After a lunch powwow with his buddies, Noel came home with a question for me: According to general evangelical principles, are Moses and Daniel in heaven?
You see, one of the group was describing a funeral he recently attended, at which the evangelical pastor presiding opined that the recently, tragically deceased was asking Moses all those questions he'd always wondered about, or getting a first-hand description of the lion's den from Daniel.
This puzzled Noel, given that these heroes were not believers in the saving blood of Jesus Christ, for the simple reason that they died centuries before his birth.
There is a robust lack of specific teachings on such matters in many evangelical groups (including the Southern Baptists in which I was raised). The priesthood of every believer, and the freedom of every person to interpret scripture and receive the leading of the Holy Spirit on her own, mean that such groups have resisted (historically speaking) codifications of doctrine on any matters more narrow than revelation, Trinitarianism, and a very bare-bones Christology.
Naturally, the lack of official church teachings on other matters has not stopped evangelicals from being led by various influential pastors and historical positions to more or less endorsed positions on them. The question of the eternal destination of the Old Testament patriarchs is one that is informed more by the process of elimination than any positive theological construction.
The Protestant Reformation attempted, with varying degrees of thoroughness, to do away with doctrines and practices that could not be justified biblically. Catholics, of course, had gone to great links to sort all souls into appropriate afterlife bins, as anyone who has read Dante can attest. But the forbears of today's evangelicals, especially those in the Radical Reformation movements, pared the postmortem map down to two diametrically-opposed kingdoms: heaven and hell. These same groups insisted on adult confession of belief in Jesus Christ as a prerequisite for a heavenly mansion.
So what was to be done about the patriarchs? To my knowledge, the question was not given serious consideration among Protestants until the Victorian age, when English culture (and its American outposts) reimagined the afterlife as a place of joyful family reunions. Previously, heaven was seen as a venue for the glorification of God, not an extension of individual preoccupations; some writers even suggested that the dead will not recognize each other, since the resulting remnants of earthly ties would only detract from their exclusive focus on the deity.
But in the nineteenth century, with volumes being written, sermons being preached, and sentimental poetry and art being produced that portrayed heaven in more earthly terms -- a place where one enjoyed the company of friends and pursued individual interests -- people began to look forward to the conversations they'd have with the towering figures of biblical literature.
Would those heroes be present in heaven, though, to be interrogated? Fairness seemed to dictate that they would, and so a vague version of the Catholic tradition of Christ's descent into the realm of the dead and rescue of the faithful Jewish forbears held sway. Or an inchoate reliance upon God's foreknowledge might be the answer: God knew who had died believing in the eventual coming of the Messiah, and counted that as "belief in Christ" proleptically.
These matters only become a problem when the idea of a soul taking leave of the body and immediately going to heaven or hell takes hold. As most biblical scholars and classicists will tell you, this is not an Old Testament concept at all; a reading of accounts of death in the Hebrew Bible clearly shows that at most there is a "land of shades" where the dead lead a ghostly existence, not a compensatory afterlife of rewards and punishments, until the more highly-developed systems of Greek and Persian thought begin to influence the biblical writers.
It's not even clear in the New Testament that the separability of the soul from the body is accepted; aside from a couple of references to immediate destinations (Jesus' words to the thief on the cross, Paul's assertion that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lofd"), the focus is exclusively on resurrection. That is, the reanimation of the person, body and spirit together, which in Jewish thought is the only existence possible. Indeed, before the Victorian conception of the afterlife took hold, Christian thinkers often held that the life of the individual is suspended until the end of time, when resurrection allows that life to resume. If that is not the case, as in the currently popular assumption that the body is irrelevant to the afterlife, then it's hard to know what to make of Paul's constant harping on resurrection.