Pimples and Purgatory: Should One Weird View Distract Us?
Dr. Braxton Hunter | President
Trinity Seminary, Newburgh, IN
**This article was previously posted by Dr. Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.
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Pimples. Everyone has had them. If you are one of the fortunate souls who was not afflicted by the blemishes during adolescence . . . well, I wish at least one on you today. Even now a pimple will occasionally appear on my own face, and though I try to ignore it, each time I gaze into a mirror it draws my attention. I can’t really judge my overall appearance because my eyes keep drifting slowly back to the imperfection. Occasionally I’ll discover that some professor, preacher, or Bible teacher I greatly admire holds to at least one seemingly weird view. That one view will then capture my attention and hang in the back of my mind as I listen to them discuss other unrelated issues. The weird affirmation is like a pimple on the face of their systematic theology. Since I listen to a wide range of thinkers I’ve gotten good at “eating the meat and spitting out the bones,” so to speak, but I’ve noticed that a lot of believers still have trouble with this. They’ll say things like, “Yeah, well, I used to listen to that guy, but then I found out he holds to X (where X is not a position over which to break fellowship).” This is ridiculous. In the end we’ll all discover we had a few pimples.
Having said that, one great example of a clearheaded evangelical academic with one view around which I cannot get my mind is, Jerry Walls. First let me say how much I appreciate this man’s ministry. His work on the problem of evil and moral foundations is beyond laudable. Just check out his book Good God. Further, I know this will not earn me points with those finding their theological roots in Geneva, but his philosophical critiques of Calvinism are the first place I would turn if I were a theological Genevan looking to prepare myself for defense. If you’re interested, check out the video below.
Now, there are naturally minor differences I would have with Dr. Walls, but they are the same differences I would have with many of our students at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. That is, they are common enough among evangelicals. Yet, the view I think many consider to be what we might call pustule, is his position on purgatory. Obviously, many Catholics affirm purgatory, but it’s unusual, to say the least, to find a card carrying protestant who thinks it all works. It should be noted, however, that Walls does reject Catholic renderings of purgatory including the idea that one might “indulge” an expedited exit. So what gives?
As I understand him, Jerry Walls sees purgatory made reasonable by the need for the process of sanctification to reach completion. Once a man is regenerated, he begins the process of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become more and more like Christ throughout the rest of his life. Now, imagine a girl becoming a Christian, and thus beginning this sanctifying journey, at the age of eleven. Say she lives to the ripe old age of eighty-five. This means she is likely much further along in becoming like Christ than, for example, a twenty-one year old young man who becomes a Christian and then dies in a car accident a week later. The question is not whether they are equally regenerate, but whether they are equally sanctified. One would imagine that if the process of sanctification is, in any sense, important that this sanctification would need to continue before a less than sanctified individual is to enter heaven. Remember, the question is not whether they have been saved, become a new creation, or their sins entirely paid for. The question is whether they have become sufficiently Christ-like. Most evangelicals, myself included, would merely say that whatever the case may be they will be glorified, and the sanctification process instantly completed. Walls, sees it in a way that I think he would consider to be more earthy and realistic.
I have not allowed Walls to speak for himself, and that is a great problem, indeed. Thus, I encourage you to read his book, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, for yourself. Or if you don’t have time, you might just watch the following video to get a feel for his case.
The point I wish to convey, however, has little to do with Jerry Walls. It has to do with the fact that many Christians would write the guy off immediately for this one “blemish.” In reality, when we encounter thinkers with a seemingly out-of-nowhere perspective, we ought to consider what they’re saying . . . fairly. They might be right. I don’t think Jerry Walls is right about purgatory. So what? I think he’s right on a lot of other things. In fact I think the way he’s right is a lot righter than a lot of the other “right guys.” Worse than dismissing someone because of an unusual view, some believers commit a far greater sin. They assume that because someone has one weird view, they must not be saved to begin with.
I was recently told in a private online conversation with an Arminian, that he thinks all Calvinists are “going to hell,” because he feels they get the gospel wrong. At the same time, I read an article from a Calvinist who thinks that anyone who isn’t a Calvinist is going to hell. Shocking? Click the link HERE. Cries of heresy are so frequent that the term has all but lost meaning, especially in lay-level discourse. It’s like the term fascist. “Trump is a fascist, Hillary is a fascist, restaurants are fascist if they don’t serve baskets of free bread.” The morphological meanings of these terms are hard to find.
Whether Jerry Walls’ view amounts to a pimple is a question you will have to decide for yourself, but even if you find a few pimples on the faces of your favorite thinkers, don’t abandon the otherwise great resources they provide. Pimples happen. Everyone gets them.
 Baggett, David, and Jerry L. Walls. Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
 Jerry L. Walls. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the things that matter most. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.