What Happens between Death and Resurrection? A Symposium on the Intermediate State

On January 17, 2019 I will participate in a Symposium on the “intermediate state.” This Symposium will explore the question of how best to think about what happens to a Christian between death and resurrection.

Symposium on the Intermediate State: J. P. Moreland and J. Richard Middleton

The Symposium is sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in Deerfield, IL.

My dialogue partner will be philosopher J. P. Moreland, a famous supporter of “substance dualism” (the view that a person is composed of an immaterial soul and a body). He will argue for the traditional view that our souls go to be with God (in heaven), awaiting the resurrection.

As a biblical scholar, I will present my position that the Bible doesn’t teach substance dualism, but rather a holistic view of the person, and that Scripture doesn’t clearly explain what happens between death and resurrection. I am therefore agnostic about the intermediate state.

I plan to do some biblical exposition of these themes.

In the end, I don’t believe that we need to have an explanation of what happens between death and resurrection. It is sufficient to trust that God, who is faithful, will bring those who are in Christ to the resurrection.

Our Focus Should be on the New Creation

I don’t think that the intermediate state should be the focus of our faith at all. Rather, biblical hope is for embodied resurrection life in the new heavens and new earth.

This is a point I made in my book on eschatology, A new Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014). In one of the chapters I included an excursus on the intermediate state (it was not central to the book’s argument), and I intended it merely as an exploration of the biblical evidence, not as an argument for a particular viewpoint.

Yet it is interesting that some reviews of my book brought up this excursus, often claiming to disagree with my position, even though my point was simply that there isn’t enough clear biblical evidence for me to affirm an intermediate state. Sometimes I wish  hadn’t put that excursus in at all, since it seemed to sidetrack some readers.

The Henry Center’s Exploration of Theological Anthropology

I was invited to participate in this Symposium on the intermediate state not primarily because of my work on eschatology, but due to my prior involvement in the Henry Center’s three-year Creation Project.

Each summer the Center has had a conference (the Dabar Conference) on some aspect of the theme of Creation, and I have been involved every year.

In the first two years I was a paper respondent, in 2016 to Old Testament scholar C. John (“Jack”) Collins and in 2017 to philosopher-theologian William (“Billy”) Abraham, two very wonderful scholars, both of whom I was delighted to get to know.

This year I wrote a keynote paper for the Dabar Conference (June 2018), entitled “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview,” with two respondents (one a biblical scholar, the other a theologian).

The theme of the Creation Project (and thus of the Dabar Conference) this year (2018-19) is Reclaiming Theological Anthropology in an Age of Science.  But the Project extends beyond the Dabar conferences, and involves numerous other events.

It was because of my analysis of human mortality expressed in the Dabar paper (and a shorter version called “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” which was published on the Henry Center website) that I was invited to present my views at the upcoming Symposium.

This is the description of the Symposium (along with presenter bios) on the Henry Center website:

The resurrection of the body is one of the central doctrinal claims of the Christian faith. It is also the source of Christian hope when faced with the death of a loved one.

But what happens between now and then? When a child asks their parent where a departed loved one is “now,” how should Christians respond?

Do the souls of those who have died in faith go to be with the Lord now, awaiting to be reunited with their resurrected bodies?

Or are traditional Christian beliefs in an immaterial soul that is separable from the body misplaced—an unscriptural incursion of Platonic metaphysics that has misshaped our expectations of the afterlife?

The discussion will be followed by a pastoral response and extended audience Q&A on the theological and pastoral implications of the different views.

J. P. Moreland (PhD University of Southern California) is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It MattersThe Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, and Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

J. Richard Middleton (PhD Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam) is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary. He is the author of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, and The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1.

Date Thursday, January 17, 2019
Time 11am — 12:30pm CST
Location Main Campus

Hinkson Hall

This lecture is free and open to the public.
Follow online at stream.tiu.edu.

This event is made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust. The opinions expressed in this lecture are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

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Future Conference on Science and Faith at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, NY (October 25–26, 2019)

This is a heads up about a special conference on science and faith that will take place October 25–26, 2019 at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY.

Every other year Northeastern Seminary co-sponsors a Fall theology conference with the Canadian-American Theological Association.

In 2019 the conference will have another co-sponsor—the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation. Other co-sponsors might include the American Scientific Affiliation and BioLogos.

Keynote Speaker—William Brown

Our keynote speaker has already been booked—William P. Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Brown is an excellent biblical scholar and teacher, who has always had an interest in science. He is the author of many books on biblical interpretation that I have found helpful.

One of his best, which is directly relevant to the theme of the conference, is The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press, 2010). In this book Brown examines seven different creation accounts in the Old Testament and imaginatively links them to his reflections on various aspects of the natural world that we have discovered through scientific exploration.

In my 2017 essay on the relationship of the Garden of Eden narrative to the evolution of humanity (“Reading Genesis 3 Attentive to Human Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria”), I cited Brown’s methodology in The Ten Pillars of Creation book as my model for how to think about the possible relationship of the Bible and evolution.

Brown and Middleton Essays for a Future Book

Brown and I are writing two chapters on the Old Testament for a volume entitled Christian Theology and the Modern Sciences, edited by John Slattery. I will be writing on Genesis 1–2, while Brown will write on the wisdom literature. We will each address how our assigned portion of Scripture relates to matters of ecology and science.

Interestingly, I was originally asked to contribute a chapter on the New Testament, based on a paper I gave in 2017 on the relevance of New Testament eschatology for ecology at the Society of Biblical Literature. When I explained that New Testament was not my primary expertise, I was offered a chapter on the Old Testament instead.

A tentative Table of Contents for the entire volume is as follows:

1. Introduction

Part 1: A History of Christian Theology and Science

2. Hebrew Bible (Middleton)
3. Hebrew Bible (Brown)
4. New Testament
5. New Testament
6. Augustine of Hippo
7. Cappadocian Fathers
8. Maximus and John of Damascus
9. Hildegard of Bingen
10. Francis of Assisi
11. Thomas Aquinas
12. Hesychast Controversy and Gregory Palamas
13. Post-Reformation Catholic Figure
14. Luther/Melanchthon
15. Calvin
16. Newman
17. Wesley
17. 20th and 21st Century Catholic Voices on Nature and Science
18. 20th and 21st Century Protestant Voices on Nature and Science
19. 20th and 21st Century Orthodox Voices on Nature and Science

Part 2: Reconsidering Theology and Science Narratives

20. HB and Race/Gender
21. NT and Race/Gender
22. Theological & Scientific Origins of Misogyny
23. Theological & Scientific Origins of Racism
24. Linnaeus and Human Stratification
25. Exemplar Chapter on Theology, Science, Race, Gender in 19th/20th/21st
26. Exemplar Chapter on Theology, Science, Race, Gender in 19th/20th/21st
27. Exemplar Chapter on Theology, Science, Race, Gender in 19th/20th/21st

Part 3: Broadening the Possibilities for Theology and Science

28. Physical Sciences
29. Biological Sciences
30. Medical Sciences
31. Social Sciences
32. Psychological Sciences
33. Environmental Sciences

Christian Theology and the Modern Sciences will be published in the “Companions” series by Bloomsbury / T&T Clark.

An Interview with Brown and Middleton

Back in May 2015 Brown and I were interviewed together in a live streaming event on Google Hangout by Matt Lynch of the Westminster Theological Center in the UK.

The focus of the interview was on themes arising from our most recent books, Brown’s Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature (Eerdmans, 2014) and my A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014), along with and my earlier book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005).

You can watch a recording of the interview here.

Don’t Forget the Science and Faith Conference

Remember to make a note to reserve October 25–26, 2019.

There will be a Call for Papers sent out from Northeastern Seminary and from each of the co-sponsoring organizations.

So stay tuned for more information about the conference as the time draws near.

 

Trusting the Bible and Accepting Evolution—Call me Crazy!

I just returned from Cornell University, where I gave a joint-presentation entitled “Origins, Self, and Soul” with Praveen Sethupathy, a Christian geneticist on the faculty of Cornell.

Our presentation, which addressed biblical and evolutionary perspectives on human origins and identity, was co-sponsored by Chesterton House, a Christian study center near the Cornell campus, and the Cornell Graduate Christian Fellowship.

The implicit question we addressed was whether it is possible to be a faithful Christian and accept an evolutionary account of human origins.

Whereas Praveen brought a scientist’s perspective, my portion of the presentation focused on what the Bible tells us about human commonality with animals and about what it means to be created in God’s image, which is usually taken as something unique to humans.

I wasn’t able to cover very much in the twenty minutes allotted to me.

However, those twenty minutes were part of longer presentation that I have given on the topic of the Bible and evolution, which covered a larger scope.

The last time I gave the full presentation was in May 2018, when I participated in a conference sponsored by the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation (CSCA), held at Trinity Western University, in Langley, BC.

I was one of six plenary presenters. The presenters all came from different disciplines and addressed aspects of the intersection of faith and the sciences.

Can We Believe the Bible and Accept Evolution?

As the biblical scholar of the lot, my talk focused on biblical themes. Given the nature of the conference (and my interest in the faith-science interface on matters of origins), I attempted to relate the biblical themes of human distinctiveness and the origin of evil to what the sciences are telling us about our evolutionary origins.

I began by highlighting a number of tensions that Christians have perceived between the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins. Then I suggested that these tensions are not necessary, but have to do with the way in which we read the Bible.

So I engaged in some serious Bible study.

My talk was videotaped and astutely edited together with my PowerPoint slides. The entire talk (with slides) can be viewed here.

Part 1: Human Distinctiveness

In part 1 of the talk, I addressed how the Bible understands the commonality of humans with other animals (in a variety of creation texts from Genesis, Job, and the Psalms), which suggests that we shouldn’t have an aversion to the idea of common descent. Then I explored the Bible’s teaching about humanity as the image of God (found in Genesis 1:26–28 and related texts). I speculated how the human calling to image God might be related to what science is telling us about human origins.

Part 2: The Origin of Evil

In part 2 of the talk, I focused on the portrayal of the origin of evil in Genesis 2–3, probing the way in which this portrayal is true to human experience and represents a profound phenomenology of temptation and sin. Then I picked up on my earlier speculation about the image of God and evolutionary origins, and added a suggestion for how human evil could have entered the evolutionary process.

I thus did what many Christians claim it is impossible. I attempted to affirm both an evolutionary account of human origins and the biblical teaching on human distinctiveness and a historical fall.

Call me crazy. But I respect God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s revelation in creation, which can be studied by science. I can’t deny either.

In fact, I believe that God is revealed—and glorified—in the evolutionary complexity of the biological world.

Insightful Devotional: “Called to Indwell the Earth”

At the conference we had a wonderful devotional one morning given by Patrick Franklin, current vice-president of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, and newly appointed associate professor of theology at Tyndale Seminary, in Toronto.

You can watch Patrick Franklin’s talk here.

Recordings of Other Talks at the Conference

You can see the entire conference schedule of keynote speakers and breakout sessions here.

All the keynote talks and some of the breakout sessions were recorded. You can find links to them here.