Friday, August 3, 2012

Deconstructing "Hellbound?"

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.



  1. Nick,

    This was a very generous review and I appreciated your honesty and courage as you struggled with the challenging material in the film. I hope that progressive Christians will be open to the conversation inasmuch as (I think) the Scriptures do not have a consistent view of "hell." Thanks be to our good, gracious and fully loving God that sin, death, the devil and hell have all been deconstructed and rendered moot through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.

    1. Hey Michael,

      Thanks for your kind words! I look forward to the great conversation that is unfolding.


  2. Please, if you are uncertain about what the Bible says about hell, the easiest thing to do is to simply list all the verses that deal with hell and see what they collectively say. This is not complicated, although it could be a bit time consuming. The answer you receive will not be "politically correct" for 2012, but at least you will have obtained the answer yourself rather than having someone else force feed it to you. If you shy away from doing this, it's probably because you already know (from having read the Bible before), that when all the Scriptures dealing with hell are assembled in one long list that the evidence lines up a certain specific way.

    1. Really Anonymous? And that would no doubt be your way. But what if there in fact several ways one could look at the 'evidence?' Then what? And why post anonymously?

  3. The question of eternal torture is probably the most important question the Church has to answer because it defines the character and nature of God and makes the Church responsible for the revelation of Jesus that she is tasked to present.

    I agree with 'anonymous' that when all the scriptures are viewed collectively there is an uncomplicated and simple answer to the question of potential eternal torture sponsered by the Almighty.

    This is an excerpt from a recent work as an example of what I mean.


    v God is as the Sovereign King and Jesus is like the Prince of God’s Kingdom. As the purpose of God unfolds and approaches realization upon earth every person ever born will proclaim allegiance to the Lord God who is Jesus Christ. The soul and spirit of every human being that has ever existed will be made incredibly and vibrantly alive as the essence of their being is mingled with the essence of God which is the Holy Spirit.

    The Prophet Isaiah speaks the Word of the Lord God

    “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Isaiah 45:23 (ESV)

    The Apostle Paul uses this idea from the Prophet Isaiah as foundational to the teaching of the gospel in his letters to Christ Followers in Rome and Philippi.

    “for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11 (ESV)

    “The prophet recorded what he heard God say, ‘My own life is the guarantee of my conviction, says the Lord, every knee shall freely bow to me in worship, and every tongue shall spontaneously speak from the same God-inspired source.’ Romans 14:11 (The Mirror)

    “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)

    The Apostle Paul writes to his friend Timothy and the Church in southern Greece.

    “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV)

    “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22 (ESV)

    I guess this post is a commercial of sorts. The above excerpt is from a book I wrote which I hope is a positive contribution to the conversation concerning the business the Church is to be engaged in. Here is a link-thanks

    1. Hey David.

      I would heartily disagree with you and others on the simple message of Scripture regarding the final destination of those who don't accept Christ in this life. I think one can only come to such a conclusion by ignoring or reinterpreting a host of other verses within a modern western paradigm. So I disagree. :)