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Jerry Walls: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

The theology of salvation cannot be divorced from the theology of creation.

Chapter 3 argues that hell necessarily exists because God is love (pp. 68, 73). The logic of God as love and as savior does not absolve humanity from choosing good (instead of evil) and in being responsible (pp. 68-70). Though God’s people are commanded to live out God’s kind of love (cf. John 13:34), God does not coerce or pre-program humanity to love God automatically. Humans are created with the freedom to love (cf. John 14:23-24; 15:4, pp. 71-73). Those who choose evil would exclude themselves from God and his love: implicitly, they would have chosen hell since “heaven is the ultimate experience of ‘God with us’” (p. 73). To philosophical interlocutors such as Marilyn Adams who conceives God to be like a parent who can and will override the child’s freedom to keep the child from harm and damnation, Walls rebuts that the husband-wife analogy better portrays God’s relationship with humanity instead of Adams’ mother-child analogy (pp. 74-76). Thus, God also does not restrict the freedom of those who choose to commit horrendous evil (p. 76). And to Thomas Talbot’s reasoning that even the wicked (those who choose evil in the short run) will eventually seek God/happiness in heaven rather than to dwell in their misery, Walls reminds that God does not have to use suffering to chastise humanity into repentance and into heaven (pp. 76-81). Expositing Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Walls interprets that hell is not a separation from Christ’s presence but a chastisement of the hardened heart/soul that refuses God’s mercy, thereby resulting in one’s exclusion from God’s glory (pp. 81-86).

Doesn’t the Bible teach that God’s mercy can be refused? God does not have to use suffering to chastise humanity into repentance.

Chapters 4 to 8 postulate Walls’ view of the afterlife. Walls defends a theological and philosophical necessity of purgatory as a station for believers to be perfected (i.e., cleansed from impurities) before they enter heaven (chapters 4 and 8). Walls holds that at death, departed believers remain less than impeccable (p. 94), and he conceives purgatory as “a form of grace” for believers’ sanctification/transformation (pp. 97-99, 115). In Walls’ words, purgatory offers a process for “completing the work of making us [the departed] truly and fully holy … without which no one can see the Lord” (pp. 95-96). Walls does not conceive purgatory as a satisfaction of God’s justice. The early Protestant Reformers already rejected the satisfaction model when they repudiated the Catholic practice of indulgences in the late middle ages (pp. 96-98). Hence, “purgatory is not [received as] … an alternative to salvation by grace” (p. 115). Purgatory is held to be only for deceased believers, and not as a second chance for the unsaved (chapter 8). Drawing from Dorothy Sayers’ introduction of Dante’s Purgatorio, Walls concurs with an assertion by a thirteenth century historian Jacques Le Goff that “purgatory is [and offers] hope” (pp. 189-190). The purgatory presents itself as a necessary intermediate state (1 John 3:2) to give time and opportunity for believers to internalize God’s truth, and be perfected to meet God at the Last Judgment. Walls draws on C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm and Mere Christianity (pp. 99-101), among others to conceive his Protestant view of the purgatory.

Through Christ’s saving act, those who repent will eventually receive their full nature and relationship with God and each other that had been shattered by sin and death (p. 119). In the book, Walls refutes the dualistic philosophical view that enjoins the material body and immaterial soul in life and separates the soul and the body at death (cf. Dante’s conversation with Casella in Purgatorio). Walls also refutes the monistic or physicalists’ view that in an entirely material body, consciousness, identity, and experience cease to exist at death (pp. 120-122). From both NT scholar Randy Alcorn’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:26; 2 Corinthians 5:2-4, and Revelations 6:9-11 in Heaven, and Christian physicist John Polkinghorne’s The End of the World, Walls asserts that after departed souls undergo purification at the intermediate state via the purgatory, they will be given new heavenly bodies (pp. 124-127). Whilst living on earth, Walls follows the philosopher Charles Taylor’s explanation in his Sources of the Self that one’s character is being transformed as one navigates life choices and makes moral discernment (pp. 130-133).

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2018

About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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