Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Heaven, Hell and Purgatory" Review

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: a Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama by Jerry L. Walls is a fascinating defense of the existence of heaven, hell and (surprise!) purgatory. Most Protestant Christians are going to immediately turn to Wall's chapters on purgatory but I would actually encourage people to slow down and listen to Wall's entire argument first.

Wall's argues that the eschatology is essentially a drama that gives meaning to the entire story of our existence. Walls does a really great job of showing how heaven meets our deepest longing and sets the stage for the entire scope of cosmic redemption.

I've got to pause and say one thing, however, that shapes the entire book and Wall's argument. Wall's is blatantly against any form of Calvinism (he DID write the book Why I'm Not a Calvinist). This means he places a really large priority on free will and defending the goodness of God in spite of hell. For instance, he states that freedom is one of the reasons hell exists. Also, people choose hell willingly. "As I see it, then, hell is indeed a place of misery but not unbearable misery. This is why it can be freely chosen forever as one's eternal destiny." (p. 84) He also argues that to be in the presence of God's love and to reject that love is, in itself, a punishment. Also, hell itself is a twisted triumph because the one who rejects Christ is delighted in the victory of their own bitterness and hate.

Wall's, as you can see, draws heavily upon the free will argument (and C.S. Lewis). Whether or not someone finds this persuasive will largely depend upon their theological orientation. While I personally don't have a dog in the fight,  I found his tone toward Calvinism increasingly irritating in the book. At times I felt he introduced shots at Calvinism that did little to advance his argument. That said, I found his arguments intelligent and interesting. He definitely has a reader-friendly writing style.

The real meat and potatoes of this book has to be the Protestant argument FOR purgatory. While studying the issue in seminary, I found no biblical evidence to support the existence of purgatory. However, Wall's logical argument for the existence of purgatory is really compelling. Essentially, the issue boils down to two main issues:

1) When he argues for purgatory, he is NOT arguing for a "satisfaction" view that requires us to undergo punishment. Christ has already been punished for us. No further payment is necessary. However, we still need to be totally sanctified and holy to be in God's presence. Thus, Walls argues for the "sanctification" model. Therefore, purgatory exists to make us holy.  The point he makes here is interesting: Protestants who reject purgatory and those who accept purgatory agree on the same issue: we need to be made holy to stand before God. The only difference is that those who deny purgatory agree it occurs instantly at death while those who accept purgatory believe our transformation will continue after death.

2) "Although Christ is utterly committed to making us perfect, there is one possible obstacle he may not be able to overcome, namely, our freedom." (pg. 108) There is the second issue--for God to transform us at death would be a violation of our own free will. Walls states,

"Acts of sin can be forgive and not in any way be held against us, but the issue of what we are--our sinful tendencies, those rats in the cellar--cannot simply be forgiven away. It needs a different kind of treatment, namely, the transformation of sanctification. And that transformation is just as much a matter of grace that we claim through faith as justification and forgiveness are." (pg. 111)

"A true relationship is a two-way street. For us to have the sort of loving relationship with God for which we were created, it is not enough that God loves us. We must return his love! And our sinful tendencies prevent our relationship from being what God desires it to be. Again, it is not enough to be forgiven or to have our sinful acts covered by the blood. We need that additional work of grace that transforms who we are in the depths of our being so that we can truly enjoy our relationship with the God of holy love." (pg.112)

"If we must cooperate in our sanctification in this life, is that not a good reason to think that we must continue to do so after death? Again, the issue is whether, both sanctification and our free cooperation in it are nonnegotiable." (pg. 114)

Nothing here should be objectionable to most Protestants. While I do not see any reason to accept the existence of purgatory biblically, I think Wall's has cleared up some obstacles between Protestants and Catholics.

The rest of the book deals with our identity in the afterlife, whether or not all will be saved. He offers some good reasons to accept the idea of postmortem repentance for those who have never heard the Gospel. He links this idea to purgatory. Again, for those who are not Calvinists, I can't imagine finding his argument unconvincing. I think that his argument actually clears up some major theological problems. It is absolutely compelling. For Calvinists, most will go to sleep comfortable with the idea that God probably hadn't predestined those who had never heard anyway.

So is the book worth purchasing? I'll say yes. It is a philosophical work more than an exegetical work. That isn't bad but just be aware of what you are purchasing. I think most Calvinist's will want to take a pass (unless you want to be challenged). I personally liked the book a lot (although I disagree with many of his conclusions). It is a work to be read slowly and pondered carefully. It is probably going to rank among the most interesting books I will have read in 2015.

*Thanks to Brazo Press for providing me a free review copy in exchange for a fair review*

No comments:

Post a Comment