Jerry Walls – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory [Feature Review]

May 29, 2015 — 2 Comments


Page 2: Jerry Walls – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory


When it comes to discussing hell, Walls focuses less on Scripture (though biblical passages are always in sight) and works more specifically to defend the doctrine of hell against various universalist objections. Effectively, Walls offers a free will defense that appeals to the non-coercive nature of God’s love. The chapter on hell draws heavily on C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. In fact, Lewis is an important conversation partner throughout the book. Wall’s goal is to show – effectively I think – that the doctrine of hell, rather than diminishing the comic nature of the Christian drama, is consistent with the dramatic quality of the entire story. Rather than trying to depict or describe hell, Walls more modestly defends the basic notion that God’s love can be eternally rejected.

Much of the book’s real interest lies in Walls’ discussion of purgatory, which he defines as “the successful end of the pursuit of that holiness without which no one can see the Lord” (96). He addresses the question of how purgatory could be necessary if we are saved by God’s grace. The historical context for the Reformer’s rejection of purgatory is noted, but Walls argues that the need for complete sanctification before entering God’s presence makes some notion of purgatory necessary to any theology. He helpfully distinguishes between “satisfaction” and “sanctification” theories of purgatory, loosely corresponding to Roman Catholic and Protestant rationales. The distinction he draws between “process” and “zap” theories indulges a bit in caricature of some Protestant attitudes, but the broader point is a good one. The nuanced view of purgatory that Walls lays out is one that many who have never seriously considered the doctrine might find themselves surprised to begin giving serious consideration.
Walls does what much philosophical theology fails to do – he elevates rather than deflates the mystery of the faith. One of the strongest features of the book is Walls’ focus on the Trinitarian shape of the universe, drawing out the sense in which eternity for every person includes either incorporation into or exclusion from the Trinitarian relationship of love. Christians from all traditions will be able to appreciate the biblical logic of Walls’ arguments, whether they serve to reinforce a view of the cosmic drama already held or as cause to reconsider possibilities about our postmortem condition never considered. This book is particularly valuable for Protestants wanting to investigate the doctrine of purgatory on grounds other than the specific pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. Walls’ imaginatively reasoned and defended account of these traditional doctrines will do much to persuade those with different visions of the faith. It also offers a thoughtful, appealing, and narratively coherent account of the Christian drama to those not of the faith.