Jerry Walls: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

Few contemporary philosophers have thought as deeply, nor written as clearly, about the Last Things as Jerry Walls. In 1992 he published his doctoral dissertation Hell: The Logic of Damnation. Ten years later he published Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy. And three years ago he completed the trilogy with Purgatory: The Logic of Transformation. On the basis of this last volume one might infer that Dr Walls is a Roman Catholic, but he in fact is a Methodist who has been powerfully influenced by the writings of C. S. Lewis. The “logic” in the subtitles alerts us that we may expect some pretty sophisticated philosophical reflection.

And now there is Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Walls brings it all together in a treatment intended for a popular audience. I am happy to commend it to you. Accessible, clearly and energetically written, argued with logical precision, filled with anecdotes—this is a book that pastors and laypeople alike will find instructive and helpful. It has the feel of an oral presentation. I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the book had been originally presented as talks in a parochial setting. In several respects the book reminds me of Peter Kreeft’s classic Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaventhe two could be profitably read side-by-side.

I have only one general criticism. The Bible functions as a decisive authority for philosopher Walls, but he does not address the difficult question of hermeneutics. How do we properly interpret the eschatological statements of the Scriptures? At various times he demonstrates his sensitivity to genre, literary form, and figurative speech, yet this alone is insufficient. Here’s what I have in mind: Are we to believe, should we believe, that God revealed to Jesus and his Apostles details of the afterlife? This is a question that rarely seems to be get discussed, yet we all “know” an answer, and this answer controls our interpretation and application of the relevant biblical passages. Consider, for example, our Lord’s parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The parable is constantly mined by just about everyone for authoritative information on paradise and hell and the relationship between the two; but is it appropriate to do so? I imagine that Walls would reply that a discussion of hermeneutics would have been inappropriate in a book written for a popular audience, and I cannot disagree. Yet if we are going to invoke Scripture to resolve debates on the eternity of hell or the the possibility of universal reconciliation, we need to make explicit the principles that guide our reading.  Perhaps Walls does so in his academic titles. I need to take a look.

Like my previous book reviews, I will be blogging on topics that presently interest me. This means that I will be skipping over some very interesting material. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is a much richer book than my extended review might lead one to believe.

Are you interested in the Last Things? Then Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is a must buy, whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or even non-Christian.  It may well be the best popular introduction to the topic now available. We are fortunate to have a guide like Walls to help us in the navigation of the difficult terrain.

(Go to “Heaven and the New Jerusalem”)

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7 Responses to Jerry Walls: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

  1. I wouldn’t have guessed he was Catholic based on belief in Purgatory. Lots of Protestants these days have started to realize that Catholic beliefs aren’t as unbiblical as was once thought. I’m actually glad we’ve stopped debating Catholics over such trivial issues as this. Question: Who here has died and has gone to either one of these places(states???)? It will be interesting to read your review of this book.

    I think you are right though that this book is less academic as his other three were published by Oxford University Press (with the exception of his book on Hell which was published by Notre Dame University Press–a school in France, I believe–just kidding, I know it’s in India). This one is published by Brazos Press. So not as academic.

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  2. Christopher says:

    Does anyone know if the RC “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” has made any definitive statements about universalism?

    Christopher (not sure why “God Bless” was filled in…)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good question. My belief is that the RC Church authoritatively condemns anything stronger than a Balthaserian hope, but it would be good to have it confirmed.

      And God bless you, too, Christopher. 🙂

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      • Christopher says:

        God bless you also Fr. Aidan!

        However, I have to say that the recent explosion of “Orthodox Universalism” has sadden me (an emotional response I don’t rate very highly ;)), and in the end I find universalism in all it’s flavors (and here I have to include “the Universalist hope” as well as I don’t find it a convincing distinction in the end) to be in error and a tragic turn of the spirit. I think I have commented here twice before, and I may have mentioned that I grew up in the modern Unitarian Universalist “church” (with some RC influence from extended family oddly). I am personally familiar with the acid that universalism is on the spirit and Christianity (yes yes, I know that was not real, Orthodox universalism or “hope” – but again, there is enough in common to be instructive).

        I have been busy this summer and have not been able to keep up with the everything at AF, but I was finally able to catch up tonight. They can not keep up with you (or Hart, etc.) philosophically and on a scholarly level but they are in the end correct to see the error of universalism. If I had known of this strain in the heart of the Church 20 years ago when I was chrismated into the Church, I would have never become Orthodox. I have often asked myself “do I believe this” or “am I really Orthodox in this?”. This subject has for the first time prompted me to ask “Is Orthodoxy the Church?”.

        If the Church of the East had not been in what amounts to survival mode ecclesiastically for the last 1000 years or so I believe all this would have been properly addressed – at least that is my “hope” and faith. Perhaps in the next 1000 years.

        With two young children now and a business that is demanding more of my time, I don’t get to read as much as I used to. I don’t have the patristic/language background to plumb this issue as I want, but it all seems focus into Maximus and free will (and of course Scripture/Tradition). If the universalists are right in their interpretation of Maximus/Nyssa/Isaac/Scripture/etc. and there has been this strain in the very heart of the Church from the beginning, well, woe unto us. In the meantime, My copy of Isaac homilies, everything I have written by Hart, etc. are moved from my “Orthodox” section over to, I don’t know, between Lovejoy and Jefferson.

        The fact that I and most Christians (Orthodox or not) that have lived and will ever live are now “infernalists” speaks volumes – really, it says it all….

        p.s. Since this post is such an explicit and frank rejection of your project, I don’t expect you to post it – I just thought I would be honest with you. I actually asked about RC teaching because a part of me is looking for the exit/safe haven, and I know you were a serious RC in the past. God knows it would be so much easier to be RC in north america (especially in my small city here in the desert SW where RC’s are prevalent) in so many tangible ways. My wife still struggles with the pain of several “ethnic encounters of the third kind” that happened years ago. Would it be “true” (a necessary part of any honest life of repentance)? I don’t think so now, but then who would have thought that such a fundamental disease was deep in the heart of Orthodoxy – I would have never until the last couple of years…

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        • AR says:

          Then God said to Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?”

          Jonah prayed and said, “Therefore I fled to Tarshish, because I knew thou art a compassionate God and full of kindness and slow to anger, and repentest thee of the evil.”

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    • Jonathan says:

      Eternal damnation is at least a possibility according to the RCC, which logically necessitates that the Church cannot sanction a firm belief in universal salvation, only a tentative hope. This from the Catechism JPII promulgated as a “sure norm” for teaching the faith (1990s). I’m too lazy to look up what the CDF had to do with the drafting of that document, but it must have been involved somehow. No doubt others here can confirm that when Catholics who aren’t prelates or canon lawyers want to argue with each other over rules, the Catechism is the first document they turn to. Second maybe is that big Denzinger compendium (er, I mean, “enchiridion”), where you’ll find all manner of more or less official pronouncements, many of them impossible to imagine in a modern context where the law of the land trumps the law of the Church. For example, according to the Council of Trent, if I, as a minor, had entered willingly into a marriage with a willing spouse also a minor, there’s nothing Church or outraged parents can do about it, the marriage is legit. Seriously, that’s a rule, or a “teaching.” I heartily recommend perusing Denzinger sometime, it’s a real trip.

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  3. Hell: Fact or Fiction. Is Hell Real? (Part 1) – YouTube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apIMAGpp-T8

    “Lee Strobel moderates a short debate whether Hell exists between Dr. Jerry Walls from Ashbury Seminary and Gary Amirault, founder of Tentmaker Ministries. The program was a TV series entitled “Faith Under Fire.”

    This online debate intentionally becomes a bit bombastic and entangled especially with Lee Strobel’s “Faith under Fire” split screen media graphics and hype – Ha! But I do appreciate the work of both of these gentlemen and in spite of apparent theological animosities, essentially in some ways I see them as exponents coming from the same camp. Wall’s book looks like an excellent read and I’ll be diving in shortly – Thanks!

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