Film Review – Hellbound?

How did we arrive at our idea of what hell looks like? Can we be so sure that the Bible is saying what we think it says? And perhaps most importantly, how do we approach those with whom we disagree? Kevin Miller's Hellbound? explores these questions.

Some background notes

The film was written, produced, and directed by Kevin Miller of Abbotsford, B.C. Miller was born in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan and became a Christian at Bible camp at age nine.

Hellbound? is a documentary that examines the Christian perspective of hell. Miller obtains interviews from a wide and interesting variety of people. Interviewees include pastor Mark Driscoll, evangelist Ray Comfort, Westboro Baptist members Jonathan and Margie Phelps, The Shack author William Young, pastor/author Greg Boyd, Canadian Christian author Brad Jersak, popular Christian author Brian McLaren, and atheist creative writing instructor Robert McKee.

The film does not contain an interview with author Rob Bell, whose book Love Wins was the subject of controversy regarding the existence of hell as it's been traditionally understood. According to director Kevin Miller, Bell was approached for comment, but declined for personal reasons.

Disclaimers

The film contains some mild language and scenes that may be frightening to younger viewers. Be advised: though this film does have implications for Christian families, it might not be a movie you feel comfortable in taking your family to see. I recommend that parents see it first, and then decide if it's an appropriate movie for your whole family.

Due to the nature of the discussion in Hellbound? the premise of the film itself might be seen as offensive to some viewers. For those who see the mere discussion of hell's occupancy, nature, or historicity as an offensive topic, you may find the views expressed in the film to be offensive. Basically, if you consider the discussion of hell to be a closed case, you might be offended at even asking the questions that Hellbound? raises.

Added disclaimer about this review

The purpose of this review is not to claim theological truth for one side or the other. It is merely to review a film, and the questions it presents. No offence is meant in describing what this film is about, or the questions it may lead us to ask.

What do we know about hell?

One of the main points that Hellbound? brings up is whether or not we know as much about the Bible as we tend to think. After all, how many of us are familiar with biblical languages, or the culture in which the text was written? How right are we to take words written to ancient churches (such as Paul's letters) and apply them to our 21st Century context?

Hellbound? does well in pointing out that a number of Bible verses, when read directly from the pages, seem to suggest the clear existence of the traditional understanding of hell. But the film also points out that several Bible verses could be used to support an alternative perspective, when viewed from a similar surface-level reading.

It's worth noting that the film simply doesn't have time to approach each individual verse and do a proper exposition on context or original language. But what Hellbound? does offer is the notion that Christians should avoid cherry-picking verses for purposes of winning an argument, as the Bible (on the surface) can seem to support any number of perspectives.

Fear and Trembling?

It's commonly held that if the traditional understanding of hell is eliminated, it offers no compelling reason to repent from sin and seek Jesus as our Saviour. Hellbound? calls into question how good a motivator this is, showing one passer-by's response to the 'turn or burn' message expressed by one evangelist in the film: utter indifference. This suggests that fear actually does little to motivate those who have no previous familiarity with Christianity. While this is obviously not universally the case, it does lead into what I believe is Hellbound?'s main point.

Is hell all it's about?

Early on in the film, it's expressed by a number of interviewees that the doctrine of hell is central to the Christian message, and that the Christian story is entirely about what lands us in either heaven or hell. The film calls this into question.

No matter what your belief of what hell looks like, or whether those who end up there are indeed doomed for eternity, it should be pointed out that Hellbound? seeks to provide an approach of humilty. In a post-screening question and answer session, filmmaker Kevin Miller had this to say:

"[In] the film, what we're trying to move people through is from certainty, to ambiguity, to humility, because I think it's pointing at the need to listen because, like it or not, we are not the last word on this."

And perhaps that word can summarize effectively what this film is about. It's not about providing answers, which can be an agonizingly difficult thing to hear, especially given our society's need for things to be resolved immediately. It's about asking questions, taking a step back and examining whether there is room for discussion.

Most importantly, Hellbound? seems to beg the question of "how do we proceed as Christians." Even if we believe in the traditional view of hell, as a place of eternal conscious torment, are we going to just write off everyone who disagrees with us? Or are we going to keep being the Church, keep loving our neighbours, and keep on making the world a better place? Sure, we may be right in what we believe, but there's got to be more to it than that.

If all we are going to do is draw a line in the sand and not make any attempt to love the people on the other side of it, I think it really should make you wonder just what our "mission" of the Church is all about. To me, this is the important question that Hellbound? is asking. Our actions will provide the answer.

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About the author

Rob Horsley is the former Managing Editor of ChristianWeek.