Instead of closing with the perfunctory “I was sent this book in exchange for reading it and promising to write a review,” I am going to open with it. Because that is exactly how I encountered this book. But I am glad I did, because I can also honestly say that it is a very readable, very quotable Christian apologetics source which I would recommend to anyone.
Reflections on the Existence of God, by Richard E. Simmons III is not a random series of reflections, but follows an orderly progression of arguments for the existence of God in general, then building concept upon concept, through specific Christian commitment — it is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in that way. It comprises very brief, 4-5 page “chapters” he calls “essays.” But this format makes it very readable — you can get in an “essay” even if you only have five minutes to spare. Each is quick-hitting, and contains historical, foot-noted stories.
Did I say it was very readable? I intended to start the book by reading just 2-3 pages one Wednesday night after prayer meeting, and ended up reading 50! This happened several times during the course of my time in the book. Each little chapter draws you into the next — just like you’d pop another M&M into your mouth!
For any Christian interested in strengthening and sharing their faith — and especially preachers and teachers — Simmons’ book is a gold mine of stories, quotes, and illustrations for sermons and other messages:
— There is a compelling story early on, about Dr. Francis Collins and his journey to faith.
— The chapter on Dachau and the image of God in human life was very moving.
— It includes a powerful essay entitled: “Theism’s Strongest Argument,” in which Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan, and others admit the complexity of the universe, and speculate that an intelligence “from another universe” might have designed everything — just as long as it is not the God of the Bible! Simmons’ conclusion aptly sums up the chapter: “I sometimes wonder if the problem of the modern skeptic is not that he does not believe in God, but that in his heart of hearts does not want there to be a God.”
The chapter on “The Mystery of Math” was a little disappointing for one whose spouse continually pontificates on the evidences for God in the intricacies of mathematics. There were some good general observations regarding math and creation, as well as some convicting quotes. But one or two concrete examples would have nailed the effectiveness of the chapter down, but they were absent. For example, in his chapter 8.3, on “What About Cavemen?”, there were three dramatic, specific examples of fraudulent claims regarding “missing link” human fossils. These could be learned and used in sermons and personal conversations — the many such illustrations throughout are one of the strengths of the book. But alas there was no such example for math … there were some good quotes, but no formulaic explanations or specific mathematical examples.
Simmons also has some excellent summary phrases throughout, in which he succinctly summarizes some complex issues. For example:
“The complexity of the eye causes problems for evolutionary theory because a biological system like the eye had to develop over millions of years and would have never worked until fully developed.”
One might do well to memorize that statement and share it as needed!
In a few places, however, the phrasing was not as tidy. Occasionally there were some “awkwardly worded” phrases which should have been edited out.
For example, 2.1 ends with: “Tim Keller sums up the words in this essay with this simple explanation: …”. Perhaps it would have been better phrased as: “Tim Keller sums up the concepts in this essay …” or something like that. A minor thing, but these pop up from time to time — as well as a repeated use of the word “great” when referring to historical characters, such as: “the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche” et al. “Great” is such a generic word — and in the context of the discussion there, maybe not the best choice. Nietzsche’s philosophy has been destructive to so many over the generations; would we want to call him “great”? “Renowned,” maybe; “infamous” may be better, but not “great.”
However, none of these things detracts from the overall effectiveness of the book. Reflections on the Existence of God is very compelling reading with an effective message. It will help equip the pastor, teacher, or any Christian wishing to strengthen their faith and witness to others. In fact, I will be using a quote from Simmons’ book in my message this Sunday. Enough said!