Right off the bat let me confess that what I find irresistibly appealing about Kevin Miller’s new documentary Hellbound? is that I was supposed to be in it. At the time Miller was planning his movie my blog posts on hell were hotter than Satan’s sauna. But, alas, by the time my scheduled shoot came around Miller thought that he already had enough footage for his movie, a shocking miscalculation that I can’t help but believe doomed Hellbound? to be half as good as it might have been otherwise.
Stupid Kevin Miller. What does he know about making documentaries, anyway?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. [Btw: joke. All the above—except the part about me being in this movie, which is true—is a joke, with the funny and the chuckling.]
The bottom line on Hellbound? is that it’s a smorgasbord of astute authors, interesting intellectuals, thoughtful theologians and rabid white trash talking about hell. (The movie’s opening sequence features a clutch of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church members at the site of 9-11, vociferously screaming, Thank God for September 11! Whoo-hoo! and jauntily waving their trademark colorful signs proclaiming GOD’S WRATH = 9-11 and THANK GOD FOR 9-11 and FIRE FIGHTERS IN HELL and SOLDIERS DIE FOR FAG MARRIAGE and so on. Subsequently throughout Hellbound? we are subjected to watching Kevin try to reason with Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper, the leader of the protesting Westboronians [that’s Kevin doing that in the picture above], which is like watching a dance instructor trying to teach a Tasmanian devil how to waltz.)
Hellbound? teaches us that generally speaking there are two views of hell: that hell is real and that hell is not. Joining the Westboronians in defending the reality of hell are the likes of bloggers Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor, each of whom at the time of the movie’s filming were making online waves by roundly criticizing Rob Bell’s then-just-released sensation Love Wins, and, most notably, the poster boy for the Christ Was a Manly-Man movement, Mark Driscoll, the only Christian in the world scarier than Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper.
Making the case for hell not being real are a wide array of thoughtful and articulate people, the stand-outs of which include the brilliant and infectiously effervescent Greg Boyd, the ubiquitous Brian McLaren, Robin Parry, the charming chap who in some real ways steals the movie, and to my mind most especially the bracingly articulate Frank Schaeffer, whom I think delivers one of this movie’s key money quotes:
Evangelicalism is to America what the Pharisees were in ancient Israel. These guys wreak vengeance on the people who bring the good news of a loving God who cares less about theology than the content of your character. Because in essence that message puts the gatekeepers out of a job.
Hellbound? is a vitally important movie. More Christians than you can shake a trident at are convinced that to believe in a literal hell is more Christian than to not. They believe that hell as a place of eternal torment is clearly biblical, and something in which Christians have always believed. But that is not the case. They are 100% entirely wrong about that.
As the experts interviewed in Hellbound? make so abundantly clear, there is equal scriptural support for the three radically differing Christian models of hell, which are known as Eternal Torment, Annihilationism, and Universalism.
The theory of Eternal Torment posits that upon death Christians go to heaven, and all non-Christians go to hell.
Annihilationism teaches that upon dying lucky Christians go to heaven, while everyone else is instantly vaporized into nothingness.
Universalism teaches that after death literally everyone is eventually reconciled, redeemed, and ushered into heaven.
Here is a screen-save from Hellbound? showing the texts from the Bible that have traditionally been used to support each of those theories on hell:
At different times in history each of these theories of hell has enjoyed prominence over the other two. Today, of course, the theory of Eternal Damnation reigns supreme.
Isn’t it interesting that the theory of Eternal Damnation is also the theory that, by far, lends itself to making the most money? Why? Because it’s the only one that engenders profound fear of the afterlife. If you want people to pay money to support your institution, you can’t beat building that institution upon the belief that not supporting it condemns people to eternal torture.
If you are a Christian who harbors the idea that a literal hell is incompatible with an all-loving and all-powerful God, and would like ironclad evidence and testimony from a wide variety of sources and experts in support of that idea, then you must see Hellbound?. You will come away from the movie knowing two things: that your instincts about hell are not just morally but biblically right, and that the day is dawning when more Christians than not will agree with you.
[UPDATE: Hellbound? is now available for streaming on Netflix.]