Restatement of Walls’ argument for the plausibility of purgatory

Not long ago, I made brief reference to Jerry Walls and his book on purgatory as total transformation. In a FB post today, Jerry expressed understandable pleasure at this commendatory review of his book. The review primarily restates Walls’ argument:

“His goal is not to prove that a doctrine of purgatory is true. It is to suggest that, on a given understanding of purgatory, the Scriptures do not conflict with it, core Christian doctrines are not inconsistent with it, and grace is not negated by it. Instead, grace is fulfilled through it.”

If you haven’t read the book but are interested, this brief review could be helpful. I was particularly intrigued by the argument Walls makes, as described here:

 “It is obviously important that an account of purgatory offer clear grounds for thinking that, if purgatory there be, personal identity will be retained in it. The emphasis in the Purgatory discussion is on recognition of personal identity — on the inhabitant of purgatory being able to see himself as the same person as a particular pre-mortem person. One claim Walls considers, and with which he has considerable sympathy, is that were someone to be instantly “zapped” into moral perfection, she would not recognize herself as herself, whereas if moral perfection were reached over the course of a process in which she participated self-recognition would be no problem.”

Aug 10/12 – Reflective p.s. re: instant transformation

I have been thinking about the suggestion (with which Walls is said to have had some sympathy) that there could be a problem with our sense of identity if we are instantly transformed. I don’t think we need to worry about that. In fact, I suggest, when we are transformed into the image of Christ, in that final act of glorification, we will be wondrously grateful to have finally become what we have been eagerly waiting to be!

The NT has impressed upon us that, through faith in Christ, we have been united with him in his burial and resurrection, that we are already new creatures in Christ, seated with him in the heavenlies. It is precisely because of this fact that we are so regularly frustrated with our lives here and now. We long to be like Christ in actual and continual experience and, when we sin, we have the sense that we have violated our new nature in Christ – that we have acted out of character. So, in glorification, we will be delighted to find ourselves finally experiencing what we now know only by faith, and not by sight. It is now, not then, that we struggle with dissonance in regard to our identity.

What do you think?



By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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