Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

January 26, 2015

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics

October 15, 2013

Is there a proper way for evangelicals to engage the spiritual classics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics is a work edited by James Goggin and Kyle Strobel. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s not a coincidence. That is Lee Strobel’s son and this has been his area of study. Lee is a friend of mine who got me a copy because frankly, a book on spiritual classics is quite frankly something I would not have picked up on my own.

In the area of apologetics after all, we’re trying to keep up as much as we can. There are so many new books that we need to read and then there’s all the research and we at the same time are family men who need our own time as well and then there’s still time that we have to spend with prayer, Bible study, etc.

People don’t often realize how big a job ministry is and in ministry, one often thinks they carry the burden of others around them. To an extent, of course we do, but we are not alone and part of the essential process of a Christian is sanctification. This is why I’ve surrounded myself as well with mentors, including a mentor I email every night to make sure I have been keeping up with prayer, an area I need to improve on, and seek advice for problems in my life.

I say all this because this review could sound negative at the start, but it really isn’t. When I started reading, I felt like I was having to push myself through. That is not because this book is a problem. Not at all! It is because I know that this is not what I am used to reading.

This is not to say I never read anything dealing with sanctification, but it is not something that I think we commonly read, much like an apologist I interacted with recently said apologists need to spend more time reading fiction. We should have our place in the academy of course, but we are not to be just in the academy. The best apologists I know are the ones that can also be real people. If I can laugh and joke with someone in my field, I know they’re real. It’s also why I make sure to take time for non-academic interests, such as the Mrs. and I watching our favorite shows most every night.

Reading a book about spiritual classics then is stretching someone in the field, but we need to be stretched. Part of Christian sanctification is being made uncomfortable unfortunately. It’s about doing things that we normally wouldn’t do. I would in fact encourage someone who just reads spiritual classics that they need to pick up books like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” Every bit of sanctification we have must be grounded in truth. All that we do must be grounded in truth.

The book in its work tells why they should be read but also gives a warning in our day and age and one that applies greatly to apologists. This book is for evangelicals and so it assumes evangelical positions and tells us we could be reading a spiritual classic and it will talk about the veneration of Mary, for instance, and some of us who might be staunchly against the Catholic position could raise our defenses up and unfortunately, miss all the good stuff that is there.

And yes, this book recommends reading the Catholic classics. It also recommends reading the Orthodox classics. I do not doubt that people in both of those camps would also recommend reading works by people in the other branches just as much. Wisdom can be found in all manner of places in the Christian tradition.

Reading this book gave me a challenge to consider these kinds of areas more seriously and even had me looking on my Kindle to see from time to time if I could find any of these books that were talked about for download.

Christians are called to be holy people and of course, people of truth. It is easy to miss out on any one side. In our church today, we can often reflect on holiness and our experience, without remembering that these have to be grounded in truth. In more apologetic circles, we forget that truth that has no impact on us is just what is going to puff us up. If we believe something is true, we should act accordingly. If we believe in the Lordship of Christ and the advance of His kingdom, we should act accordingly.

It is because of that then that while I read the book as dry at first, I saw myself becoming more receptive over time, and realized the dryness said nothing about the book but about myself. If I went through again, I still think it would be difficult, but I think I would be still getting more out of it. I recommend this book then knowing that it will be a challenge, but a way that we need to be challenged.

In Christ,
Nick Peters