Movie Review: Hellbound?: Why Hell Matters

Who would you like to see bound to Hell to suffer eternal conscious torment?

C’mon. You know you’ve thought about it.

It’s one of the questions behind Hellbound?, the thought-provoking documentary by Kevin Miller. In Hellbound?, Kevin interviews a wide range of pastors, theologians, exorcists, lead vocalists of death metal bands, and an atheist, about their views on Hell. Does Hell exist? If so, who is going there?

You should see Hellbound? as soon as possible. You might have to wait for the DVD depending on where you live (find theater locations here), but be sure to see it. It’s an amazing documentary that, from beginning to end, captured my attention. Kevin did a wonderful job directing, producing, and starring in the documentary. I was pleased that he included all sides of the debate. Throughout the documentary I felt like I was sitting there with Kevin, interviewing some of the most prominent and influential Christian authors, bloggers, and personalities of today about hell and the character of God. Watching Hellbound? was like being in theological nerd heaven. Here I was, face to face with Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, Justin Taylor, Greg Boyd, Mark Driscoll, Kevin DeYoung, Sharon Baker, Brad Jersak, and (most influential for me!) Michael Hardin. (I highly recommend Michael’s book The Jesus Driven Life. In fact, I wrote a review of it here.)

The greatest misunderstanding of hell today is the myth that Christian tradition has only taught one version of hell. That version asserts that many people will be sent to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment. Hellbound? debunks this myth. People are often surprised to learn that the pre-reformation Christian tradition never took an official stance on hell. In fact, throughout Christian history faithful Christians have interpreted the Bible differently on this topic. Two of the most influential theologians of Christian history come from the fourth century. They provide us with good examples of the diversity of opinions concerning hell. St. Augustine (354-430), considered by many to be the pre-eminent Teacher of the Church, thought that scripture made it clearly obvious that some would spend eternity with God, while others would go to hell, a “punishment which will be eternal” (City of God XXI, 24). St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), considered by many to be the “Father of [the early Church] Fathers,” on the other hand, believed in the universal restitution of all things, stating that “The annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that He may be ‘all in all,’ embracing all things with a sense of reason.”

Faithful Christians have been arguing about hell ever since and Kevin provides all sides of the continuing argument in Hellbound? But the question is, “Why should we care?”

Part of Kevin’s genius in Hellbound? is how he answers that question. Kevin loops images of 9/11 throughout the movie. Most of our discussions about hell are abstract notions about a judgment that will happen in the distant future. But what if we thought about hell differently? What if hell wasn’t primarily about what happens then, but about what happens now? By providing images of 9/11, Kevin is reminding us of the hells that we humans are creating on earth. Current US military drone attacks are another example of hell on earth. The genocide in Rwanda was an example of hell on earth. The Holocaust was hell on earth. Once we recognize that discussions about hell are about what is happening now, we must ask a theological question: Where do we find God in these hells on earth?

Look at the cross. For Christians, it is the place of hell on earth. Jesus, the God-Man, was judged and sentenced by humans to the place of suffering, the place of hell on earth. So, when it comes to hell, where do we find God? Perhaps we could ask the question like this: Where was God on 9/11? Where is God during the US drone attacks? Where was God during the Rwandan genocide? Where was God during the Holocaust? Where was God as the Roman Empire attempted to keep the peace (Pax Romana) through the violence of the cross?

The answer is always the same: Jesus reveals that God identifies and suffers with the victims of hell on earth. This is why our discussion about hell matters: When our judgments lead to violence we send one another to these hells on earth. Jesus reveals that in these violent judgments we send God to hell, too. If the letter to the Hebrews is right, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” then I expect what is true about hell now will be true about hell in the future.

But the point is to stop making one another (and God!) go through hell. The only way Christians can stop making others go through hell is by following Jesus, who, while on the cross of hell, prayed for forgiveness instead of vengeance (Luke 23:34) and in the resurrection offered peace instead of seeking revenge (John 20:21).

At the center of the Christian faith is the simple claim that ends Hellbound?. Michael Hardin quotes 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” The darkness, the violent judgments, the sending of others to hell – that’s all human. The hope is that we can take responsibility for our own darkness and live a different way. Jesus called that way the Kingdom of God. He insisted that “the Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Heaven and hell are realities that we live into now – on earth. Jesus leaves the choice up to us: We can continue to banish one another and God into hells on earth, or we can participate in the Kingdom of God that is already among us on earth.

What choice will you make? Watch Hellbound? and decide for yourself.

(Join me and my co-host Bob Koehler on our Internet radio show Voices of Peace as we interview Kevin about Hellbound? on October 18 at noon ET/11 am CT/ 9  am PT. Listen, call in with a question or comment, or join the chat room on our page at TalkShoe.com!)

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