cannot speak on accuracy per se as I am not a specialist in these religions, but he does not go out to make them look foolish.
When that is done, he will tell you about what to say when you talk to people who hold these worldviews. What kinds of questions can you ask? How can you handle their belief system respectfully? The book is also written with questions that make it appropriate for small groups. Naturally, while this is all good, I would also tell people that if you want to engage with someone in this worldview, try to read their holy book or books yourself as well. (I still remember the time when dialoguing with a Muslim when I asked if he had ever read the NT. His reply was “No. Have you ever read the Qur’an?” I was able to answer affirmatively.)
He starts as well with a defense of the deity of Christ and who He was. I thought this was a good section, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more from the other Gospels besides John. I fully uphold John of course, but many groups like Muslims and JWs have been trained to deal with explicit arguments. I like more the implicit arguments and the ones that are seen to be even earlier than John that show a high Christology.
There’s also a discussion about exclusivism vs. inclusivism at the end of the book. This is the section that I had the most difficulty with. I am not one who thinks that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved. I don’t think Samples’s explanation for the Old Testament is really convincing. I think those in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the pre-incarnate Christ they did not know.
It’s also not because I have a low view of God and sin and a high view of man. I don’t. Aside from the work of the cross of Christ, no one is fit to be in right relationship with God. Samples goes to Romans 10 about people needing to hear the Gospel, and they do, but doesn’t Romans 10 right after 14-15 and 17 contain these verses?
18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
Where does that come from? It’s from Psalm 19. Psalm 19 is one of the messages about general revelation. What voice has gone to all the Earth? It is the voice of creation.
Thus, I’m not convinced that we must make a hard line case for exclusivism. Does that mean that people in other religions are saved or possibly saved? No. I think people devoutly following a false faith will be judged for that. However, I am entirely open to someone who knows that the belief system they are in is false and cannot hold up and yet is still seeking the true God. God could reach out to them through dreams, as seems to happen in the Muslim community or other means. There are more than enough missionary stories about missionaries showing up and people there saying something like “We have a tradition that says that one day people will show up with a book that will have the truth and you have fulfilled that today.”
I also don’t think the question of those who have never heard in Scripture is addressed for one reason. It doesn’t need to be. God is not interested in just answering our curiosity. He gave us our marching orders in the Great Commission. That is Plan A and He makes no mention of any Plan B. We could say that some could be saved even without our reaching them, but we have far more confidence if we just go and reach them ourselves.
Of course, this is an in-house debate among Christians. While I disagree with this part, the main reason we read the book is to learn about the other religions, and there I think we have a great guide. I fully encourage Christians reading this text and learning about other religions and how Jesus compares.