I'll confess, I'm generally not a fan of documentaries. I had to sit through several of them while at Biola, and I always found time to twiddle my thumbs and pretty much ignore everything else.
Well, Hellbound? is the first documentary that both moved me and annoyed me to no end.
Allow me to explain.
Rob Bell's Love Wins brought about a major shift in the tone of evangelicalism. Some reacted, some reconsidered. But a conversation began, starting with a multitude of books and blog posts denouncing Rob Bell. Even the SBC got involved, affirming their commitment to eternal conscious torment. So, clearly, a differing view of hell sparked enough of a debate to warrant intelligent conversation on the topic of eternal damnation.
Writer/Director Kevin Miller takes us on a journey that deals with his own personal struggles with eternal conscious torment, and the idea that God would send/allow some to go to hell. His encounters involve laymen such as the "God hates fags" protestors outside the 9/11 memorial, to famous and controversial pastors such as Mark Driscoll and Brian McLaren. They all offer varying ideas, some of them quite extreme and others predictably toeing the traditional party line.
However, after setting the stage with what is at stake, the film takes a far more intellectual route, dealing with philosophy of religion, ethics, retributive justice and the meaning/s of the word "hell" in Scripture. Kevin marshals ample resources in the form of Brad Jersak, Sharon Baker and Michael Hardin. Greg Boyd makes several appearances to offer his clear perspective on things, but Robin Parry (one of my favorite scholars) has some a very wise perspective he offers. The interview is revealing, and quite profound in it's implications.
Though the film is somber and serious, there are some amusing moments in regards to prominent pastors screaming, and some charming anecdotes from Michael Hardin. It doesn't smack of the cheap editing tricks of "Religulous" but some/many may find them offensive anyway.
What annoyed me most about Hellbound? is the same thing that annoys me when I watch the evening news or listen to talk radio. Like I was, you will be tempted to yell at the screen and start arguing with a computer monitor. Hearing distinctions between theologies that I don't find compelling in the slightest really grated against my instincts. But this is to be expected.
You will be provoked, you will be challenged, and I do think you may be changed. The topic of hell can be extraordinarily divisive, but it would be a debate amongst Christians to conduct in love and respect. There is something in here to offend everyone, but none of it is intended to undermine or disrespect. Hellbound? offers much respect towards each view, though it does not shy away from revealing it's own conclusions on the matter.
Like "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers," "Hellbound?" isn't interested in simple answers to complex questions. Indeed, many of the scholars and pastors interviewed are skeptical or hopeful or pessimistic about the state of the afterlife. You run the gamut between conservative evangelicals to progressives like Franky Schaeffer, and all have much to say on this topic. The finale of "Hellbound?" is deeply unsettling for some, but it is also moving and forthright.
The media hype about Rob Bell's Love Wins is nothing compared to the potential that Hellbound? is going to offer evangelical and progressive Christians. If Love Wins was a firestorm, Helbound? is a tactical nuclear strike and it's fallout will be felt for quite a long time.
Be open, be honest, and be prepared to have your buttons pushed.
I will post a more in-depth review once the film is released on September 21. You can check out the website for the film HERE.