Progressive Christian Channel
To Hell and Back: Q&A with Filmmaker Kevin Miller, Part 2
Your film ultimately makes a very compelling case for Christian universalism and yet, within the evangelical and even mainline church, this is still a very controversial claim. When popular mega-pastor Rob Bell published his book Love Wins last year -- suggesting that God might not send anyone to hell -- he was quickly denounced as a heretic by the larger Evangelical community. Pastors have been fired for questioning hell. So, who is this movie for? Do you expect to change people's minds, and if so, to what consequence?
First off, I don't believe the film ultimately lands on Christian universalism as the only authentic Christian position. I think the best you can say is that we argue there is plenty of room for Universalists within the Christian fold -- just as we made room for Annihilationists a couple of decades ago. People are so quick to forget that sort of thing. When people like John Stott and Clark Pinnock came out as Annihilationists in the late 1980s, it was a huge controversy. Today, even a hardcore conservative like Mark Driscoll will accept Annihilationists as wrong just not dangerously wrong. So that's progress! Twenty years from now, I expect we'll be saying the same thing about Christian Universalists -- especially those who retain a belief in hell, even though they don't think hell will last forever.
In terms of audience, I would say my primary audience is thoughtful Christians who are open to reexamining their faith. My hope is that the film will encourage them to take a second look at what they believe about hell, why they believe it, and how their beliefs are affecting the world. This is not an abstract theological discussion. What we believe about these things determines the type of civilization we create. We all imitate the God we believe in. And if we believe in a God who ultimately deals with his enemies through violence, even violent exclusion, we will deal with our enemies in the same way. I think history and current events attest rather clearly to this fact.
I also hope the film will appeal to people who have walked away from or written off Christianity for one reason or another. I'd like to encourage them to take a second look, because if the only message they've ever heard is one of judgment and exclusion, they may have actually rejected Christianity without ever having experienced it.
Do I think this movie can actually change minds? That is certainly my highest hope. I've already witnessed that process amongst my crew and other people associated with the film. The end game, of course, is to help contribute to a world where our religious beliefs bring us closer together rather than serve as yet another means to divide us into warring factions.
A friend of mine watching the film with me, while finding it completely convincing, raised an interesting question. He asked, once you start questioning the logic of hell, what's to stop you from taking on everything "sacred" in the Christian tradition, such as the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection, or even the existence of God in the first place? What would you say to him?
Your friend is exactly right. I think this is what so many people are afraid of. Like it or not, most of modern Christianity can be reduced to a hell-avoidance plan, as Brian McLaren puts it in our film. Take away hell -- or at least the way hell has been traditionally understood in Western Christianity -- and it seems like the entire story falls apart. All sorts of questions spring up: If Jesus didn't die to save us from hell, what was that all about? Who is God? What is the Bible? If becoming a Christian doesn't save me from hell, what's the point? Rather than fear such questions, I welcome them, because these are the same questions people have been asking from the beginning, and if we think anyone has answered them definitely, we're fooling ourselves.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.