Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama by Jerry L. Walls

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Jerry Walls, who has published widely on Christianity’s teaching on the afterlife (though this is not a uniform concept), here seeks to articulate and defend a Protestant view of purgatory.

Early on, Walls makes a couple of astute points that are more commonly found in academic circles, but are still struggling to find a foothold in the church. For one, Walls comments that “popular writing about the afterlife is often sentimental, simplistic, and emotionally manipulative” (14). This is especially evidenced by the flood of journey-to-heaven books and movies to the Christian media market.

In his seven truths about heaven (based on Revelation 19–22), Walls dismisses the notion that heaven is an escape from earth. Redemption concerns more than just human souls—it concerns the entire cosmos (30). I have come around to this particular view of salvation, that God’s work of redemption in/through Christ entails the preparation of those who have been justified by faith in Christ for the fullest realization of the kingdom of God—the redemption of the created order as the dwelling place of God.

On these (and other more general points) I found Walls’ arguments agreeable. However, the main idea of the book is that the concept of purgatory is a defensible position for Protestants to hold and Walls spends the first third of the book turning the soil into which he will plant, sow, and reap a Protestant view of purgatory. Walls suggests that every theology needs a purgatory, not just that of the Roman Catholic tradition (93). The assumption underlying this idea is that prior to “entry” into heaven (which I take to simply the entry into God’s immediate presence) souls are still stained with sin, thus, they need to be fully purged. Walls makes clear that the very word purgatory bears the negative connotation that drew the ire of the Reformers, which was a justifiable response. However, Walls contends that the concept of purgatory had been perverted and is in fact a rather gracious work of God, not on men. Walls’ contention seems to be that the necessity of repentance requires some measure of purification between death and entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

As far as the biblical evidence for his position, well, there’s little discussion of that. Walls’ work is more philosophical in nature and does not deal adequately with the biblical data, which is its biggest weakness. Scripture is referred to, but only in such a way as to leave readers wanton for more substantive interaction with the sacred text. Walls is certainly shows himself adept in his interactions with theologians, philosophers, and writers (Dostoevsky, for example) on this issue, but if he had addressed the Scriptures more substantively this book would have been much stronger. As it is, it remains a largely philosophical enterprise, which is not necessarily a critique, but an observation as to its

Deep down I want to believe that there is some post-mortem opportunity for those who die without having surrendered to Christ to repent and enjoy life eternal, but I simply can’t get around the biblical data that suggests otherwise. I’ll admit that perhaps some texts could hint at the concept of purgatory as articulated by Walls, but I think the overwhelming testimony of the NT is that life is the time of opportunity and to miss it means separation from God. I want there to be another chance, but I can’t convince myself there is and Walls’ book, while thoughtful and well written, does not sway me in this matter. However, despite the fact I’m not persuaded by his arguments, Walls is a good writer and makes his case for purgatory well enough, just not strong enough to persuade me.

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Book Sale

No, I’m not selling mine–don’t be silly! But Westminster Bookstore has a couple of volumes on sale that you might be interested in: Collected Writings on Scripture (D. A. Carson) for $7 and Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (eds. Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey Waddington) for $10. I’ve read a couple of essays in the Gaffin volume and they were quite good, so I ordered a copy–can’t pass up a new hardcover for $10!

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It seems no matter how meticulous editors and proofreaders are, invariably mistakes are missed. I found this one in Frederick J. Murphy’s Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World, p. 94.

There was no empire-wide persecution of Christianity until the middle of the third century BCE.

Did you catch it? BTW, this is a great book–get a copy and read it if you can.

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Music Monday

Today’s Music Monday selection is the album III by UK metalers Xerath. I only discovered Xerath relatively recently, but I was an instant fan.

x - iiiI suppose I would classify Xerath as a progressive metal band, but not in the vein of Dream Theater or Between the Buried and Me. They are heavy, but their style is more of a medium paced metal–there are no blast beats, blazing fast rhythms and solos, etc. But make no mistake–Xerath is heavy! This album I would liken to an army of foot soldiers taking to the field of battle, whose march is so great they shake the ground. You could play this in the background of any movie with epic battle sequences (300, Lord of the Rings, etc.) and it would be quite fitting (though admittedly a tad out of place!).  Xerath is technically sound and the production on this album captures their unique breed of heavy bombastic metal wonderfully. It just sounds big, so give it a listen and take shelter.

Some of my favorite tracks are 2053I Hold Dominion, Autonomous, Bleed This Body Clean, and Sentinels.

Check out III‘s predecessor II in its entirety here.

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Jay Smith on Paul

Jay E. Smith, professor of NT Studies here at DTS, is the coeditor of the new collection Studies in the Pauline Epistles (buy it here). In this brief video, he talks briefly about “the connectedness of the biblical documents” and how that inspired his study of Paul and the NT. Watch it here.

I’ve had the privilege to study with and get to know Dr. Smith over the years, perhaps more so than other profs. I was his grader for a time and he’s been a help to me on the road to my dissertation, so I am glad to know him as both prof and friend.

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March Madness

Well, it’s that time of year again–March Madness! I’m not a huge fan of basketball, but I do enjoy watching the tournament (and playoffs in the NBA) and pulling for my favorite teams (and against those I don’t like, e.g., UNC, LSU, etc). It’s fun to fill out a bracket and see how close, or as is usually the case with me how far off, I can get.

While I expect Kentucky to win it all this year, I’ll be pulling for the only team I truly like in NCAA basketball:


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My New Study Aid

For my birthday last week, I received gifts that were nothing if not practical. For me, this is a good thing. The older I get, the more the things I want need to be of some use. In addition to clothes, accessories, and funds (!), I got something I’ve wanted for some time–a book stand! More specifically, it’s a Witzem Rosemary Book Stand and it’s a big one–it measures at practically 2′ x 1′–it’s huge!

Photo Mar 17, 10 41 06 PM

To give you an idea of the size, the pictures below feature BDAG, which is a behemoth of a book, and BDAG alongside BDF. How’s that for space?!

Photo Mar 17, 10 40 52 PMPhoto Mar 17, 10 41 46 PM

The size was part of the reason I wanted this particular one–it would have to be large enough to accommodate two books. I mean seriously, I never only have one resource open at a time, so this was a must. In addition to the size, a bookstand simply must keep the book open. I’m one who would never crack a book’s spine just so it will stay open, so this book stand appealed to me because it sports four flexible arms that swivel and can the pages at any point.  The stand itself is adjustable, so if I wanted to lay a book at a different angle, I could do so easily.

It has been a frustration of mine for many years that there was no good way to have multiples books open at once for easy reference. Now, I can at least have two open and know that the pages will stay put and I can refer to them easily while typing. Maybe I should get another?

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