Progressive Christian Channel
To Hell and Back: Q&A with Filmmaker Kevin Miller, Part 2
You're touring now with the movie and making your way across the country. How is the film rolling out, and what kind of a response is it getting? Has anything surprised you so far?
We are releasing our film in select theaters across America starting September 21, when we open in New York City (two locations), Dallas, and Minneapolis. We will continue to add 3-5 new markets each week for several weeks, including several markets in Canada starting October 12. This has been tremendously exciting, because we have the support of three major theater chains in addition to several independent theaters. I will be touring almost non-stop across the U.S. and Canada over the next couple of months to promote the film, do Q&A screenings, and so on.
We premiered the film in Nashville on September 12 to a large, enthusiastic crowd. It was a fantastic experience. Something we did there -- which I'm planning to do in several other places -- was go across the street to a restaurant for some informal discussion following our in-theater Q&A. It was a great time to interact with people one-on-one. This isn't just a movie, it's a catalyst for dialogue and debate, so I want to experience as much of that firsthand as possible.
What is your greatest hope for Hellbound?
My greatest hope is that Hellbound? will make it safe to ask questions again. Rather than headlines about pastors losing their jobs due to their beliefs or emails from seminary professors who have been denied tenure for questioning the status quo, I hope to hear from people whose family, church, college, etc. has been transformed into a healthy forum for dialogue and debate. After all, a lot is riding on this. If we can't even figure how to solve our in-house religious differences without resorting to violent exclusion, I don't hold out much hope for the future of humanity. I don't think Hellbound? can accomplish all of this, but hopefully it can at least get the ball rolling.
You're already at work on your next documentary -- what can we expect from that film?
I'm in the very early planning stages of a documentary called Stricken, which is aimed at provoking informed discussion about the atonement. As I said earlier, this is a natural question that follows a study of hell: What did the crucifixion of Jesus accomplish? In particular, I want to ask some critical questions about the dominant theory of the atonement -- penal substitution, the idea that Jesus died to essentially save us from God's wrath. A growing number of Christians have some real problems with that point of view. Meanwhile, many others are convinced that rejecting penal substitution is tantamount to rejecting Christianity. However, as with hell, if we look back in history, we find a wide diversity of views on this subject. I think Christianity is made better by continuing this conversation rather than shutting it down.
I should also mention that I recently optioned Frank Schaeffer's upcoming novel Baptism by Sand, and that I hope to adapt it and have it in production within the next two years.
I can't end an interview about Hellbound? without asking you the question everyone wants to know: At the end of the day Kevin, what do you really believe about hell? Does it exist? And if it does, who is going to wind up there?
I do not believe hell exists in the way most people imagine it -- as a place of fiery torment for the wicked, either literally or metaphorically. Actually, a better way to put it would be to say I don't believe the Bible gives us any ground to imagine such a place exists. Not only do I find the idea of eternal torment, exclusion, or destruction utterly inconsistent with the life and teachings of Jesus, I remain completely unconvinced of any exegetical arguments that seek to resolve that paradox, whether such arguments rely on free will or divine sovereignty. I'm actually pretty agnostic in terms of what happens after we die. All I can say with certainty is that we stop breathing, and that our bodies revert back to their basic elements. Intuitively though, I sense that the ultimate truth about the universe is good, that life does have meaning, that wrongs will be made right. And I hope more than anything for a literal resurrection into a new life free from fear and death. Ironically, I also believe that Jesus did come to save us from hell, and that apart from him, there is no salvation. But the hell I'm talking about is the one we are currently experiencing here on earth. And apart from following Christ's commandments to love God, neighbor, and enemy, I don't believe there's any escape.
Read more from Kevin Miller at his Patheos blog Hellbound?
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.