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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Death and the Curse in the Garden of Eden—and Beyond

A new online article that I wrote on the topic of death in the Garden of Eden has now been posted to the website of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

Here is a summary of the article:

It has been a common (though not universal) assumption in the history of Christian thought that humans were created immortal, and only lost their immortality with the entrance of death as the consequence for sin. This is, however, a misreading of the biblical data, which suggests that humans were created mortal with the possibility of attaining eternal life—a possibility that was lost through sin and is now realized in Jesus Christ.

Were Humans Mortal before the Fall?

The article is published in an online journal of the Henry Center called Sapientia, in the Areopagite forum (the Aereopagus was the meeting place in Athens where Paul preached in Acts 17).

My piece is the first in a series of blog posts that were invited to respond to the question Were humans mortal before the fall? Each blog post will give a different author’s perspective on this issue.

The Creation Project

I’ve been involved for three years now with the Creation Project of the Henry Center, which has explored the themes of Reading Genesis (2016), the Doctrine of Creation (2017), and Theological Anthropology (2018).

Each summer (in June) the Creation Project has run a conference (called Dabar, Hebrew for “word”) on the topic for the year, held on the site of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago.

At the first two Dabar conferences I gave paper responses, first to a paper on Genesis 1–11 (2016) and then to a paper on God as an Agent (2017).

Death, Immortality, and the Curse

This year (2018) I was invited to write a paper for the conference, which will have two respondents (one by a theologian, the other by a biblical scholar). I’ve been asked to give a brief response to my respondents.

My paper is entitled: “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview.”

It’s an expansion of the shorter Sapientia article, attempting to connect the discussion of death and mortality (from that article) with the broader “ecological” picture of how humans affect the non-human world for good or ill, which is first articulated by the “curse” on the ground because of human sin (Genesis 3:17).

The shorter article, entitled “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” is available online.

My Ambiguous Relationship with Carl Henry

For those interested, you can check out the blog post I wrote in anticipation of attending the first Dabar conference (2016), where I recounted my initial (unpleasant) encounter with Carl Henry over twenty years before.

Luckily, my experience with the Henry Center has been much more positive than that early encounter. In my evaluation of the 2016 conference, I wrote:

“I found the atmosphere of the Dabar conference to be collegial and open. While the presenters, respondents, and other participants did not agree on everything, there was a welcoming hospitality between everyone, regardless of viewpoint.”

I later recounted my experience of the second Dabar conference (2017), where I was a respondent to philosopher Billy Abraham.

I’m very much looking forward to this year’s conference.

Meeting up with a Variety of Biblical Scholars in Cheltenham

This is the eighth installment about my speaking in the UK.

After my second talk in Oxford (given at Wycliffe Hall), I got on a bus to Cheltenham, in order to speak on the same topic (biblical eschatology) at the University of Gloucestershire that evening.

My host at the University was well-known Old Testament scholar J. Gordon McConville.

I first met Gordon when I was invited to be the respondent to his keynote address at the Institute for Biblical Research annual meeting in 2013, on the topic of the Bible’s understanding of what it means to be human.

That keynote address ultimately led to his wonderful book called Being Human in God’s World: An Old Testament Theology of Humanity (Baker Academic, 2016). I wrote a short endorsement for the dust jacket, and I have now been asked to write a full-fledged book review for the journal Themelios.

There were some other biblical scholars at my lecture (some of whom I had known before), and we all went out for dinner afterwards (led by Gordon McConville).

Matt Lynch is an Old Testament scholar, who is both Dean of Studies and teaching faculty at the Westminster Theological Centre, with head offices in Cheltenham and learning centres throughout the UK, Channel Islands, and Northern Europe.

Two years ago (May 2015) Matt conducted an online interview (via Google Hangout) with both me and OT scholar William Brown on the topic of “Creation, Violence, and the God of the Old Testament” (the interview can be viewed here).

The morning after my eschatology lecture, I met Matt in a local coffee shop (called the Boston Tea Party, appropriate since Matt is American) where he interviewed me as part of a series of interviews with biblical scholars called On Script.” The interview is available as a podcast either to listen to online or to download.

Matt is the author of Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles: Temple, Priesthood, and Kingship in Post-Exilic Perspective (2014). He is currently working on a new book on violence in the Hebrew Bible, which I’m dying to read (one of my MA students who wants to write a thesis on Genesis 4, which is the starting point of the book, is also looking forward to it).

Crispin Fletcher-Louis is an independent scholar, who works on Second Temple (Dead Sea Scrolls) and New Testament materials, with a focus on the imago Dei theme. Among his books are All the Glory of Adam (2001) and Jesus Monotheism, vol. 1: Christological Origins (2016). He is especially interested in how Adam, the High Priest, and Jesus (among others) are portrayed in Jewish and Christian literature as participating in God’s divinity (you can listen to an interview with Crispin about Jesus Monotheism here). While I don’t formulate these ideas in quite the same way, I have found his work helpful, and I cited him in my entry on “Image of God” in vol. 2 of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology (2015). it was good to meet Crispin in person.

Andrew Lincoln is a senior New Testament scholar who has just retired from teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. I met Andrew back when he was teaching at Wycliffe College, at the University of Toronto (he is a friend of Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat).

Andrew was probably the most outspoken critic of my eschatology lecture (and he didn’t hesitate to raise questions); I had read his book on Paradise Now and Not Yet (2004) when I was working on my eschatology book, so I expected his questions. He is a prolific author, and has a fascinating recent book on the virgin birth, which I don’t quite agree with. Nevertheless, disagreement doesn’t negate collegiality, and we had a friendly discussion over supper. In fact, my students will know that I have assigned his commentary on the Gospel of John in one of  my biblical exegesis courses over the past few years.

My speaking tour in the UK ended at Trinity College, Bristol, the topic of my final post.