Why you should see HELLBOUND? the movie.
“This is a movie that will push a lot of your buttons.”
That was the line we were greeted with last night when some friends and I attended the local premiere of HELLBOUND?, a new documentary which explores Christian views on H-E-double hockey sticks. It was a pretty big event, featuring a Q&A with the filmmakers after the movie and a live introduction beforehand by some professor from Azusa Pacific University who was obsessed with spelling out just how controversial the film would be.
I’m not sure how many buttons were actually pushed by the film at last night’s screening. I don’t personally have any buttons (I’m a snaps kind of guy) but I can say that out of the eight of us in the group of friends I went with – which included universalists, annhilationists, those with a traditional view of hell, and even one person who had no dog in the fight – we all appreciated the movie. And I don’t think it offended any of us.
The film has a lot going for it. Its production value (editing, camera work, etc.) is top notch and director Kevin Miller does an excellent job of presenting a compelling view of the subject which provokes thought. While the film argues unashamedly for Christian Universalism, Miller gives a refreshingly fair treatment to all views presented. The director also does an excellent job of asking tough questions to those he interviews while showing an (at times) uncanny amount of love and respect, even towards the hate-spewing folks from Westboro Baptist Church.
There is a debate raging right now in Evangelical circles about hell and the nature of eternal judgment. HELLBOUND? taps into this debate and makes a timely contribution of its own. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, which challenged traditional notions of hell and received condemnation from many fundamentalist big wigs, is discussed early on in the film. Also included is an interview with Chad Holtz, a pastor whose firing in 2011 for questioning the existence of hell attracted national headlines.
In this turbulent and often fearful debate, I found the approach of HELLBOUND? to be a refreshing alternative. More than arguing for one side or another (which the movie does do) the real takeaway from this film is that it’s okay to ask questions and disagree on this topic. To invert an argument posed by Mark Driscoll – an uber-Calvinist pastor who also appears in the movie – the topic of hell is a state border, not a national one. Christians can disagree on this subject while still being faithful to Christ and the gospel.
And that brings me to another great aspect of this film – it is not at all ashamed of the gospel. I was surprised (perhaps showing my own bias) at just how evangelical this documentary turned out to be. The filmmakers love Jesus and present a compelling case for a loving God who conquers sin and whose grace is truly sufficient.
HELLBOUND? is not without its flaws. The traditionalists included in the movie are all either fundamentalists or hardcore Calvinists (and there is one atheist who argues in favor of hell). There are plenty of Christians out there who believe in hell without being jerks about it. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear from many of them.
As an annihilationist, I was especially disappointed that my view was so underrepresented. Miller was asked about this during the live Q&A and revealed that it was essentially an issue of time. It isn’t possible to include everything you film in a documentary, and the movie works well by examining the debate between universalism and eternal conscious torment. Still, I would have liked to see more annihilation.
I was also put off by one element of the interview with Bible scholar Jaime Clark-Soles. While I appreciated much of what she had to say, she advocated a form of “taking the Bible seriously” which I find terribly problematic. Essentially, if you really want to understand the Bible and take it seriously, you need to do the hard work of studying the original contexts and languages. As a professional theologian, I have done both of these. However, I find that talk like this needlessly intimidates average Christians who don’t have the time or money to pursue degrees in biblical studies. Knowing Greek and Hebrew helps a lot, but you don’t need that level of knowledge to take the Bible seriously.
Another drawback to the film – and I’ll admit that this one is a bit nitpicky – is the shortage of scholarly views and complete lack of people of color. This movie could surely benefit from the inclusion of a few academic theologians and church historians, although that would require cutting out other parts in order to remain within a marketable run-time for a documentary. And while I realize that the context of this debate is American Evangelicalism, the fact that every single person interviewed for this film was white is a little off-putting to me.
Couldn’t the filmmakers find at least one Asian? Francis Chan – I’m looking at you!
There are a number of reasons you should see HELLBOUND?. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that there is a real lack of quality Christian films like this one. Most Christian movies I have seen are far too preachy to be enjoyable. And let’s not even talk about the production value. HELLBOUND? is insightful, entertaining, high quality, and not too pretentious. It’s a Christian film that a non-Christian could actually watch and find enjoyable. Movies like that are rare, and that’s why HELLBOUND? needs our support.
I will probably go see it in the theater at least one more time. You should see it to.
Here’s a link to find out where the film is playing near you.
And here is the trailer: