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

This post was updated April 2019.

On January 17, 2019 I participated in a Symposium on the “intermediate state.” This Symposium explored 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 was sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in Deerfield, IL.

My dialogue partner was 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 argued for the traditional view that our souls go to be with God (in heaven), awaiting the resurrection.

As a biblical scholar, I presented 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.

My presentation focused on biblical exposition of these themes, with attention to 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (absent from the body, present with the Lord) and Luke 23:39–43 (the thief on the cross). These two biblical texts are often taken as teaching an intermediate state. My exegesis of these texts attempted to show that they both address the final resurrection, not an intermediate state.

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.

The raw video feed of the Symposium is found here.

  • Tom McCall (head of the Henry Center) opens the event at around the 16 minute mark.
  • Steve Matthewson (a local pastor) introduces the topic and the speakers at about the 17 ½ minute mark.
  • J. P. Moreland begins to speak just before the 21 minute mark.
  • My presentation begins at the 43 ½ minute mark. I had slides with some visuals and lots of biblical texts. However, you will see that the projection system wasn’t working properly.
  • The Q&A begins at the 1 hour and 11 ½ minute mark.

Our Focus Should be on the New Creation

My main point was that the intermediate state shouldn’t 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. But other readers have told me it was important for them.

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 event was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust

No Dualisms! Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore

The book display at the Jubilee 2015 conference that I recently spoke at was organized and staffed (as it is every year) by bookseller extraordinaire, Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Books.

When I say “book display” I should put that in the plural; there were multiple tables with an amazing array of works in theology, biblical studies, ethics, and topics on how faith relates to every aspect of culture and society.

Byron has an encyclopedic knowledge of good books, both classical and contemporary, and he has done a phenomenal job over the years introducing many Christians to a depth of life-transforming knowledge that they otherwise would not have known about.

The book displays also featured works written by speakers at this year’s Jubilee conference, including my own recent eschatology book, A New Heaven and a New Earth (plus all my other books!).

In fact, Byron has written two reviews of my eschatology book, one extended, the other briefer—to accompany his naming it as biblical studies “book of the year” (given the number of books Byron reads, that’s quite an honor).

Byron recently posted a comment on his Facebook page about one of my blogs (from about a year ago) that addressed the relationship of my own eschatological vision to that of New Testament scholar Tom Wright (via Brian Walsh).

Here is Byron’s post:

I have often noted how N.T. Wright dedicated his first big “Origins” book (“The New Testament and the People of God”) to Brian Walsh. Brian tells a bit about his studying Colossians with Wright in his and Sylvia Keesmaat’s “Colossians Remixed” and how he pressed Tom to more fully proclaim the full-orbed redemption the text insists upon. (And what a joy to have a back cover endorsement blurb right next to Tom on that extraordinary book!)

Here, the co-author of Brian’s “Transforming Vision” (one of my all time favorite books) J Richard Middleton shows the connection between TV, which they were writing even while Brian was engaging Tom Wright with a more comprehensive view of God redeeming all things. Now that Richard has written the definitive book on wholistic eschatology (“A New Heaven and a New Earth”) — and spoken about it at Jubilee last week — I thought I’d share his rumination on this little story.

Three cheers for their phrase “no dualisms” which CCO used to have printed up on staff tee-shirts! Three cheers for Tom, Brian, Sylvia, and Richard. I am thankful to know about such significant authors, and to praise God for these generative friendships.

Well, I couldn’t find a picture of the T-shirt that Byron mentions, but I did find this:

Byron, thanks for all your work for the kingdom!

All Things New: God’s Bringing Creation to Its Glorious Destiny

There is a fascinating website called “The High Calling,” dedicated to a Christian view of work and vocation. Each week they feature a different theme. The theme for the last week of October 2014 was “Designed to Work.” I recently posted (with permission) an article by Bob Robinson that was part of this theme, called “Made in God’s Image.”

Bob invited me to write an article on the theme for the second week of January 2015, which is “All Things New.” My article, entitled “Bringing Creation to Its Glorious Destiny,” tells how I moved from being a dualist, with a sacred/secular worldview, to embracing a wider vision of God’s redemption of creation.

I recommend you check out this wonderful website for its range of interesting articles (print and video) on a holistic view of work and vocation.