Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why? A highly provocative, feature-length documentary, Hellbound?, takes a critical look at the traditional doctrine of hell and has been released in theatres earlier this month.
Kevin Miller, a screenwriter, director, and producer from British Columbia, made this movie in order to present to the viewers a thorough examination of everything the Bible has to say about port-mortem punishment throughout Jewish and Christian history. In his journey for truth, he realized that there is a lively conversation where competing viewpoints aren’t just maintained, but encouraged.
In an interview with HM Magazine, Miller said that he has never thought of Hellbound? as a discussion about death, but a discussion about the nature of God, the Bible, justice, freedom, evil, how we form beliefs and those sorts of issues.
Miller said that one of the key influences on him during the making of this film is Ernest Becker, who is perhaps best known for his book The Denial of Death, in which Becker argues that virtually all of human behavior is driven by our fear of death.
Death anxiety has led to all sorts of great human achievements, but they come at a price. More often than not, death anxiety tends to make us self-centered, defensive, acquisitive and, ultimately violent. Because if someone threatens our immortality system, we only have a few options – win them over to our side or find a way to silence their dissent, possibly for good.
The way many Christians understand it, said Miller, our central problem is that we have angered a holy God with our sin. Someone has to pay the penalty for our crimes. We are unable to do it, so Christ offered to do it in our place. Now we can have peace through God, because he has essentially satisfied his wrath by taking it out on his son. We can either accept Christ’s suffering in our place or else bear the punishment for our sins forever in eternity.
Miller said that this explanation made less sense as he pondered more about that story, because it’s all about the Crucifixion – paying the penalty. The Resurrection is merely a bonus – a reward for making the right choice.
However, as Miller reexamined Christianity through the lens of Ernest Becker, he came to see that if the central problem of humankind is fear of death, then the Crucifixion is all about facing that fear, and the Resurrection is about overcoming it. If fear of death truly is the driving force behind our self-destructive behavior, then defeating death would be the ultimate solution to all of our problems. This moves the Resurrection front and center in the Christian faith, which is exactly where it should be. It’s also consistent with the way the gospel is preached in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters. You never see the Good News phrased this way: “Good news! You don’t have to go to hell when you die!” Instead, what you hear over and over again is, “Good news! Death is not the end!” The crucifixion is mentioned of course, but it’s the Resurrection that’s central.
This perspective caused me to serious rethink the substance of the good news we are sharing, he said.
Finally, Miller said that Hellbound? is an argument for curiosity, humility and acceptance of those who are prone to instinctively reject as “the other.” So to Christians, what I would say is, even if you don’t agree with the film’s point of view, take a second look at what you believe, why you believe it and the effect it’s having on the world. Too often allow our beliefs about the future (which we can’t prove) to turn us into jerks today. I don’t care how right you think you are. If you’re using your beliefs to bludgeon other people, to ostracize them, etc., that pretty much tells the story. Your story is the best interpretation of your beliefs.
To non-Christians, he encourages them to take a second look at Christianity. He hopes that by the end of the film they will realize that perhaps they rejected Christianity without ever having actually experienced it. He believes that the Gospel represents “deep wisdom from the dawn of time.” So he’d hate to see anyone miss out on it. He truly believes that the survival of the species – of all species – is contingent on our ability to grasp the freedom from our death-drive culture that Christ has to offer.
Among some of the more memorable speakers featured in the film either arguing for or against the traditional Christian teaching on hell are: Schaeffer, Hardin, Westboro Baptist Church's Jonathan and Margie Phelps, Chad Holtz, Robin Parry, Brad Jersak, Brian McLaren, Gregory A. Boyd, and Sharon Baker.
Also featured is Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung, whose relaxed, soft-spoken observations about God's common grace and whether or not He loves everyone serve as a noticeable contrast to sermon clips of fellow reformed Calvinist and Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll screaming "God hates some of you" from the pulpit. It was left to Driscoll to line up passages in Scripture that seem to provide the foundation for a modern view of hell – which were then presumably toppled by Jersak, author of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.
“Hellbound?” was filmed in over 24 cities in the United States, Canada and Denmark by Kevin Miller XI Productions Inc.
[Angie Hung contributed to the report.]