About This Blog

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory" (Jerry L. Walls)

TITLE: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most
AUTHOR: Jerry L. Walls
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (190 pages).

Recently, there has been a spate of books and publications that spooked the interest on heaven, hell, and in some cases, the doctrine of purgatory. With books like Rob Bell's "Love Wins" that argued very much in the direction of universalism, and counter vigorous reactions like Mark Galli's "God Wins" and Francis Chan's "Erasing Hell," the evangelical world has been up in arms about the doctrines of heaven and hell, and how it is increasingly relevant in our modern society. According to popular speaker and author, Dr Jerry Walls, much of the books, films, and publications out there now about the afterlife tend to be "sentimental, simplistic, and emotionally manipulative." Walls wants to go beyond mere fascination toward an affirmation of the reality of heaven and hell. For we cannot affirm the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, the Atonement, and the Resurrection of Christ without affirming the doctrines of heaven, hell, and the life everlasting. Having written earlier books like "Hell, the Logic of Damnation" in 1992, "Heaven: The logic of Eternal Joy" in 2002, and "Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation" in 2011, Walls has brought all of these and condensed it with additional updates into this new work. He is convinced that there is purgatory simply because it makes a lot of sense to the doctrines of heaven and hell. Like hell can be understood best in the context of heaven, heaven and hell can be understood better with the doctrine of purgatory. His reasoning is like trying to understand the reality of the fallen world by making reference to the beginnings of a originally good world.

How Walls begins his book is interesting and personal. Instead of starting out with scholastic references and definition of terms, he begins with the human experience. He asks the age-old question about the meaning of life. He ponders about society's infatuation with the pursuit of happiness and extrapolates it to something more ultimate. Instead of dismissing happiness outright as some narcissistic venture, Walls advocates seven "truths of heaven." The first is that humans have this innate desire for happiness that homes itself toward a sparking future. We all like to have a purpose and beautiful end to this life and hope comes with anticipation of an eternal beauty. The second is about our hunger, thirst, and desire through three images:  1) Water of life; 2) Wedding feast; 3) God and the Holy City. In heaven, our best desires are not eliminated by fulfilled in God alone. The third is the vision of a new heaven and new earth. The fourth is the time to be rejoicing, were every tears and sadness will be wiped away. The fifth truth is the perfect unity of beauty, truth, love, and goodness. The sixth truth of heaven is that human will celebrate being their original best as God had intended.  The seventh comes back to God as our eternal home. With this start, honestly I was hooked.

We then ponder about death and dying. How can we make sense of heaven especially when life on earth seems to smother dreams and extinguish hopes? He observes that "even when people deny the reality of heaven and give up belief in it, they still pursue it in other ways." Substitutes abound in the forms of numbing the desire through resigning to the harsh realities of life; that ideals are respected even though in reality it cannot be fulfilled on earth; that one can learn all the laws of physics or sciences in order to derive some temporal satisfaction; and boredom as an example of "shriveled hope." Scientists like Carl Sagan, the agnostic astronomer, pondered with asking for more despite saying they are satisfied with the technological progress of this age. With death comes the discussion about hell and how it is the anti-thesis of love. The basic logic is that if God is good, how can there ever be hell? Walls dons the apologetics hat and argues that precisely because God is love, there is that reality of hell. Looking at the biblical texts of God's love for us, the commandment for us to love one another, and the linking of obedience with love, heaven is thus seen as the ultimate expression of "God with us." If we choose to reject God, we have only ourselves to blame. He addresses the universalist conclusions of Marilyn Adams and Thomas Talbott, where both of them reject the idea of an eternal hell. On Adams, he maintains that the freedom to reject God is not necessarily a reason to explain away hell. On Talbott, he deals with the two kinds of "compulsion" saying that those tend to be more forced rather than free. Walls asserts that everyone has a chance for true repentance, and has freedom to decide. He goes back to CS Lewis's The Great Divorce, showing that people who are in hell are there not because God want them, but because they chose to. Rejecting the love of God is essentially embracing a life without God.

The most controversial part of the book has to be the part on Purgatory. Beginning with a historical background on how the use of purgatory to get indulgences (offerings) from people, Walls looks at some previous objections from Protestants like John Calvin. What Walls is saying is that the reaction against the purgatory doctrine was more contextual rather than doctrinal. In fact, he says that "Every Theology Needs Purgatory" because heaven is perfect, and we are not. If we are not perfect, where can we go when we die, especially if we have not reach perfection at the point of death? Moreover, God can continue the work of sanctification somewhere prior to our entering heaven. Walls argues that God is able to make a person perfect immediately upon death. In this sense, he says that all of us, whether we are Catholics or not will hold some form of doctrine on purgatory. How he deals with it is to approach it from the standpoint of sanctification. For the Roman Catholics, the doctrine of satisfaction has three components: 1) contrition; 2) confession; 3) penance. For Martin Jugie, purgatory is essentially about satisfaction. Jugie distinguishes further purification from expiation, the former is a progressive manner of purifying oneself while the latter is about righting a wrong. Walls describes "satisfaction" as about exacting punishment for win while "sanctification" about "moral and spiritual transformation." In this sense, Walls argues that purgatory is about sanctification. Even CS Lewis believed in purgatory, as in his prayer for the dead mentioned in the book, Letters to Malcolm. This brings us smack into the doctrine of grace. If one must be in purgatory to be a work in progress for sanctification, how do we explain grace and salvation in Christ? Is it an immediate salvation or a work in progress? According to Walls, there is no contradiction.

Other matters include the discussion on body and soul, which Walls highlights that we can only know the meaning of ourselves by understanding the Christian story of love. He argues against dualism as there is no way to make sense of a separation of body and soul. Will we have a new body after death? Will our identity be sustained through death and resurrection? Who are we in the afterlife? He comes back full circle to argue that purgatory helps maintain our identity of who we are. He discusses the afterlife and what it means to have every tear wiped away. He asserts that everyone in heaven would have been transformed into the image of Christ. He imagines Hitler whether he would be in heaven, arguing that it is required of all to have "come to own the truth" God had revealed. He deals with moral philosophy comparing the morality behind one who lives for self and another who lives for others. One pursues his own happiness, while others are self-sacrificial for the sake of others' happiness. Between morality and self-interest, which would we choose? Dilemmas as these can be explained by the foretaste of heaven, of God being a community of three in one.

As a Protestant philosopher, Walls makes a surprising stand on the doctrine of purgatory, supporting it rather than rejecting it. It is a reminder to us readers that we need to know what we are rejecting in the first place. Many evangelicals hold to the Protestant tradition of fiercely rejecting the notion of Roman Catholicism's use of indulgence to beef up the church's coffers. Have we in the process thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Have we blindly discarded important doctrines that we have not fully understood? When we read this book, we would be enlightened to see that there is something we can learn about the afterlife, heaven, and life on earth, which proves rather than disproves the reality of purgatory.

I think many evangelicals will be quite taken aback by the claims of the author. For so long, they have simply shunned purgatory due to the strong association to Catholicism. I am reminded that before the sixteenth century Reformation, there was one Western Church. Even the Reformer Martin Luther was serving within the Roman Catholic Church. Like many theological shifts in the past, just because something is wrong does not mean we cannot learn from it. Like the way cleansing is done. We don't simply throw away a shirt just because it is dirty. We use detergent to wash the dirt away. Likewise, in this relook at purgatory, we can let Walls's book be the "detergent" to do some cleansing, that we will learn to see purgatory with a renewed confidence that indeed, there is something Walls says that makes sense. I am not fully convinced yet, but have become more open to purgatory as a doctrine that affirms the reality of heaven and hell.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment