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Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation
Jerry L. Walls
Oxford University Press, 2011
232 pp., $40.95
Stranger in a Strange Land: Kevin Timpe
Purgatory Is Hope
This is a guest column by Kevin Timpe, professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. His book Free Will in Philosophical Theology is forthcoming in November from Bloomsbury Academic.
A recent study suggests that belief in purgatory among Catholics in the United States is on the decline. But there is also reason for thinking that belief in purgatory is on the rise among Protestants. My own attraction to the doctrine comes primarily from the work of a Wesleyan philosopher, Jerry Walls. While Walls' Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, 1992) is one of numerous extended philosophical treatments of hell, his Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford, 2002) is a rare book-length treatment of the philosophical issues surrounding heaven. Heaven also contains a chapter providing the best philosophical defense of purgatory that I'm aware of. Walls there argues that the Christian doctrine of "salvation must involve changing us to love God as we ought [for] the aim of salvation is to make us holy, and this is what fits us for heaven." Walls completed his trilogy with Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford, 2011). It is dedicated to defending the doctrine of purgatory "as a rational theological inference from other important biblical and theological commitments … for those who take seriously the role of human freedom in salvation."
At the heart of Walls' defense is the following line of thought. Heaven is to be a state where all forms of impurity are excluded—a state than which no greater can be conceived, we might say. Heaven is, according to Walls, "essentially morally perfect. What this means is that it is impossible, in a very strong sense of the word, that there could be any sort of sin in heaven." But in order for this to be so, all the inhabitants of heaven must be incapable of sin. And while this is an easy claim to maintain for God, the same is not true of human creatures, whose sinfulness is all too obvious. If we are to be fit ...