Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

Rethinking the Things That Matter Most

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Will heaven be boring? How can a good and loving God send people to hell? Is there such a place as purgatory? If so, why is it necessary, if we're saved by grace?

Questions about the afterlife abound. Given what is at stake, they are the most important questions we will ever consider. Recent years have seen a surge of Christian books written by people claiming to have received a glimpse of the afterlife, and numerous books, films, and TV shows have apocalyptic or postapocalyptic themes. Jerry Walls, a dynamic writer and expert on the afterlife, distills his academic writing on heaven, hell, and purgatory to offer clear biblical, theological, and philosophical grounding for thinking about these issues. He provides an ecumenical account of purgatory that is compatible with Protestant theology and defends the doctrine of eternal hell. Walls shows that the Christian vision of the afterlife illumines the deepest and most important issues of our lives, changing the way we think about happiness, personal identity, morality, and the very meaning of life.

1. Heaven, Trinity, and the Meaning of Life
2. Consolation Measures When the Dream Has Died
3. If God Is Love, Why Is There a Hell?
4. If We Are Saved by Grace, Why Do We Need Purgatory?
5. Saving Souls and/or Bodies: Personal Identity in the Afterlife
6. Wiping Away Every Tear? The Afterlife and the Problem of Evil
7. Ultimate Motivation: Heaven, Hell, and the Ground of Morality
8. His Mercy Endures Forever--Even beyond the Grave?
Conclusion: "Can You Believe It?"


"No one in our time has worked more diligently to understand heaven, hell, purgatory, and the related cluster of issues than has Jerry Walls. And no one is more talented than he at expressing in vivid, accessible prose the conclusions of top-level scholarship. This book will answer an entire handful of the Big Questions and deserves a wide readership indeed."

John G. Stackhouse Jr., Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture, Regent College, Vancouver

"Walls may not tell us everything we would like to know about what happens after death, but he tells us what we need to know and much of what we want to know, and does it with style and verve. This book clearly explains why heaven and hell are crucial if human existence is to be fully meaningful, and it even gives an account of purgatory that should be acceptable to Protestants. This is a wonderful book that inspires hope by clearly showing what God's love for humanity means for us."

C. Stephen Evans, University Professor, Baylor University

"Jerry Walls has spent much of his academic career providing an account of the Christian story of the afterlife from a rigorous, analytic-philosophical perspective. He has subjected the doctrines of heaven, hell, and purgatory to careful and ingenious scrutiny. He has also considered questions about the grounds for morality. In this book he condenses much of this research into one accessible volume that deals with all these issues as well as the problems of evil they raise and the question of personal identity beyond the grave. It is a terrific resource that will be of use to all those for whom such things are pressing theological and existential concerns."

Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Jerry Walls has written a book that should be read by anyone interested in the personal, philosophical, or religious significance of death and whether it is reasonable to believe that there is life after death. I wager that there is no living philosopher who has thought more deeply or written with such clear, engaging prose about the prospects of a Christian philosophy of death and afterlife."

Charles Taliaferro, professor of philosophy, St. Olaf College

"Jerry Walls offers an insightful, accessible defense of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Though still unpersuaded about the latter, I would urge the reading of this book, first, for the important theological and philosophical insights it affords concerning hell (the realm of the illusory triumph of the creature's will) and heaven (the new, transformed--though still physical--earth and heaven that are permeated by God's presence and blessing); indeed, much wisdom on these doctrines alone is to be found herein. Second, concerning purgatory, Protestants have a unique opportunity to more fully understand the arguments for and then to properly assess the merits (!) of this doctrine. The book is sure to generate much lively discussion and deepened understanding."

Paul Copan, Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University

"Never resorting to overbearing jargon or convoluted arguments, Walls provides readers with insights that are clear, concise, and penetrating. He sorts through the various stances on a number of issues related to the afterlife in a way that is respectful and courteous. This book, which makes the afterlife as solid and as real as this life--not stiff, sentimental, or founded upon fear--will be a more than welcome addition to a Christian's library."

Devin Brown, author of A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis

"Jerry Walls shows once again that on the four last things--death, judgment, hell, and heaven--he is by far the most thoughtful evangelical philosopher. His mastery of Scripture, historical theology, and the philosophical literature is unmatched."

Francis J. Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies, Baylor University

The Author

  1. Jerry L. Walls

    Jerry L. Walls

    Jerry L. Walls (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is professor of philosophy and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas. He has written for Christianity Today, First Things, and the Christian Century and has...

    Continue reading about Jerry L. Walls


"[Walls] has written a trio of scholarly books defending the doctrines of heaven, hell, and--more controversially among Protestants--purgatory. Here, he packages those arguments into a single volume pitched at ordinary readers, delivered at a moment when debates about the hereafter have picked up steam."

Matt Reynolds,

Christianity Today

"No one in the world has thought more about heaven, hell, and purgatory than Jerry Walls."

Scot McKnight,

Jesus Creed blog

"Walls gives a popular overview of his central arguments for why Christians in general and Protestants in particular should embrace the doctrines of heaven, hell and purgatory. . . . The case in favor of purgatory is perhaps the book's most important contribution (in close competition with its imaginative defense of heaven), not least because of its ecumenical implications. The argument is driven by a narrative and relational understanding of personal identity that fits well with the author's overall framing of human life as a cosmic comedy. . . . Something that contributes to the persuasiveness of Walls's account of heaven, hell, and purgatory is the way in which he uses these doctrines to elucidate important philosophical issues."

Mats Wahlberg,

First Things

"In light of Walls's purpose in condensing his three previous works into a popular format, this book is largely successful. He strikes a strong balance between popular rhetoric and substantive argument that is accessible yet intellectually stimulating. This is particularly evident in Walls's ability to construct compelling illustrations in service to his various arguments. . . . This skill is augmented by Walls's commitment to substantive engagement with philosophers and theologians not commonly cited in similar literature and therefore unfamiliar to a general audience. The result is a book that both appeals to various levels of scholarly ability and introduces several unique perspectives and questions to stimulate further dialogue."

Andrew E. MacDonald,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"[Walls] is uniquely qualified to write this book. . . . He has a thorough grasp of secondary literature and knows how to argue his case well. His style of argumentation engages a range of views proposed by leading scholars and philosophers. He makes clear, robust, and cohesive cases for his views. What is more, he manages to make very complex philosophical concepts accessible to the uninitiated and does so without sacrificing any depth. . . . Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is a great read that is sure to make one think deeply. It is impossible to read this book and not give serious consideration to its content. It provides an engaging apologetic for the traditional orthodox belief in heaven and hell. While I am not convinced of his arguments for purgatory, I am thankful he has started this conversation for a popular audience of evangelicals."

Alan S. Bandy,

Southeastern Theological Review

"Walls is one of the foremost exponents of the doctrine of the afterlife. . . . Walls disseminates his wealth of knowledge in a readable and digestible fashion. . . . Whist trained in analytic philosophy, Walls creatively draws from his skills for the purpose of crafting a treatment on death intended for a wider audience. He offers the general Christian a unique and thoughtful contribution relevant to the big questions of life. . . . Walls has written an exceptional, the finest to date, introductory treatment of the afterlife that is accessible, careful, and clear. The scholar, the student, and the lay Christian will benefit from reading and digesting Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory."

Joshua Farris,

Southwestern Journal of Theology

"Offers up an inspirational, hopeful book for hard times and provides a Christian examination of the concepts of heaven, hell, and purgatory and the issues surrounding these ideas. . . . These are wide-ranging discussion that, under a different hand, could have proved scholarly and challenging. Jerry Walls's approach is to make these considerations accessible to everyday Christian thinkers; and so expect chapters that are easily accessible by average readers who harbor a special interest in thinking about these Christian facets."

Midwest Book Review

"A fascinating exploration into some of the deepest realms of Christian thought. . . . Walls has a gift for making complex arguments accessible; for that reason, this is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the subject matter, whether lay or clergy, undergraduate or an advanced student in the field. . . . Walls's book deserves a wide and generous reading. After all, he tackles not only Christian conceptions of the afterlife but also connects these discussions to larger meta-ethical questions of meaning, purpose, and value. . . . This is where Professor Walls's new work has its greatest strength: in offering a powerful argument for why our conceptions of the afterlife, in all its variegated mystery, matter not just for Christians but for all. . . . Walls's beautiful, whimsical, and sometimes innovative take on our relationship to the Triune God is well worth your prayerful consideration."

Drew McIntyre,

Seedbed blog