Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

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

Brazos | Amazon | CBD

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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Typos

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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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!

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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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Bad Book Covers

I posted not too long ago how much I appreciate good book covers, album cover art, etc. As I’m sure you know, for every good piece of cover art there are ten bad ones.

This gem came through an email I received this morning.

book coverWhile the overall design isn’t bad, I think it’s quite strange to see the silhouette of a tennis player, apparently having just hit the ball, in front of a large body of water. I will assume that this somehow is relevant to the story, but wow–this is a stinker of a cover. How many people play tennis on the shore at dusk??

But that one pales in comparison to this one.

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Seriously–this is really bad! Where to begin? The author’s name gets half lost against the graphics, which were clearly done by someone who doesn’t know how to Photoshop very well, and it’s just blah. Apparently the book is better than the cover. Let’s hope so–this is a bad one!

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The Spirit was willing…

…but the flesh was weak.

I had good intentions when I began blogging through Walton and Sandy’s The Lost World of Scripture. However, as I suspected, it proved to be more of a chore than I wanted to deal with, especially with the intervening holidays and with the spring semester right around the corner.

So, I’ve decided to forego the remainder of the series and just post one last time on it, essentially a review of the book as a whole. Though my “series” was brief, it was helpful to go through the chapters more methodically. However, the engine lost steam and will soon pull into the station.

Read my previous entries here: Propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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Long Book Titles

As I’ve refined the tentative title of my dissertation a few times, it has remained thus far fairly manageable. Some of my fellow doctoral students, however, have had to trim theirs down considerably. Longer titles are commonplace in academic writing, but it seems that several generations ago there was a tendency, at least with some, to disambiguate to death their subject matter with the title. Take a look at this doozy!

The Apostolical Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews: An Inquiry, in which the Received Title of the Greek Epistle is Vindicated, against the Cavils of Objectors, Ancient and Modern, from Origen to Sir J. D. Michaëlis, Chiefly upon Grounds of Internal Evidence Hitherto Unnoticed: Comprising a Comparative Analysis of the Style and Structure of this Epistle, and of the Undisputed Epistles of St. Paul, Tending to Throw Light upon Their Interpretation.

Rattle this off to the kids at story time and they’ll be counting sheep before the first semicolon!

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