Response to a Good Book about Purgatory

Response to a Good Book about Purgatory March 19, 2012

Response to a Good Book about “Purgatory”

Some months ago I posted some thoughts here about purgatory. I endorsed an idea that had little resemblance to any traditional Catholic idea of purgatory, but some people are apparently so fixated on that word that its very appearance made them think I was affirming the Catholic idea of purgatory. I wasn’t. I admitted some sympathy with C. S. Lewis’ idea in The Great Divorce and other writings that perhaps there is a place after death for forgiven people where they can complete their spiritual formation. I represented it as educative rather than punitive. For me it was not part of hell or between heaven and hell but a part of paradise where people who die in Christ on account of God’s grace received by faith are brought to complete repentance and total transformation of character. In other words, it is a place for the completion of sanctification. Not because entire sanctification is a requirement for salvation (as forgiveness, reconciliation, heaven) but because it is a requirement for the full beatific vision of God. This idea of “purgatory” (which has little or nothing to do with medieval images of punishment” was expressed by Lewis in several ways. Here is what he wrote in Letters to Malcolm:

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you  know”—“Even so, sir.”

This is quoted on page 164 of a new book by evangelical philosopher Jerry Walls. The book is the third in his series on life after death. The others were on hell and heaven. This one is entitled Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford, 2012). In it he advocates Protestant embrace of an idea of purgatory that, in my opinion, has little to nothing to do with popular ideas of purgatory and therefore probably should not be called that. Toward the book’s end he says of his idea of purgatory “This is not purgatory as a frightful threat, but as a gracious promise.” (175) Here is the clearest statement of his thesis:

“Critics of the doctrine [purgatory] often have a tendency, sometimes inveterately so, to depict it as a matter of salvation by works and then to reject it highhandedly in the name of grace. However, to pit purgatory against grace is to fail completely to grasp that purgatory itself is very much a matter of grace. To draw this contrast is to ignore the fact that grace is much more than forgiveness, that it is also sanctification and transformation, and finally, glorification. We need more than forgiveness and justification to purge our sinful dispositions and make us fully ready for heaven. Purgatory is nothing more than the continuation of the sanctifying grace we need, for as long as necessary to complete the job, as Lewis put it.” (p. 174)

Walls basically endorses Lewis’ idea of purgatory and argues that it is not far from, if different at all from, post-Vatican 2 Catholic ideas of purgatory. I can verify this as I have had several well-informed Catholic theologians speak to my classes over the past thirty years and all of them (with one possible exception—a very conservative priest who still said mass in Latin) affirmed to me and my students that, for them, purgatory is not punishment but spiritual therapy and that it will be welcomed by those who spend time there.

Walls’ book covers goes into great detail about the history of the doctrine of purgatory, how the Catholic doctrine developed and differs from Eastern Orthodoxy’s idea of life after death (not purgatory per se but nevertheless a kind of spiritual formation such that prayers for the dead can be efficacious for them), and reasons for the Protestant reformers’ rejections of the doctrine (largely because in that time it was being taught as the reason for buying indulgences). Walls also covers all the biblical and philosophical reasons for purgatory. He admits that there is no proof for purgatory; it is a deduction and opinion only. He does not want Protestants to make a doctrine of it; he is simply presenting it as an option. One goal is clearly to ease ecumenical relations between Catholics and Protestants.

One thing about Walls’ book that will turn off even some Protestants who may sympathize with his idea of purgatory is his extension of that into postmortem opportunity for salvation for those who never have opportunity to accept Christ in life before death—for example children. One thing I find ironic here is that all Calvinists I know believe all children who die in infancy, or before the age of accountability, are elect and go straight to paradise. Where is the biblical proof of that? That seems to me a deduction from the goodness of God, but Calvinists who believe it don’t seem to think God’s goodness requires universal atonement! To me, the same logic that applies with children applies to the atonement. Anyway, it’s ironic that Walls, an Arminian, does not assume all children who die in infancy or before the age of accountability go straight to paradise while most Calvinists do!

I say Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation is a good book because it is well-researched and well-written and makes some very good arguments if not compelling ones. At the end, I still don’t think purgatory is the right word for this place Walls describes and it certainly isn’t a good word for what I believe—at least not without qualifications. I think at least some great heroes of Christian faith (e.g., Luther) will have to undergo some education before entering into the fullness of heavenly bliss. Not because they aren’t forgiven but because they said, wrote or did things so absolutely antithetical to the love of Jesus Christ that they will want to repent of them. I’m thinking, for example, of Luther’s anti-semitism and of his advice to the German princes to slay the peasants mercilessly (knowing full well what that would mean). Let me bring it home. I believe that, when I die and arrive in paradise, I will want my Savior to teach me how to repent more perfectly—especially of things I was not aware, during my lifetime before death, were sinful. I also want to be corrected by God himself for my false beliefs and attitudes. It will be humbling but pleasant, possibly painful (not physically) but much appreciated.

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  • Jack Hanley

    I certainly understand the need to create, and hope for such a thing as purgatory. As you state, it gives us hope for those that have never had the opportunity, to hear the Gospel, and put their trust in Christ. However, I also look at myself and realize, how far, I myself come from living the way I should. Although I continually strive to live as I should, I also continue to see the sin in my life, not only the sins I commit, but also things I see myself leaving undone. What then, is the solution to my dilemma, is it to create a thing such as purgatory, or rather should I look back to my baptism as God’s promise to me, instead of my promise to God. In other words should I grab a hold of my ability to keep my promise, or rather should I grab a hold of the One and Only True Promise Keeper?

    At this point I would like to make it clear that, I am not a Calvinist, I also would not consider myself, Arminian. I see difficult problems on both sides of the divide. Having said this, I would now like to ask, as far as infants go, would we not do well, to stay with scripture here and say, those born inside the covenant family, are protected by the promise of God, and those outside are born into sin? Now I realize, this will not sit well with Arminians, in that Arminians believe we have to contribute something toward our salvation. However, this is one of the many problems I see with Arminianism, in that it has no answer, to the problem of infants, and also those who have never heard the Gospel. Therefore, it would seem to me, when you are confronted with these problems, the only options are to create a thing such as purgatory, or revert to inclusiveness.

    • rogereolson

      Okay, I can’t let that pass. Arminians DO NOT BELIEVE that “we have to contribute something toward our salvation.” You are bearing false witness…

    • Were in the Bible do you find that idea that Christan kids are saved and none Christian kids are not saved?

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,

    I really like the way that you framed this discussion. It was very even-handed and thoughtful.

    While I don’t find much Biblical evidence for purgatory, the way that Lewis and Walls understand it would seem to fit well within the character of God.


  • Roger,
    Thanks for another fascinating post. I agree that the concept put forward by Walls and by you in your earlier post should not be called purgatory.

    There are many believers who have genuine faith in Christ but who are in various stages of maturity. That is, we are redeemed and regenerated but in various stages of sanctification (not merely positionally but dispositionally) and transformation awaiting our glorification. It is God’s desire to have matured sons and daughters. This is not accomplished instantly at the Lord’s return (as popularly believed) but is a gradual process of growth in life. Thus, there has to be a way for God to reward the faithful believers who grow and mature in this life and to allow the immature the proper process to grow and mature. We all should be soberly aware of our need for holiness and growth.

  • I agree with you, Professor, that purgatory is the wrong word–Paradise is a perfectly good term, though; after all, didn’t Jesus tell the thief on the cross that today he would be with Him in Paradise? This is a great post. I have taught for years that it takes a process for us to come to the point of fully sharing the Divine Nature–even Adam and Eve would have had to go through the process had they not disobeyed God. But what of those who turn to God in the eleventh hour of life? I have secretly held to the type of “purgatory” you speak of here in answering that question. Now perhaps I can dare to be more open about it–without creating a doctrine, of course.

  • Andy Pizarro

    As C.S. Lewis was getting near his Father house he was thinking to himself: “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”?
    But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
    And C.S. Lewis said:“With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.Even if it may hurt,sir.”
    But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

    • rogereolson

      Well, I get your point, but, of course, no parable is meant to make every point. The parable of the loving father (often called the parable of the prodigal son) is only meant to make one point. You can’t stretch it to cover all of personal eschatology.

      • Jeff Martin

        Dr. Olson,

        There you go again about parables making only one point, when you yourself admitted that the prodigal son probably has two to myself in another thread. Julicher, by the way, would admit as much.

        I agree with you though that Andy takes it too far, however, I think it is irresonsible to state as a matter of fact that a parable can only make one point, when it is by far from clear that it does, as we see in the stuides by Blomberg and Snodgrass

        • rogereolson

          It might “make” more than one point, but you can’t read everything about salvation out of it. And I still think when Jesus told it he intended one main point by it and that was about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who he portrayed by the elder brother.

  • “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). As the bridegroom takes the bride to his home, rather than the groom to the bride’s home, so too we will be caught up in the air (1 Th 4:17) and live in the heavenly mansions of our Father’s house. We will also live in the New Jerusalem of the New Earth, fulfilling promises made through Isaiah and Ezekiel and reiterated by Peter (2 Pe 3:13) and in Revelation (Rev 21), but notice that this happens after the Millennium and after the old earth has passed away. If the first resurrection (Rev 20:5) is the same as is spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4 and Titus (“the blessed hope and glorious appearing”), which is to say the first resurrection is physical and not merely spiritual, then you are faced with premillennialism, and consider that this millennium might be in heaven rather than on earth.

    What might be the purpose of such a millennium? In Revelation it appears after the marriage feast of the lamb, and after God has killed his enemies, but before His enemies are resurrected to final judgment. This is a time when we will have many questions for God: Why isn’t Aunt Penelope here? Why is Hitler here? (just kidding.) Why did you allow my suffering? How was my obedience helpful in spreading the Kingdom? This will be a time when we will fully know and be known (1 Co 13:12), but fully understanding God will probably take some time; it’s not His way to “download” information into our minds, but to let us discover gradually through relationships. Why this spiritual formation period would take a thousand years, I’m not qualified to say, but at the end we will all be of one mind, praising God for His perfect mercy and justice when His enemies are destroyed in the second death.

    Perhaps a heavenly millennium has exegetical problems; I haven’t really studied it. I have only ever encountered the heavenly millennium concept among Seventh-day Adventists, probably because it works harmoniously with their unconscious intermediate state. (If dead saints are now conscious in heaven, or Paradise, or “Abraham’s bosom,” then I suppose they can be undergoing spiritual transformation now.) Whenever this process takes place, I think it is important that the saints are fully separated from evil on earth, where evil has worked against our understanding of spiritual things.

  • Greg D

    Gregory Boyd defends a quasi-view of purgatory.

  • Thanks for the review. I downloaded a sample to my Kindle. I have never been of the opinion that purgatory as RCs see it is a total contradiction of our faith, as some do. Praying for the dead, as so many feel the need to do, is not an instinct I am unsympathetic with. I have seen so many lose a loved one for whom they have prayed fervently for so long, and then, in abracadabra like fashion, the loved one is translated at death and the connection ceases. It’s a shock to some people’s system. No more mention of the loved one from the pulpit, no remembrance among the people, no more expressions of concern. It’s like they never existed. This is especially true for parents who have had a child die. These huge memories they have inside get no expression in the church. I once went to a RC Mass for Angels. It was moving beyond anything I could imagine. A sanctuary full of parents who had lost a child in death. Some of the parents were in their 80s and some had lost a child just that week. Obviously one would not want to invent a purgatory so those who are left behind could maintain a connection through prayer. But there is something psychologically natural about it. This settles nothing doctrinally in the long run, but I have learned along the way that if a teaching I am hearing from the pulpit consistently contradicts human experience, I need to go back and look at it again. If it is true, I imagine that it would satisfy rather than grate. Many problems with this approach, I know. I do think there is a Christian instinct and imagination that gives to a postmortem Christian a journey of some sort.

  • T


    What do you and others seen in the Corinthians passage about each man’s work being tested, whereby the work made of wood will be burned up. The builder will be saved, as *through* flames, and will “suffer loss?”

    To me, this sounds like a “purging” experience, and experience, rather than “place” seems the best way to think about these matters.

    Further, every time I’ve encountered Christ in a powerful way, it has been both humbling, convicting, and joyous. So there is pain and joy, even as the joy is the deeper and longer note that is struck. I have a hard time thinking that seeing him face to face will not be similar (and much more intense on all fronts), along with having my life’s work revealed for what it actually was and is. And I expect this to be a powerfully transformative experience, as well as one of worship, with pain and joy. The scriptures say he will wipe away every tear and I believe and count on it. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some tears in heaven. The opposite seems more likely.

    Further still, I don’t see how such an idea takes anything at all away from Christ’s accomplishment for me. Quite to the contrary, I see him finishing the work he began.

    • rogereolson

      Are you disagreeing with me? I don’t see how. “Place” was obviously a metaphor. So, call it an “experience.” The point is, it may take some “time.”

      • T

        Ha! No. Should have made that more clear. I think you’re right on. But I also think any mention of the idea of purgatory will upset many protestants. In that vein, I think it’s helpful to get away from the idea of purgatory being a “place” (somewhere in between heaven and hell?) and instead think of it as part of the experience of coming face to face with our Lord, who “is a refining fire.” Further, both the language and theology of Paul makes room for this kind of experience (in heaven) while it would work against some kind of “place” that implies distance from Christ.

        Hope that clarifies. Good post.

  • Steve Rogers

    I’m very comfortable with the idea that there may be a process post-mortem through which we continue to mature in Christ and “get our legs under us” for co-regency in the fulfilled Kingdom. One might describe it as the practical carrying out of every knee bowing to and every tongue confessing the lordship of Jesus spoken of in Philippians. Of course, I can’t prove or disprove it. One can only hope. But to borrow from Paul (somewhat out of context), if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are a pitiful bunch.

  • John Inglis

    Wouldn’t those who died in infancy want some process for spiritual maturation? It needn’t be in the context of sin, as our maturation occurs here on earth, and so a post death maturation and perfection of being / character in a pre-resurrection paradise would be a benefit.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that–as an opinion, not a dogma.

  • Dr. Olson, this is just a thought – I am very sympathetic to what you’ve written – but do you think it might be possible that hanging on to a desire to be “grown up” or matured (in Lewis’ sense of being cleaned and having rags taken off) could be a subtle form of idolatry? In other words, if God chooses to profligately give us grace in a way that doesn’t require us to undergo some form of painful schooling apart from that which we experience in this life, who are we to question that? Perhaps “being there” – i.e., experiencing the presence of God in fuller and fuller degrees into eternity – will itself be that education?

    Some thinkers (like Wright and Willard) have faulted this “changed all at once” mentality for fostering laziness and inattention to spiritual growth for believers in this life – the so-called “fire escape mentality” – and I certainly see how that connection is possible. I also see how it could be argued that someone whose life reveals no evidence of salvation could not possibly have experienced or comprehended salvation, even in the limited and anemic “fire escape” sense.

    Anyways, just some scattered thoughts. I do think it is helpful to remember that grace is not opposed to works; as Willard says, grace is opposed to earning, not effort.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see the connection to idolatry. God does give us profligate grace in this life but also expects us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” here. Why would it be idolatrous to believe that continues after death?

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    C. S. LEWIS SAID: “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—“Even so, sir.”

    “In my opinion, belief in a post-mortem wrathful judgment of humanity is incompatible with scripture and, in theory, depreciates the efficacy of Christ’s atonement for the sin of the world. I do indeed believe that Christ is even now seated on his heavenly judgment seat (Heb 10:12-13) and that in this life all sins of the flesh generate of themselves due fleshly retribution, culminating in the ultimate punishment for sin, i.e., our physical death (Gal 6:7-8 NKJ). In other words, we reap (in the flesh) what we sow! But my understanding of what happens after this life, where flesh is irrelevant (1 Cor 15:50), is that all punishment is waived in favor of the atonement of Christ. I offer a couple of scriptures with personal commentary in support of my understanding of this issue. Please consider them carefully, as follows:

    (1.) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself in Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…” (2 Cor 5:17-19). NOTE: If, as scripture teaches, all of us died in Christ on the cross, and all were raised a “new creation” with Christ, then, “the old [sin] has gone” and will no longer be a factor to be judged in that re-created world to come.

    (2.) “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature [before you claimed to be a Christian], God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). NOTE: If, on his cross, Christ “cancelled” the written laws that were “against us,” how, then, are we to be judged by those same laws in the hereafter? According to scripture, “where there is no law, there is no sin” (see Rom 4:15 and Rom 5:13).

    • rogereolson

      All punishment is waived, indeed. But what Walls and Lewis argue for is not punishment but spiritual formation after death (and possibly a post-mortem opportunity to believe for those who never had that opportunity before death).

  • Bill T

    Dr. Olsen,

    I enjoyed reading your review, and hope to read that book at some point. It *seems* to me that all Western confessions that are at least open to the idea of postmortem “sanctification” or “repentance” or “transformation” (whatever one chooses to call it instead of “purgatory”)…as well as post VC2 Catholics, are basically moving toward the Eastern Orthodox idea of of life after death. All recognize that sinners are saved by grace that is undeserved…that forgiveness is given and never earned…that we do not merit any eternal bliss by earning them through good works. Yet all recognize also…and Lewis’ analogy of someone dripping in mud…that all who depart this life will need to be purified to fully realize their participation in the life of the divine. And after all, “purgatory” derives from “purging,” which is nothing other than purification. What some Protestants seem to object to, is the idea that this postmortem cleansing (a) takes any amount of “time” and (b) in any way involves our active participation or repentance. I recall Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology book, where a picture was actually drawn to illustrate his view of sanctification, where on the left side of “death” it looked something like the stock market, gradually working its way upwards, and then at death, WHAM, instant and total perfection. It’s beyond me to consider how we can even apply such thinking to categories that exist outside of time. A prominent Eastern critique of the medieval Western notions of purgatory focuses on exactly that…”time” spent in a state of purgatory that could be measured (and, of course, forgiven through indulgences) in discrete units of time…”XYZ number of years in purgatory.”

    The Eastern doctrine is admittedly vague and non-scholastic, but then, it also doesn’t present the problems that Western scholastic approaches did (and do), in attempting to over-define the categories. It is focused on being cleansed…not punished for crimes committed…it admits of no notions or constraints of time as we understand it…it confirms that prayers for the dead are efficacious but does not say how. It seems (to my untrained perspective) to be basically the point toward which the Catholics are trying to return, and the point toward which some Protestants (yourself, maybe?) are willing to approach.

    One must REALLY wonder, what would Western Christian history have looked like, had the medieval Catholic Church not gone so far into the rabbit hole of merit, indulgences, treasuries of merit, penances designed to make up for time owed in Purgatory, and all that? The Reformation doctrines were so much defined by their rejection of that system. The purely forensic idea of justification, the quasi-nominalist rejection of the intrinsically moral worth of “good works,” the elimination of prayers for the dead and for the intercession of saints, and even the ideas of “double imputation” and hard-line penal substitution atonement…

    Anyway, one just has to wonder…to what degree were the Latin scholastic ideas of purgatory responsible for the tearing asunder of the entire Western Church? (and, to what degree was much of that same thinking…albeit not yet so developed…responsible for the tearing asunder of the West from the East?)

    Thanks again for your thoughtful review and posts on your blog!

    • rogereolson

      I think Wesley would largely have agreed. He thought the Protestant Reformation was largely an over reaction to conditions in the Catholic church. For example, he had real trouble with “forensic righteousness” insofar as it implied a lack of real, inward righteousness wrought by the Holy Spirit on account of faith. And he had trouble with what he thought was Luther’s rejection of good works. And he was dismayed by nominalism and the “hidden God” view and divine determinism, etc., etc. And yet he was also a Protestant. At one point in his life he sought out an Eastern Orthodox bishop for instruction in Eastern Orthodoxy (and maybe more than just instruction). It turned out the guy was not “canonical” and Wesley backed away from him. But, yes, I do think Protestants can learn much from Eastern Orthodoxy. I said so in an article on deification in Theology Today a few years ago. (I don’t have the reference at hand.)

      • Bill T

        I didn’t know that Wesley had direct contact with Eastern Orthodoxy, I’d only read that he had studied it and had a great interest in the Eastern fathers. And the matter of discerning which groups, or even isolated clergy, are “canonical” in Orthodoxy can be extremely difficult especially in countries (most!) where there isn’t a millenium-long history of the faith and it’s easy for groups to simply “go rogue” and never really tell anyone their true intent. When this happens in American Protestantism we simply call them “new denominations” and make them tax exempt 😛

        Have you read this book?

        It’s an Eastern Orthodox assessment of Calvinism and TULIP, from a formerly Calvinist person who became Orthodox. The tagline says it comes from a perspective “usually absent in typical Arminian vs. Calvinist debates.” Since you’ve been so deeply involved over the years in such debates I thought the book might be of interest to you. I intend to read it myself at some point.


        • rogereolson

          Thanks for adding another essential read to my growing list! Thomas Oden, you may know, declared Arminianism simply a Protestant version of the ancient soteriology of the eastern church fathers. I agree.

  • I wrote on this subject about a year ago and still think it may be the best response to any position of purgatory that I’ve read recently… its a long piece divided into two lengthy sections… but fair is fair as one writer would say to another! Enjoy – (and hopefully all the videos I’ve included as necessary to the piece still work!)

  • Jack Hanley

    I certainly do not want to be a false witness. I am somewhat confused though, when you state,

    or before the age of accountability,

    I took this to mean, that we are accountable, for something toward our salvation. If we do not contribute anything toward our salvation, including, choice, then where is the dilemma with children, dying in infancy?

    • rogereolson

      What you said was that “Arminians believe….” We do not. You keep confusing what people believe with what YOU think they ought to believe given other things they do believe. That would be like me saying “Calvinists believe God is a moral monster.” I don’t say that because Calvinists explicitly deny it. And yet I think it is implied by what they do explicitly believe. As for “accountability.” Are you suggesting that the Bible itself doesn’t say we are accountable to God? So far as I know even Calvinists believe we are “accountable” to God.

  • In the end, both the yes and no sides speak of what they know not. We are told very little about the afterlife and I assume that we lack the ability to understand it in any real way. All we have is our “broken speech” and stumbling metaphors.

    That said, I agree that Lewis’ Purgatory makes sense. I think it is likely there will be something like it. Knowing how hard it has been in this life to be freed from even the simplest of sins, I find it unlikely that they all will magically fall away. But then again, they might.

    I also find Dante’s vision of Purgatory helpful – the Divine Comedy has become something of a personal devotional book. Inferno teaches me about the nature of sin, Purgtorio teaches me about holiness, and Paradisio teaches me to desire God.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Jerry Walls wrote: “We need more than forgiveness and justification to purge our sinful dispositions and make us fully ready for heaven. Purgatory is nothing more than the continuation of the sanctifying grace we need, for as long as necessary to complete the job…”

    The above statement is a glaring example of how too many Christians miss the whole point of the Cross. For Walls, it was not enough that Christ nailed the sin of the world (all of it) to the cross in himself. It was not enough that in his death we died too. It was not enough that he suffered the agony and infamy that we deserved. For Walls, it was not enough that when Christ was resurrected we were resurrected in him as a “new creation.” It was not enough that Christ declared his mission accomplished, saying, “It is finished!” But, no; Walls insists that in the world to come we must somehow put the ‘finishing touches’ on the “finished” work of Christ. Yes, it’s true that we shall learn more about grace in the next life. But you can forget about a so-called purging or pruning of residual sin in a doctored-up protestant purgatory. Hear the words of Jesus just before he left this old world: “[Father], I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do” (Jn 17:4 MSG).

    • rogereolson

      Walls (and Lewis and I) are not arguing for any completion of the work of Christ for our forgiveness and reconciliation. Do you think that a person is wholly sanctified the moment he or she is saved? I doubt it. So, if after conversion there’s “more to do” in terms of growing in Christ, does that mean there was some deficiency in Christ’s work on the cross? Nobody I know has ever believed that. On the cross, among other things, Christ provided all that is needed for our sanctification, but that’s something we have to accept and grow in. Believing that sanctification continues after death doesn’t derogate from Christ’s work on the cross anymore than believing that sanctification happens gradually after conversion in this life.

  • Jack Hanley

    First of all I would like to say, I do not expect; and I would not be offended if you do not, or rather could not respond to my responses. I surely understand you have a busy schedule with many duties. However I truly appreciate your efforts, in that it is certainly beneficial for me.

    Having said this you stated,

    You keep confusing what people believe with what YOU think they ought to believe given other things they do believe.

    I truly, appreciate what you are saying here, however, I would say that I attempt, to take what others say they believe to its furthermost conclusion. I attempt to do this with what I claim to believe. I also do this with the beliefs of Calvinism, as I understand them. In other words I attempt to think critically on all views including my own.

    Now for the sake of length here, I will not get into specifics, however as I think critically on both Calvinism, and Arminianism, it seems to me, when either is taken to the foremost conclusion, they begin to fail. Therefore, it would also seem, this debate will never cease, because it is too easy to see, and point out the error on either side.

    Now to your question,

    Are you suggesting that the Bible itself doesn’t say we are accountable to God?

    Without a doubt I am accountable to God. However, when I looked at my account book, all that was there were zeros. Therefore my account, had to be credited by God with righteousness, and with this righteousness comes everything pertaining to righteousness, including faith.

    • rogereolson

      Then what did Paul mean by “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Also, you missed my point. My point to you was to please stop saying that Arminians believe such-and-such when they don’t. You may think the such-and-such is what they ought logically to believe, but if we don’t actually believe it, it’s bearing false witness to say we do.

  • Jack Hanley

    I do not believe I have missed your point in the least, I believe that I fully understand your point. Now for you to continue to say that I have missed your point; would this not make you out to be a false witness? Now I hope you get my point. You seem to be clearly saying, you believe the Calvinist doctrines, when taken to the foremost conclusion, makes God out to be a moral monster. Yet, because Calvinist, claim they do not believe this, it is a virtue not to say that they believe this. I myself find no virtue in this. In fact I would much rather my fellow brothers and sisters tell me exactly what they believe. However I will say that, I may have fared much better if I had phrased my point, “it seems to me” Arminians believe they contribute something to salvation. If this is the case I certainly apologize.

    Having said this, if Arminians believe we contribute nothing to salvation, including faith, and this faith that we have is totally and completely depended on God, and in no way whatsoever depends on us, in other words if faith is given to us, along with salvation, and justification, then we have no disagreement. However if you shrink back from this in any way, and faith is dependent on us in any way, then IT WOULD SEEM TO ME, that you are contributing something.

    Now as far as your question,

    Then what did Paul mean by “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?

    As I am sure you realize I do not have the time or space here, to fully flesh this passage out. However, it does seem curious to me that you extract only a portion of a sentence here. In fact the sentence begins, “Therefore,” as I am sure you know, anytime we see the word therefore, we need to find out what it is there for. Also, if you will notice, verse 13 immediately follows and states: For it is God who is working in you , both to WILL and to ACT for HIS good purpose. Therefore I believe this passage should be interpreted, in light of what has already been said. In other words, we are to work out, (not work for) our salvation in light of the fact that, “He who started a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6

    • rogereolson

      The issue here is “accountability to God.” You stated that Arminians believe our accountability to God means that we contribute something to our salvation. That’s false. No, my correcting you is not “bearing false witness.” It’s correction. If you can’t see the difference between what a person (or groups) actually believes and what you think logic would require them to believe, then I don’t know how to help you. If I say “Calvinists believe God is a moral monster” I am bearing false witness. They do not. But if I say “If I were a Calvinist I would have to believe God is a moral monster,” I am not bearing false witness. I am not attributing beliefs to them they do not actually hold. Can you really not see the difference? As for Phil. 2: verse 13 does not cancel out verse 12. Even many Calvinists believe that sanctification is synergistic and that we are accountable to God for cooperating with his grace to grow and mature in the faith. That God provides everything we need to do that does not lessen our responsibility or cancel our effort. Before we go on with this discussion, would you please state what books of Arminian theology you have read?

  • Tony Pounders

    Have you come across this book? Jesus and the Demise of Death
    Resurrection, Afterlife, and the Fate of the Christian
    By Matthew Levering
    He seems to be dealing with similar questions as Jerry Walls does in his trilogy.

    • rogereolson

      I have not come across it. Thanks for the book recommendation.

  • Jack Hanley

    I have returned to this blog, because I have been in a tremendous struggle, for sometime now. The struggle involves the fact that I realize, there are many intelligent, Godly people who claim to be Arminian, and claim as you yourself do, that they contribute nothing to salvation. I have read many of your blogs here, and have also spent a great deal of time on the Arminian Perspective site as well as The Society of Evangelical Arminians. I have been involved in many discussions on the Arminian Perspective site, and at one point was told, “God enables us to believe, but we do the believing.” Now I found it difficult to follow this logic, because I understand that God enables us to believe, however I stated, “we believe only because God is enabling us.” At this point I was told that God’s enabling does not equal causation. It was then that I realized my error and stated,

    I can clearly see my error. You are right to point out that I have miss defined the word enable. This word simply means God has now made it possible for us to believe. Therefore you would be right to say,
    God enables us to believe, but we do the believing.
    And it would be absolutely incorrect for me to add.
    but we believe, because God is enabling us
    This is an incorrect statement in that I have assumed, God’s enabling is the cause of our belief, I see now that it is not in any way the cause, Therefore, this would seemed to indicate to me as well that God is not in any way the cause of our belief, rather He would simply be the cause of our enablement.

    With this being the case, it would seem to me that, God only contributes the enabling, the rest depends on us. Having said this, I would like you to know that I have listen to your conversations with Michael Horton, at one point you stated,

    If God is a loving God He would make it possible for people to be saved, and not irresistibly or effectually draw them, and leave others out. So it must be up to us ultimately, if God is love.”

    Here then is my struggle, if as you say it is ultimately up to us, then how is it that we are not contributing.

    • rogereolson

      I know that i have answered this many times before. Everything depends on what “contibuting” means. when someone gives me a gift without which I would die and all I have to do is accept it (ie eg endorse a check) am I “contributing” something to my rescue? Instumentally, yes. Causatively, no. The real issue is boasting. This sense of “contributing” excludes boasting.