Reflections Stirred by The Death Myth by Brian Rossiter

 

 

I had not given much thought to how a temporarily disembodied existence would differ from embodied existence aside from the absence of pain and suffering, and some level of enjoyment of the presence of God. If a whole human being is a body/soul unity, then for the human being to fully function, such a union is necessary. (While the body is essential for most functionality, the person is grounded in the soul, hence the person survives the death of the body.) Our souls are certainly influenced, developed, and matured through its interaction with the world, which involves sensory input. If this is the case, then the TDP state would be a time when no further development of the person would take place. Death would “fix” the level of maturity and perhaps education of the individual until the resurrection. So, if a child dies in utero or at any stage of development, then that level of maturity would be fixed until the resurrection. I think this also makes sense of the justice of eternal punishment. This would be the case whether one holds to eternal conscious torment or annihilationism.

So what would this “fixity” look like? Is the disembodied soul conscious or “asleep?” Based on his comments in his book, I think if Rossiter were to change his mind and adopt substance dualism, he would argue for soul sleep, since that is the closest to his position. His reasons for this are:

Bible writers refer to the dead as “asleep.”

Death is “the absence of life.”

Consciousness entails sensory input, which requires sensory organs. (my paraphrase of his overall position. I invite his correction if I’ve gotten it wrong.)

“Asleep” is a common euphemism for death throughout the Bible. It is easy to understand why, since someone who is dead, unless completely mutilated, often can look like they are asleep. Does this mean that if the soul persists, it is unconscious? Not necessarily, but it might. On the side of conscious disembodiment, we have one account that could be a parable, or it could be an account of actual persons. We have Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, the appearance of Moses on the mount of Transfiguration, and we have some references in Revelation. Since the references in Revelation are apocalyptic, it is difficult to develop a strong argument from such texts.

In the case of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we are told of a rich man in a place of torment, and Lazarus in a place of comfort. Darrell Bock argues that it is a parable. Any lessons to be taken about afterlife must, on Bock’s view, be limited to the permanence of the final judicial state. (Bock, NIV Application Commentary on Luke). If this were the only textual evidence for temporary disembodiment (TD) then at best we are left with “maybe.”

Another text, or set of texts, that seem ambiguous with respect to this issue are the verses in Revelation. Revelation 6:9-11 says,

 

 

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;  and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, [l]will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

 

This passage portrays souls in “under the altar” and “crying out.” It uses the imagery of conscious souls of the dead. Likewise, Revelation 20:4 speaks of John seeing “the souls…” Rossiter references this in his book. He notes that for them to “come to life” they would have to be dead. So even if this were not apocalyptic in its genre, it is not a strong argument by itself for conscious TD.

Some passages offer a stronger argument for a conscious state in the intermediate afterlife. Luke 23:39-43 tells of a criminal crucified next to Jesus whom Jesus told, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Rossiter argued that the comma could have been placed after “today” instead of “you.” I respond to this here. He then concedes,

 

“Even if every one of these points were abandoned— granting that both Jesus and the criminal went directly to heaven as spirits on the day they were crucified— the reality is that it wouldn’t necessarily say anything about what will happen to each of us when we die. This event would give us the exception, not the rule. (Location 1150 Kindle edition.)

 

I know he said more than this, such as his assertions about the nature of death, but I will address that later. For now, this statement above is a case of special pleading. If there is no soul that survives the death of the body, then what exactly is going with Jesus, to paradise? (Likewise, how is Jesus?) Rossiter does the same with his response to the Mount of Transfiguration:

Moses may have been a rare exception based on his privileged place within the Old Testament narrative. Whatever the case may be, both were physically present with Christ anyway, and the situation served as an inauguration event; they are hardly examples of disembodied spirits coming back to interact with the living. (2792)

How would Moses have been physically present? I would say he was empirically present, such that he was visible. (I often wonder, how did the apostles know who Moses and Elijah were? It’s not like they had social media accounts full of selfies. Maybe Jesus addressed them by name?) This is different from saying his substance was subject to the laws of physics. There may be better explanations for this appearance than TD, especially of a conscious form, but Rossiter’s view cannot account for it.

For the sake of keeping the length of this post under control (and because I need a nap before I leave my hotel at 3:30 am tomorrow,) I will address the nature of death as it relates to this discussion in my next post.

 

 

 

The Death Myth by Brian Rossiter: A Review

Author

Brian Rossiter holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Trevecca Nazarene University, and is an adjunct professor at Ohio Christian University, as well as a long-time high school teacher.

 

Thesis

Rossiter hopes to show that the traditional views of the afterlife are inaccurate in some substantial way, and to offer a more plausible view, by defining terms, showing that the traditional view is not a settled consensus, and demonstrate the plausibility of his view that a human person retains his identity between death and the resurrection through some sort of “identity information kept on file by God” that provides the continuity between this life and the next.

 

Synopsis

The Death Myth is arranged into five chapters. In chapter one, Rossiter lays out his biblical case for his rejection of the traditional view of the intermediate state of the dead, what he refers to as the Temporary Disembodiment Position. (TDP) In chapters two and three, he critiques the TDP interpretation of key passages. In chapter four, Rossiter completes his case against TDP and offers his alternative, “Identity Information” view. Chapter five closes with what he sees as the ramifications of the views.

 

Analysis: The good

First and foremost, whatever view you take (assuming it is one of the options discussed in the book) Rossiter clearly affirms essential Christian doctrine. If he is wrong, his views are heterodox, not heretical. Likewise, I think Rossiter would affirm the same of those whose view he critiques. There are no ad hominem cries of “heretic!” leveled here. Additionally, it is better to challenge traditional beliefs if you think there is a problem than to simply accept them merely because they are traditional. This is especially true when the popular understanding of the traditional view goes uncorrected. Rossiter rightly points to the incompleteness of the view that when we die we go to heaven/hell forever. He affirms the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth as our hope. Moreover, wherever you come down in this debate, Rossiter is to be commended for putting his views out there for public scrutiny and discussion. Finally, but not exhaustively, Rossiter does not affirm physicalist monism. Let me also add that this book has helped me sharpen my own thinking on this issue. I will have more to say on this in my next post.

 

The not so good

Throughout the book, there are several assertions Rossiter makes that I don’t think he adequately supports. The first is that the TDP view means that the soul is its own being. What kind of being are we talking about? For the substance dualist, a whole human being is a body soul unity. If the body dies, the human being does not cease to exist because a part of the human being persists: the soul. The soul is not a whole human being because a whole human being is a body/soul unity. Just as a whole human body has two arms and two legs, but does not cease to be a human body if one were to lose his arms and legs, so a whole human being is a body soul unity, but does not cease to be a human being upon the death of the body.

The second assertion he makes is the TDP view makes the soul somehow superior to the body, and the body unnecessary. Rossiter goes as far as to say that Paul’s primary argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is to refute this view. While Alan Johnson seems to support this in his commentary:

 

Such a Corinthian view would have involved a dualistic anthropology holding that there are two different classes of people, nonspiritual and spiritual. The spiritual person (inspired by the transcendental spirit) transcends all bodily matters. The body is nothing more than a house in which the immortal soul lives. The final separation of the spiritualized soul from the body occurs at death. Not only is a resurrection of the body impossible, it is unnecessary because immortality is reached by receiving the Spirit (Holleman 1996:37).[1](emphasis added)

 

The commentary says a dualistic anthropology. Not the dualistic anthropology, and not simply dualistic anthropology. Just because a particular form of dualism holds this view, it doesn’t mean dualism is identical with this view. Repeatedly Rossiter makes mention of the claims made by scholars that the body is unnecessary. But unnecessary for what? None of the scholars he cites would say that the body is unnecessary for the existence of a whole human being. All of them would affirm that the body is not necessary for the human being to continue to exist.

Next, Rossiter notes the use of “sleep” as the term Paul chose to describe death. Many commentators note that this was a common euphemism for sleep. That is the best explanation for why Paul would choose this term. I don’t think this point does much for Rossiter’s case. What is sleeping? Not the body, if actual sleep is happening.

From there, Rossiter goes on to challenge the understanding of passages that are often cited in support of TDP. The first such passage is the story/account/parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Rossiter calls it a parable, and it may very well be. Some who cite it in support of substance dualism do so insisting it is not a parable. I don’t think it has to be a story of real persons to support TDP. In support of the idea it is not a parable, in the other parables, Jesus prefaces them with “the kingdom of God is like…” No such preface opens this one. But what if it is a parable? What is a parable? When Jesus told parables, he used the familiar to communicate the unfamiliar. If the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, it would seem the idea of a TDP state was familiar to his audience. If it is not a parable, then it is an account of actual persons. In either case, it still seems to support TDP.

I will join Rossiter in leaving the account of Samuel as having too much mystery to press into service on either side. One of the worst examples of Rossiter’s exegesis comes in his treatment of the criminal on the cross. When Jesus tells him, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise,” Rossiter argues that the comma, usually placed “…tell you, today…” could be placed after today to read, “…tell you today, …”  This has almost no support when you look at the 50 times Jesus says, “Truly I tell you…”in the gospels. Of these,  only twice is there any time marker that follows. One is the verse in question, and the other is when Jesus tells Peter, “Truly I tell you this very night…” In no other usage does Jesus say, “Truly I tell you today…”  Why think this passage on the cross would be any different? Rossiter then hedges by saying maybe this is a special case for the criminal, but if so, how does the criminal go to paradise?

Finally, if, as Rossiter argues, death means the complete absence of life of any kind, what did Jesus mean when he told the Sadducees, “’…I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living?”

 

The incoherent

Throughout the book, Rossiter rejects the idea that there is an immaterial aspect to the self in the soul. He argues that existence must be “substantive.” It is not at all clear how he differentiates the two. The traditional claim that the soul is immaterial is to say that it is not a substance that is subject to the laws of physics. Philosophically, the term “substance” means some essence that exists. Here an essence is the “whatness” of a thing, what makes it what it is and not something else. The essence of a human being would be humanness. This is not to say the essence actually exists apart from a particular thing. There is no “humanness” that exists apart from any particular human being. (Platonists would disagree, but that’s another debate.) Substance dualists would argue that there are two substances that make up the whole human being. Human flesh (material) and human soul (immaterial.) We would agree that the human soul is substance, but not material.

Rossiter calls his view “identity information.” He says his view is of property dualism. The problem is things have properties. Properties have properties, but properties don’t exist on their own. Moreover, information apart from a knower is always third person. Information about you can exist apart from your mind, but you can only exist with your mind. There can be no “information on file” that can accurately say, “I am Brian Rossiter.” For God to unite an “identity file” with a resurrection body would be nothing more than a superclone. It could say “I am Brian Rossiter,” but it wouldn’t be the one who wrote this book.

 

Recommendation

The Death Myth is worth reading. It will make you think, and it will sharpen your thinking. I commend Rossiter for writing it. I think he is mistaken in his conclusions, but it is good to reexamine what you believe. It is best read by people who have studied these issues. I am not sure a lay person who has not studied these issues will understand the strengths or weaknesses of this book.

 

[1] Alan Johnson, 1 Corinthians 15, in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ed. Grant Osborn (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010, Bible Study App.

 

Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness – A Philosopher’s Lament By Douglas Groothuis A Review

 

 

I typically start my reviews with a description of the author along with a description of the author’s credentials as they relate to the book. This is no exception, but it is different. Douglas Groothuis is a professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, having received his PhD from the University of Oregon. Since this book contains some philosophical and theological reflections, this is relevant. Of even greater relevance is this: he is the husband of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Walking Through Twilight is an account of the suffering experienced by a once brilliant woman with a form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia, and the anguish of her loving husband. Groothuis offers us a glimpse into their lives, and an account of his experience told with raw honesty. This book is what it claims to be; a lament. It is an honest outpouring of grief. It is not a rant that spirals into self-pity. It is a catharsis with a pastoral purpose.

The theme of the book is not “Look at me, I’m a victim,” or “Poor me.” Rather it is, “This is our lives. It hurts. This is what I’ve learned about what to do and what not to do.” This is, of course, a gross over simplification. This is not a “how-to” book. It is an invitation to walk with them, and to benefit from Groothuis’ reflections born of faith, experience, and clear thinking.

Walking Through Twilight is a must read for anyone who is having a similar experience, anyone who loves someone with dementia, and anyone who thinks they may ever know someone with dementia. The section where Groothuis talks about what not to say is especially helpful.

 

Where’s the Minion?

 

Those of you who follow my blog closely, (you know who you are, and I appreciate both of you) may have been wondering where I’ve been. I haven’t posted anything here since August 2nd. That is the longest dry spell since I started this site. What has changed is that I took a job as a FEMA reservist. (A reservist is a FEMA employee who only works when deployed to a disaster of for on-site training.) I went to Leesburg, VA from August 6-18 for orientation. I was home for a week when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas. I was deployed there from August 28 until November 16.

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After more than 50 inches of rain fell in four days, residents had to put everything they owned, along with flooring and sheetrock, to the curb that had been soaked by the floods.

Then after a brief visit home, I reported to Sacramento, California to support recovery efforts for the Northern California wildfires.

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In the Coffey Park section of Santa Rosa, more than 3000 homes burned.

Except for a week home for Christmas, that is where I have been since. In that time, I have met some great people, survivors, neighbors, and FEMA colleagues. I have seen some typical problems, as well as some of the best of people helping people. Some examples are Denny’s sending a food truck to give away hot meals to hurricane survivors in Houston,

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and a group of friends/classmates who stayed in touch on Facebook who organized to collect and distribute donations to survivors who lost everything in the wildfires in Santa Rosa.

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Sonoma County Fire Relief collected and distributed more than $40,000 in gift cards, and more than six U-Haul trucks full of donate clothing and household items.

Many people in Texas and California, not to mention Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands lost everything they had in the disasters that occurred this past year. Please pray for them (and give generously while you’re at it.)

Being away from home for an extended period of time, in unfamiliar conditions on many levels, writing has not been foremost on my mind. Things have settled down enough now for me to pick up where I left off. I am currently working on two book reviews which will soon follow. Stay tuned.

Why Does God Allow Evil? By Clay Jones A Review

 

Author

Clay Jones is an associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, and the chairman of Ratio Christi, a campus apologetics alliance. He is a former talk show host and has served on the pastoral staff of several large churches. Jones received a BA in Philosophy from California State University, an MDiv from American Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. (Because of his doctorate and the topic of this book, which is his main area of teaching, I lovingly refer to Clay as “Dr. Evil.)

 

Synopsis

A common complaint from skeptics as well as saints is that there is so much evil in the world. How is this possible if a good and loving God exists? While there are many well-reasoned arguments that show this is not a problem, it is still a challenging topic. It can be especially difficult to discern what is behind the question. Is it intellectual curiosity, skepticism seeking an excuse, or the gut-wrenching reality of the death or suffering of a loved-one. Each kind of questioner needs a different approach. For those in the third category, I would say this book is not for you right now. There is no book on this topic that will really meet your need. You don’t need a book. You need a community of people to come along side you, love you, and hurt with you through this. Go to your community and get the support you need. For those who want an answer, this book is for you. For those hoping to justify your skepticism with the Problem of Evil, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind.

Why God Allows Evil is written from the perspective of a Christian worldview. It offers answers based on what God has revealed in the Holy Bible. If you read this book assuming that Christianity is false, you will find the arguments within meaningless. That would be a great loss.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, with an introduction setting the stage and defining terms. Chapter 1 starts at the beginning, which is to say how evil was actualized by our first parents. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the question of bad things happening to good people. Chapter 4 deals with the unevangelized, or “if people never hear about Jesus, how is it fair to punish them?” Chapter 5 addresses the fairness of Hell. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with free will and how it plays into these questions. 9, 10, and 11 explain how eternity sets the context for the whole question. The book is then summarized on the epilogue, followed by an appendix that takes a stab at explaining the ultimate origin of evil.

 

Analysis

Having sat under Dr. Jones’ teaching on this material in graduate school, I could hear his voice in my head as I read this book. This was an advantage for me. However, for those who have never met him, it could be a challenge for you. Jones goes to great pains to express his heart for those who are wrestling with these issues, but because of his no-nonsense approach, that might not be obvious. He is offering tough answers to tough questions. Trust me when I tell you, he is giving these answers with a pastor’s heart.

From my studies of these issues under Jones and others, I agree with most of what he has to say in this volume. Jones ascribes almost all suffering and death to Adam’s sin and God’s curse on the earth that resulted. I am a little hesitant to agree. I realize Jones’ view is from what he would call “an unforced reading” of the Biblical data. What gives me pause is the number of things that have been discovered to be beneficial to life on earth that are often shown as examples of “natural evil.” For example, earthquakes, which unfortunately cause thousands of deaths around the world, are the result of a natural process, plate tectonics, that makes earth habitable. Hurricanes have a major role in regulating the climate of the planet. However, in the final analysis, I think Jones nails it. We suffer because of sin, ours and that of others, but our suffering will fade into insignificance in eternity.

This book is accessible to even the high school reader, but not dumbed down such that a reader with an advanced degree would be bored with it. It is a must read. I urge you to read it BEFORE you encounter a crisis..

 

A Practical Guide to Culture By Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet: A Review

Authors

John Stonestreet is a President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-author (with William E. Brown and W. Gary Phillips) of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. He holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Bryan College. He is also the cohost of Breakpoint with Eric Metaxas.

Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director for Stand to Reason. Brett received his bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Biola University. He has his master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology. Brett was a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, has a chapter on truth in Apologetics for a New Generation, and wrote the Ambassador’s Guide to Mormonism.

 

Synopsis

A Practical Guide to Culture is written to help Christians, especially Christian parents, navigate a culture that is growing in its hostility to the Christian worldview. The book is organized into four parts. Part one lays out what culture is and why it is important to understand it. Part two explains how the current culture effects how we see ourselves, through the lenses of technology, identity, relationships and maturity. Part three deals with contemporary sexuality, and can serve as a reference guide. Part four wraps up dealing with the grounding of our Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

Kunkle and Stonestreet offer valuable insights into today’s culture and how to address it as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of it.” The book is written in a very readable style, with a conversational tone that is accessible to high schoolers and those with advanced degrees alike. If you have children at home, if you hope to have children one day, or if you have any influence on children (or even adults) this book is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

 

Mind Over Matter: The Necessity of Metaphysics in a Material World By Brian M. and Wayne D. Rossiter A review

 

Authors

Brian Rossiter holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Trevecca Nazarene University, and is an adjunct professor at Ohio Christian University, as well as a long-time high school teacher. Wayne Rossiter is Assistant Professor of Biology at Waynsburg University. He received his B.S. from Otterbein University, his M.S. from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Dr. Rossiter teaches Principles of Biology, Ecology and Environmental Biology, and is the author of In the Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God. In Mind Over Matter, the Rossiters offer a tactical guide to responding to methodological and philosophical naturalism as espoused by atheistic scientists. (Methodological naturalism is a scientific method that assumes for anything under study, it is assumed that it is the product of natural causes and processes. Philosophical naturalism is the view that natural causes and processes are all that exist.)

 

Synopsis

Mind Over Matter is a short booklet, just 112 pages. It is arranged into four major sections and an appendix. The first three sections respond to arguments from science, philosophy, and the last section uses arguments from theism to respond to poor theistic arguments for naturalism. Each of these sections presents a series of claims made by naturalists (sloppy shorthand for those who hold to either form of naturalism), followed by citations from scientists who make these claims. A response is offered, and an explanation for why it is a good one. In the appendix, the Rossiters deal with the confusion which often ensues in discussion on evolution due to the ambiguous nature of the term. A critique is then offered of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument.

 

Analysis

Some of the arguments from science that this book addresses are great illustrations of the fact that scientists are often poor philosophers, but there is no straw-men attacked here. Most of the claims are substantive. Speaking of poor philosophy, the above-mentioned adage being true made the second section of the book fairly easy to write. One rejoinder I would offer refers to the response to Beghossian’s straw-man definition of “faith.” The suggested response is, “Could you please show me this definition in a dictionary or encyclopedia?”[1]  Dictionary.com offers the following, “strong or unshakeable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence.” Since dictionaries follow common usage rather than vice versa, and common usage has abandoned the usage found in the Bible, it may be time to use a different word.

Where this book really shines, as did In the Shadow of Oz, is the way theistic evolutionists, particularly those who are Christian, are shown to be inconsistent when they deny the possibility of miraculous creation on scientific grounds, while affirming miracles like the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Where I would find the book to go off track a little is exemplified by the claim that if God has complete foreknowledge then free will cannot exist is confused. It seems like Rossiter is applying the following logic:
(1) Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.

(2) God foreknows x.

(3) Therefore, x will necessarily happen.[2]

 

As Craig points out, the error here is that the necessity is that (3) follows from (1) and (2) and (3) ought to say “Therefore x will happen.”[3]

 

Another area of disagreement comes with the treatment of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Rossiter asserts, “That is, it doesn’t clearly follow that the cause of our universe must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, or uncaused.” If you are explaining the cause of the beginning of time, the cause would have to exist timelessly. If you are explaining the beginning of space, the cause must be non-spatial. If you are explaining the origin of material, the cause cannot be material. Moreover, the core of the KCA is the impossibility of the existence of traversing an actual infinite. (You can’t count to infinity.) The only alternative to an uncaused cause is an infinite regress of causes. It is beyond the scope of this review to explicate the KCA, but the critique offered by Rossiter displays a fair amount of confusion.

 

Recommendation

For all the above problems. Mind Over Matter is a fine resource for helping people see the weakness of philosophical naturalism, and to some extent, methodological naturalism. It is refreshing to see a scientist (Wayne Rossiter) make an honest attempt to understand the philosophical aspects of his discipline. Even if I disagree with some of his views, his work in this area is head and shoulders above many of his colleagues, who are quite dismissive of philosophy.

I am not a fan of “When they say X, you say Y” formats, but to be fair, I have an advanced degree in this stuff, and it’s easy for me to forget what it’s like to not know this stuff. Most of the book is accessible to high schoolers and up. It would be a valuable addition to the lay apologist’s library.

 

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[1] Rossiter, Wayne; Rossiter, Brian (2016-02-04). Mind Over Matter: The Necessity of Metaphysics in a Material World (Kindle Location 867). Athanatos Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 

[2] James K. Beilby;Paul R. Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (p. 126). Kindle Edition.

 

[3] Ibid.