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.[1] 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[2], 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.

 

 

[1] Baggett, David, and Jerry L. Walls. Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
[2] Jerry L. Walls. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the things that matter most. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.

18 Comments

Andy 29-08-2016, 03:12

Good word!

Reply
Braxton hunter 29-08-2016, 05:09

Thanks, Andy!

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doug sayers 29-08-2016, 08:33

Thanks Braxton. Much needed reminder.

If we broke fellowship with everyone with whom we had some doctrinal disagreement, we would have very little fellowship.

As a Gideon, I get to visit a lot of different denominations and non denominations. Real believers can be found all over the place. Even the knuckleheads who suppose that that those who disagree with them on election are going to Hell can be forgiven if their hope is in Christ.

There is nothing in 1 John (or other texts on assurance), which teach that the recipe for assurance includes our doctrines of baptism, end times, election, and church government. But there is a lot about brotherly love.

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Braxton Hunter 29-08-2016, 09:20

Thanks, Doug! I agree 100%

Reply
Rick Mang 29-08-2016, 09:46

This video demonstrates what you get when you refute the Word of God with philosophy. There’s a reason why it’s called Reformed Theology and not Reformed Philosophy.

Rick Mang

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Andrew Barker 29-08-2016, 10:29

Rick Mang: There are good reasons for going along more with what Jerry Walls says than Reformed Theology. I don’t think he makes his case, by the way, but he has more of a point than most people will give him credit for. Walls is reasoning from a biblical approach but he’s not claiming that what he’s saying is directly in scripture. He’s putting two and two together. Reformed theology makes the claim that it is based on scripture, but in fact it is far more philosophical than the average Calvinist will want to accept. You only have to ask them for scriptural references for any of the terms used in TULIP and they’re struggling from the start. All of the five major points are philosophical stances and the non-Calvinist will either not accept they are biblical terms or will define them in a different way.

You may think it’s Reformed Theology, but in fact …. Reformed Philosophy would be far more accurate a description. If you find that hard to accept, just give me chapter and verse for unconditional election. It’s a non-biblical phrase and is a philosophical point of view ….. and in my opinion, absolutely wrong!

Reply
Rick Mang 29-08-2016, 13:43

Thank you Andrew Barker for your serious reply to my post. I listened to the video which lasted over an hour. so I thank you for your consideration of my thoughts.

Sincerely,
Rick Mang

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Lydia 29-08-2016, 15:09

Reformed theology is more like Greek Philosophy.

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Tyler 30-08-2016, 08:29

N. T. Wright actually makes a really good argument as to why Dispensationalists are closer to Greek Platonic philosophy than Christian philosophy.

Reply
Braxton Hunter 29-08-2016, 09:52

Rick,

I reject Wall’s case for purgatory, but to argue that reformed theology does not rely on philosophy is to make a philosophical statement about the lack of philosophy. Everyone uses philosophy whether they realize it or not. Arminians do it. Calvinists do it. Traditionalists do it. Molinists do it. The moment you read the text and start organizing thoughts in your mind about what it means, you’re engaging in some bit of philosophy. The moment you affirm one thing to the denial of something else, you’re recognizing some philosophical principles. Calvinism most certainly does this.

So, while I reject Wall’s argument, it isn’t because of philosophy. I have no problem with his use of philosophy, I just can’t grant the philosophical case without more scriptural support.

Blessings,
Braxton

Reply
Braxton Hunter 29-08-2016, 09:57

Oh, and BTW. I meant those comments with respect to the video on C.S. Lewis and purgatory, not the video about Calvinism. I think every Calvinist and every Traditionalist should watch the Calvinism video if they haven’t already, because I think it crystalizes the major philosophical problems in an incredible way.

Reply
Rick Mang 29-08-2016, 13:46

Thank you Dr. Hunter! I appreciate your consideration and considerably informed input.

Sincerely,
Rick Mang

Reply
norm 29-08-2016, 10:57

I’m just upset that Dr. Hunter wants me to have a pimple today.

Reply
Braxton Hunter 29-08-2016, 11:57

Norm,

Right in the point of the elbow – the worst of all possible pimple points.

Blessings.

Reply
Lydia 29-08-2016, 14:56

From what I can ascertain, Luther believed in purgatory. And then he could find no scripture support for it so he eventually declared that not believing in purgatory did not make one a heretic. Which is a very good thing because it meant you got to live. :o)

I like Walls on Calvinism. I thought it very strange he hooked up with the Robert Morris types. I did not know about his views on purgatory. But it is becoming more popular in some strange places.

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Andrew Barker 29-08-2016, 17:57

Lydia: Dare I suggest that it’s part of the American fascination with the English, who are never quite understood, and CS Lewis in particular. Lewis had a few unusual beliefs and purgatory was just one of them. For my part the thief on the cross was the most obvious candidate for some sanctification time in purgatory and yet Jesus told him ‘today’ you will be with me ……

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Lydia 29-08-2016, 20:39

Andrew, Great minds? The thief was my first thought. As to Lewis, everyone claims him. But you want to hear something funny? I suggested a Lewis book to a long time Brit business friend (agnostic). He calls me up and basically says, “This chap takes ten pages to explain when one should do”. Why is that funny? My Brit friend took 10 minutes to make that one point (which I condensed) in the most considerate and apologetic way possible. :o)

And here I thought he would like Lewis for non brevity reasons!

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Andrew Barker 30-08-2016, 04:13

Ha ha. I haven’t read much of Lewis outside the ‘Chronicles’ which is hardly representative of his intellect, although the great and the good seem to like them. Personally, I read most of them when small and the story and plot line were gripping, but now when I read or hear them, his style of prose grates on me something chronic! The Screwtape Letters are similar. I’m sure he has much to say which is worthy of note, but boy oh boy, he is so verbose, I can’t stand the wait! :-)

Reply

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