This past Monday night I had the opportunity to watch the Hellbound? movie. I arrived Monday night to a sold out show in Saskatoon. If you call Saskatoon home, the previous sentence likely raised a few eyebrows, but I am shocked as you! The movie theatre was sending people away by the droves.You see, it’s not everyday that an event sells out here in Saskatoon, or anywhere else in Saskatchewan for that matter. The abnormalities include exceptional performances (i.e. Pearl Jam ) or exceptional event followings.(i.e. Rider games) So the fact that so many people would cram into a movie theatre on a blizzarding Monday night in Saskatchewan should tell anyone that the gravity of the topic discussed is something worth listening too. Or it could be that cold Saskatchewaners just need reminding of a warmer place....
The topic of course is all around the differing interpretations of Hell. This topic is a hot one(excuse the pun). I think walking into a sold out theatre brought to mind the gravity of importance this topic carries. When we talk about Hell we are not just talking about some distant theological concept that is debated by elderly scholars perched high in their ivory towers. The topic of hell has real world implications. There are real people at the other end of this discussion. Kevin Miller, the director of Hellbound? hopes to continue the ongoing discussion on the questions surrounding of doctrine(s) the Hell. The film hopes to answer the questions of ‘Does Hell exist?” “Who end up there?” and “Why?”.
The film opens in a post 9/11 New York to the scene of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. They live up to their reputation of protest in the proclamation that ‘God hates so-and-so’. Even going so far as to say that “99.99999999999.... of people are destined for the fires of hell”. In a recent interview, Miller comments about the inclusion of the Westboro Baptist’s in the film. “They represent a Christianity that has been absolutely purged of compassion. The substructure of their belief system, as ugly as it appears, is actually quite similar to a lot of what’s preached by some of the most mainstream evangelical pastors today.” Pastor Mark Driscoll goes so far as to prove Miller’s point through his aggressive shouting to the congregation that ‘God hates them’ and that ‘the primary position that God has toward you is enmity’. (Pre- Gospel anyone?)The film then continues to interview those of the Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) viewpoint of Hell. Robert McKee comments early on in the movie that “the notion that there isn’t any hell is a wussy effort to make God a nice guy.” Could it be that the whole rejection of ECT is merely a movement of peace loving limp-wrist hippies twisting and manipulating scripture for their own ends? Are their any good reasons to think that God is NOT going to demand the eternal torture of most of humanity?
It is at this point in the blog that I must introduce you to my favorite quote in the film:
The Truth should not have anything to fear -Greg Boyd
My personal observation is that on the topic of Hell there is a lot of push back towards people asking questions about the doctrine. Driscoll even goes so far in the film to view certain questions as ‘cowardly’. I am honestly puzzled at some of the heated statements that are directed towards those who have honest questions regarding hell. What should we have to fear in asking questions? A wise Jedi master once said that “hmm..fear leads to anger it does.” It should be no surprise to you that the director of the film, Kevin Miller has already been the target of many heresy hunters. A quick google search should produce an afternoon of reading for those who wish to have their fill of fear motivated hate.
The rest of the film really sets out to explore the three views in dialogue with an emphasis toward viewing Universalism as a viable option. Here is a screen shot from the movie:
Incase you are not familiar with the three views, here is a brief overview:
1) Eternal Torment Daniel 12:2; Matthew 3:11-12; 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 16:22-24;
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:4; Jude 7; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10-15; 21:8
The view that all those who reject God will be tormented for all eternity.
- This view emphasizes that sin must be punished through agonizing torment.
- This view appears to contradict God’s OT standard of justice (eye for eye, tooth for tooth).
- Eternal Torment argues that the magnitude of a crime is not determined by the duration of a crime, so eternal punishment is not unthinkable for a finite life of sin.
- Eternal Torment relies heavily on a specific surface interpretation of apocalyptic literature i.e. Revelation, Daniel, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha
2) Annhilationism Genesis 2:16-17; 3:4, 22; Matthew 7:13-14; 10:28; 16:25-26; John 3:16;
Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 6:8; Philippians 1:28;
2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:16; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:7-12; 1 John 5:12
The view that all those who reject God will be consumed by fire and cease to exist.
- This view claims that innate human immortality is not a biblical idea, but borrowed from Greek philosophy.
- This view asserts that the consequence for sin would be death. Unending life was only attained by eating from the tree of life. Satan originates the idea of immortality after becoming a sinner, telling Eve she will not die. God then bars Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Life again, lest they live.
- The final fate of the wicked is regularly pictured as destruction. (i.e. Revelation 20:15)
- In this view, fire symbolizes complete destruction.
- This view allows for punitive justice to be finished and completed. (an eye for an eye)
3) Universalism (Punishment & Purification) Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 12:47-48; Romans 5:18; 11:32; 14:11;1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 15:22, 28; Ephesians 1:10, 23; Philippians 2:10-11; Colossians 1:20; 2:21; Revelation 21:5, Matthew 18:21-35
The view that God is working to bring about ultimate reconciliation with those who are lost, even after death, through revealing the true light of Jesus and healing the 'wounded will', thus opening the possibility that some could choose God after death.
- In this view, fire is representative of the purification that scriptures teaches that all believers will have to go through. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
- This view cites passages that appear to teach that all people will be saved.
- This view believes that God’s final judgement will have a remedial and refining purpose.
- In this view of hell, God is not seen as demanding retributive justice but seeking the restorative judgement.
- A preterist view of scripture is often utilized. This is to say that the majority of the apocalyptic literature is pointing to the destruction(s) of Jerusalem.
- There is diversity of differing views in Universalism... from the 'hopeful universalist' to the 'dogmatic universalist'.
- A critique of dogmatic universalism is that does not take seriously enough (a) the possibility of humans freely resisting God forever, and (b) the fact that the Hell texts do not unambiguously allow for the salvation of all from Hell.
The movie does a good job of making you think and pushing your buttons. The dialogue between the various theological positions will make you think!
Here are some good points raised in the movie:
Your view of Hell is reflective of your view of God. Does God really need to eternally punish someone for a life of temporal sin? What does it say about God’s character if we say that God loves you but will punish you eternally torture/destroy you if you do not accept God's love? Is God retributive? How does God judge those who have never heard the Gospel? Are babies pre-destined to hell?
All these above questions are going to have differing answers depending on your view of God. If your view of God is restorative you might read into scripture at a different angle than a person who believes God is ultimately punitive.
Is free-will really free? This question particularly challenged me. While some in the film argue that God ultimately predestines both the 'saved' and the 'unsaved', other views rely heavily on a C.S. Lewis perspective of hell being the greatest monument to free-will. Kevin Miller seeks a third view that argues for what I like to call the 'wounded will'. We are affected by our culture, our upbringing, and the wounds of life that we all carry. Consider the example a child who is molested by a member of a church and then chooses in life to forever turn his/her back on all things to do with God. Miller and others in the film would suggest that for a person to properly make an informed free-will choice to respond to Jesus, that certain 'wounds of the will' would need to be healed.
Universalism is a viable theological option for believers (even if you disagree with it). The movie brings up several of the Patristics who subscribed to the Universalist position, most notably Gregory of Nysan who is one of the significant contributors of the Nicene Creed and the formation of the cannon. This is to say that many of the people who contributed to our concepts of 'what is orthodoxy?' are themselves Universalist. The early church really did not see the doctrine of hell as a contentious issue. I personally believe that this is likely due to the influence of Justin Martyr, who taught that personal salvation is not dependent on doctrine, but on the saving work of Jesus alone.
Believe it or not, there are good theological reasons, as opposed to emotional reasons, to hold to a Universalist perspective on Hell. The film also explores several scriptures and seeks to give some possible answers for them. The film directly comments on Dan 12; Isa 66; the Genhenna texts and the origins of the theology of hell. You might be surprised to find that much of our teaching about our concepts of hell originate in the intertestamental period. Brad Jersak does a good job suggesting that Jesus is a prophet in the line of Jeremiah (not the Apocrypha) and that many of the eternal torment texts are actually about the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and not about the afterlife. (I encourage you to check out Brad's book ""Her gates will never be shut" if you wish to go deeper in the discussion)
Your view of hell does not put you out of the fold of Christianity. Peter Kreeft comments to this end, that 'praying for God to redeem all souls is a long held Catholic tradition'. I feel that perhaps one of the greatest contributions of the film is to question how we hold our beliefs. We are all trying our best to interpret scripture in light of the information we have. We should seek humbly to model disagreement in a effort to maintain unity. To quote a mentor of mine 'there is room for all at the table of discussion'.
Take the time to think through your position on hell. Robin Parry encourages listeners not to run to Universalism (or any other position) out of some sort of emotionally based decision. Take the time to read and process all the material on the subject. Ask questions, pray, discuss with others. Read a few books on each position.
I wholeheartly recommend that you take the time to watch this film and think through your own questions on the doctrine of Hell.
p.s. After the movie I had the amazing opprotunity to go for coffee with Kevin Miller, the director and writer of the film. First of all, I was super stoked that he would take the time to talk to me and my friend Jasen Lutz. It's not everyday you get to hang out with the director of a film and ask questions directly related to what you just saw. ("Hey Spielburg, Indian Jones 4 the worse thing ever!) I found him to be incredibly insightful, humorous, and graceful to people whatever there position may be. Thanks for coffee Kevin.