4 Stars Out Of 5
A Valiant, Well-Written Effort
March 31, 2012
I'm a big Jerry Walls fan. I think it's a shame he hasn't gotten more recognition for his ability to produce work that is both scholarly and accessible to the educated layman. He's forceful, yet always affable, and his book on Calvinism is the best and most fair treatment of the subject. Walls is an evangelical United Methodist, so at first glance one might find it strange that he's supporting a doctrine so widely associated with the worst of Catholic Dark-Ages excess. Well not so fast. Walls' doctrine of purgatory is not quite as Catholic as you might think from the title.
However he is clearly borrowing from, expanding, and tinkering around with the Catholic conception of this intermediate state; it certainly serves as the foundation for his own view. That also brings us to the greatest weakness of the book: purgatory itself is based on speculation rather than Biblical exegesis. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that speculation is a bad thing when you can make the case that Scripture infers something, but in this instance it's just enough of a stretch as to not be entirely convincing.
Now Walls doesn't take the view that one is burning off sins in purgatory, but rather that it serves as a place between death and the resurrection where one can finish the sanctification process. This obviously seems like something that could come out of the entire-sanctification tradition in Methodism, so it's not surprising that he takes this tack. It's Walls' interaction with Wesley on this point that constitutes some of the strongest material in the book.
He devotes a whole chapter to the idea that purgatory could serve as some kind of second chance opportunity for some, something Walls believes is plausible. The most interesting chapter, I believe, is his treatment of C.S. Lewis' views on purgatory; it not widely known in the evangelical world that Lewis even believed in it, and this is the first study of his opinions on the matter that I've seen that has any real depth. Walls reveals all sorts of fascinating insights into Lewis' theology, including his views on justification and salvation. This chapter should be read by every evangelical, in my opinion.
Walls ends the book by suggesting that this is merely a proposal, one that he's not seeking to turn into dogma. In this chapter he hilariously (in a great way) remarks that not only is purgatory compatible with N.T. Wright's theology (Wright is a critic of the doctrine), it might even "be crucial for a coherent account" of Wright's claims! That almost convinced me, as I am without question a Wright fan. As I said before, however, I remain unconvinced, though not because of any lack of effort on the part of Walls. If you're at all interested in learning more about this doctrine, I'd definitely recommend this work.