Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry Walls
Author: Jerry L. Walls
Publisher: Brazos Press
Reading Level: Moderate
“You cannot rationally be indifferent to heaven and hell.” (14)
A title like Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (henceforth, HHP) is bound to provoke interest. The idea of a Protestant purgatory is not novel (as is proven in the book itself) but certainly uncommon to many ears. As an important element of Catholic theology rejected in the Reformation, a Protestant doctrine of purgatory might sound like an oxymoron. Hence the natural interest many will have in this title by theologian/philosophy Jerry L. Walls. HPP is the distilled product of three academic books spanning over a decade proving Wells is no novice on these issues (16). This is no half-baked publication from an emerging theologian. This level of understanding and writing is achieved by a longtime philosopher and professor and makes HPP lucid, enjoyable to read, and provocative.
Despite some presumptions about the subject matter, HHP is no dry doctrinal reflection on unimportant doctrines. While Walls does provide general introductions to the doctrines of heaven (chapter 1), hell (chapter 3), and purgatory (chapter 4), he also explains how these ideas undergird morality (chapter 7), hope (chapter 6), and even definitions of personhood (chapter 5). The existence of heaven and hell is immensely practical. Even Walls’ presentation of purgatory is practical in nature. Acknowledging the Reformation’s departure from the Catholic, satisfaction view of purgatory (91-93), Walls presents a sanctification view of purgatory that is generally congruent with a Protestant idea of justification by faith alone (99-105). This concept of sanctifying (transforming) purgatory is obviously helpful to Walls’ theology as he seeks to explain how the worst of sinner (e.g. Hilter, child rapists, etc.) will be transformed alongside repentance before reaching heaven (149-153). However, Wall’s further exploration of repentance and even necessary sanctification in purgatory are limited to non-Reformed thought only (200-205). Since Walls’ arguments against Reformed thought are not able to be presented, some might be dismiss the beneficial look at purgatory and a grace beyond the grave.
This quick rejection of Reformed thought reveals the only negative of HHP, Scriptural exegesis is not common to Walls’ arguments. Apart from the occasional page of discussion (e.g. specifically instantaneous sanctification, 112-115), scripturally deep arguments receive little attention. In fact, exegesis of C.S. Lewis is more common than that of Scripture. These discussions are deeply theological, but they move quickly and specifically into the realm of philosophy. This is where Walls shines. Walls is well acquainted with Christian and secular philosophies and is a well suited to explore these thoughts. He is able to introduce philosophies meant to undermine the doctrines of heaven and hell and also provide excellent Christian responses (chapter 2 & 7). These insights prove useful in the philosophical realm but also practically. One example is Wall’s handling of philosophical questions about heaven and “no more tears” (chapter 6). Many laymen readers will recognize some of their questions throughout HHP and benefit from Walls’ insights.
In conclusion, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory is worth a slow read. The investigation and dismantling of secular philosophies will benefit all Christians. The distinctions made concerning purgatory will benefit inquisitive and open Protestants. The dismissal of the Reformed positions will leave some readers dissatisfied but should not hinder future discussions of purgatory. Walls has provided a valuable laymen oriented guidebook that contains valuable discussions and addresses many practical concerns.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.