Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Scot McKnight on the doctrine of purgatory. McKnight is reviewing a book by Jerry Walls, who is one of a very few voices in evangelicalism that are supportive of the idea of purgatory. To clarify, purgatory is not about a second chance to choose Jesus after one has died, instead is for Christians only and, depending on your understanding, serves the purpose of sanctification or satisfaction/atonement.
McKnight walks us through Walls’ argument in support of purgatory. Heaven is a place of total perfection, so humans must be perfect in order to enter heaven. Most are far from perfect even at death, so humans will either enter heaven imperfect (very few believe this), be perfected instantly at death (most Protestants believe this), or be perfected gradually through a process in which they are conscious participants (Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestants believe this). The Catholic view of purgatory sees it as a satisfaction of justice: contrition, confession, and penance for sins continue after death. This flies in the face of salvation by grace alone. This view of purgatory paved the way for Tetzel’s sale of indulgences (monetary gifts which essentially enabled one to bypass purgatory), which in turn drove the Protestant reformation.
But what if purgatory serves a different purpose altogether? Walls looks to C. S. Lewis, who sees purgatory as part of a believer’s sanctification. We are called by God to become “little Christs”, in essence, character transformation. This quote from Lewis illustrates his view of purgatory and how it integrates with his “mere Christianity”:
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 for 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 cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know”—”Even so, sir.”