As a Christian who has suffered apeirophobia (fear of immortality) since childhood, I eagerly purchased Walls’ book, thinking maybe heaven would finally be explained to me in a way that made sense. Unfortunately, for a book subtitled “The Logic of Eternal Joy”, Walls’ book contains shockingly little defending the plausibility of unending happiness. To be precise, Walls devotes about two pages to addressing immortality’s critics. I will have more to say on that later.
Early on Walls contrasts his own views with Hume’s by insisting that a God who made us so that we naturally approve of that which promotes happiness would be evil (not amoral, as Hume contended) if He did not likewise desire our happiness (p 23). Walls’ statement of faith in a good God, one who desires human happiness, sets the stage for the rest of the book, which essentially flows from that point. I find it very interesting that an “orthodox” Christian would be so bold as to claim what Walls claims here. Not because I think God doesn’t want us to be happy, but because it’s an indisputable fact that orthodox Christianity condemns certain things that make people happy that seemingly cause no one harm. One example that comes to mind immediately is the church’s history of staunch opposition to consensual sexual relations between unmarried couples. Sex is considered one of the greatest pleasures, and yet it draws perhaps the strongest scorn in the New Testament. In light of orthodox Christianity’s aversion towards “hedonism”, it would have been helpful for Walls to explain how we can be so sure that God truly wants us to be happy. That said, I fully concur with Walls that for God to be good He must be “in the ordinary sense of the term”.
Departing from most of Protestantism, Walls finds salvation and sanctification as essentially the same thing. I agree with Walls that there’s something strange about the idea that a person with bad character could be “saved”, however, the question must then be asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?”. Couldn’t Jesus have become incarnate and taught the same system of morality, which, if followed, leads to sanctification, without voluntarily dying a horrible death? What would Jesus’ death add to a person’s standing before God for a person who may have lived a sanctified life in an alternate world where Jesus incarnated but wasn’t crucified? These are crucial questions Walls’ writing raises which he simply doesn’t answer.
A point Walls repeats throughout the book is that happiness comes from fellowship with God. But there are Christians like me who suffer depression. Do we not have fellowship with God? Or is a resurrected body a prerequisite for it? If so, why? In light of the fact that there are many Christians on earth who are less happy than some unbelievers, I think Walls has some serious explaining to do for why Christians who are depressed on earth won’t be depressed in heaven.
While arguing that temporary joys are meaningless if naturalism is true, since the people who experience them will ultimately fade into oblivion, Walls makes an analogy (p 175-176). He references a basketball game in which a player made a basket that prolonged the game but ultimately didn’t change the game’s outcome; the team of the player who made the basket that sent the game into overtime ultimately lost the game. I think there is another, unpleasant analogy to make: temporary joys are meaningless if immortality is true since eventually people will find their existence unbearable. Instead of at least attempting to explain why Christians in heaven won’t dread their existence, Walls punts. After spending little over a page addressing the problem of boredom in heaven Walls says he suspects other arguments “would be powerless to dispel altogether the fear of boredom for those who feel it.” (p 197). In my opinion, a book about heaven subtitled “The Logic of Eternal Joy” should have a robust defense of eternal joy’s plausibility for all of heaven’s inhabitants, not a mere two pages.
I feel I have said enough about the unsatisfactorily answered problem of immortality in Walls’ “Heaven”. It is time now to move on to another topic: soteriology. Walls is an arminian, and he describes himself as an inclusivist. That is, Walls believes people who never hear the Gospel in this life will have the opportunity to hear it in the afterlife and then be saved (p 80). Based on “a strong view of God’s love and power and a willingness to work out consistently the implications of those beliefs” (p 81), Walls believes God gives each person a “full opportunity” for salvation. Why then, Walls believes God eventually stops willing the salvation of certain people and punishes them without the opportunity to repent and enter heaven, is not clear. It seems much more reasonable to me that if God is as loving and powerful as Walls says He is, and humans have free will (as Walls believes we do), that we believe in the Argument from Infinite Opportunity made in John Kronen and Eric Reitan’s “God’s Final Victory”, which says (as its name suggests) that God never gives up willing any person’s salvation from sin. It’s especially unclear how Walls believes people in heaven will experience complete happiness while knowing that other people are eternally damned. In the chapter on near death experiences (NDEs), Walls argues in favor of believing that NDEs are legitimate glimpses into the afterlife on the bais that it wouldn’t be fitting for a good God to deceive people: “Would the positive psychological benefits outweigh the apparent deception required to achieve this? I am inclined to think they would not, so I judge it unlikely that God would deceive us in this fashion.” (p 147). But, I contend, a person who loved his neighbor as himself cannot be completely happy while knowing that his neighbor is eternally damned. It would seem to me that God would have to do some kind of spiritual lobotomy on heaven’s inhabitants so that all memory of their damned loved one’s was erased for them to be completely happy. However, this would certainly constitute deception on God’s part, which Walls (correctly I believe) finds inconsistent with God’s good character.