What do I think of Richard E. Simmons III’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I was sent this book to review not knowing anything about the author of the work or having even heard of it. Still, it did intrigue me and I like to read books by Christians who aren’t recognized in the field to see how they’re doing in serving the body.
So I sat down and started to read the book and at the start, I was pleased with what I was reading. I liked how in the preface Simmons said “You will readily see that my style of delivery is to turn to the world’s leading scholars, experts, and commentators on the subjects that touch on the Bible’s legitimacy.” He on the next page says “This book, therefore, lays out the conclusions I have come to while standing on the shoulders of many giants of scholarship.”
And for awhile, that’s what it looked like, but I noticed a problem after awhile that concerned me.
There were many quotes that I’d find that I’d want to look up and these would be quotes from non-Christians. When I looked in the back, I’d see a citation from a work such as Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.”
Strobel’s book is an excellent one. I highly recommend it. Yet at the same time, if you are telling me what a non-Christian has said, I want to see a direct citation of their work. I don’t want to see how it’s cited that X said that in Strobel’s work. Otherwise, I’m going by Simmons’s word that Strobel said that X said what is purported to be said. That becomes a third-hand testimony. It would have been a simple enough solution to go and get the book, at least at a library, and look it up, and see the quote and cite it.
Too often, it looks like Simmons relies on the idea of “A Great man has spoken.” The authority is cited but unfortunately, it is an old authority such as an archaeologist at the time of Kennedy’s inauguration. It is as if it never occurs to Simmons that later scholarship might have changed the tide.
Also, Simmons unfortunately at times treats faith as a way of knowing something rather than a response to what has been revealed. For instance, on page 88, in talking about the first man Simmons says “Now, I’ve been somewhat ambivalent on this over the years, but I have by faith concluded that the first two humans on Earth were indeed ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve,’ whom God created as described in the book of Genesis.”
Yet this is the definition of faith I have to keep arguing against constantly and has led to the arguing style of people like Peter Boghossian. Faith is not supposed to be the way you know things or come to conclusions. Faith is to be the response to what you conclude.
There are also a few factual errors in the book that lead to some severe questioning. He says that in 381 A.D. under Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Actually, it was under Theodosius and Gratian and could have been in 380 A.D. instead.
On page 168, we are told that Justin Martyr was born in 65 A.D. and died in 110 A.D. Yet according to a source such as the Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org, Justin was born around 100 A.D., converted around 130, and died around 165. You can see more here.
In the chapter on the resurrection, Simmons repeatedly uses a term such as “For me, that’s not possible” over and over. I get that it’s not possible for you, but you need to show that it really isn’t possible or at least probable. I share the skepticism over the other theories of what happened, but the phrasing needs to be done differently. Hearing “For me, that’s not possible” became a broken record.
Now I will say I think much of the content is good, but if this book comes out in another format sometime, these need to be corrected. The bibliography must have primary sources when doing citations. I have castigated the new atheists for not interacting with the main sources and I have a problem with atheists just quoting atheists and thinking that that counts as an argument. I have just as much a problem, in fact more so, with Christians too often doing the same.
Second, eliminate references to faith as a way of knowing. It is a response to what is known and statements like the one I showed earlier just make fodder for the new atheists. Along these lines, also eliminate subjective arguments such as “For me, that’s not possible.”
Third, check on the claims. Of course everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Scripture is the one book we Christians hold to be Inerrant, but one must watch what they say.
In the end, I could not really give a positive review. I am thankful that Simmons wants to do more with his work and reach others, but in order to be more convincing, I think the changes I recommended would go a long way.