Hellbound? The debate continues
REVIEWER Sophia Agtarap
Movie Review: Hellbound
If you want to start a heated debate, start a conversation about hell. For many Christians, what one believes about hell and who goes there is a driving force for the need to evangelize and convert family, friends and strangers alike.
Hell is not a new topic, but it certainly is one over which the Christian church is divided. Within and outside the Christian community, this topic has most recently been explored by the Rev. Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Church, Michigan, in his book, “Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” published in July 2011.
The movie “Hellbound?” continues the conversation that Bell brings to our public consciousness: Would a loving God choose to punish people for eternity? What, then, does that say about God? What does that say about us and the ways we live our lives? What does that say about ways we seem to speak with confidence regarding our fate and the fate of the Bin Ladens, the Hitlers and even the Gandhis of the world?
Award-winning Canadian writer and director Kevin Miller interviewed professors, theologians, death-metal musicians, exorcists and celebrity pastors (including Mark Driscoll and ex-United Methodist pastor, Chad Holtz). His credits include “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” “Sex+Money,” “spOILed” and “With God on Our Side.”
Miller attempts to understand why hell is such a contested topic among Christians today and what really fuels this debate. Because – let’s be real – it’s not just about theology. It is just as much about how our personal beliefs in religion, politics, patriotism and economics are all wrapped up in the type of restorative or retributive justice a powerful God can or should enact on the other, and maybe on us.
The movie doesn’t begin to compare the expansive theories on hell that exist (so neither will I), but it does present a wide enough spectrum to open the door for us to peek through and question our own beliefs. It also gives a careful enough treatment of the subject that pastor, layperson and atheist alike can find ways to engage the film.
Is hell a place? Is it a condition we choose? Is it an eternal separation from God’s love set in some fiery pit? Is there a way out once we’re in? Will we ever truly know what the answer is, or is it all subjective?
If you need a clear answer to any of those questions, you won’t find them in this film. What you will find, in fact, are more questions. Questions about the nature of God, free will, the literalism of Scripture and even what this really means for our lives now.
About the time Bell’s book came out, I watched a brief interview with New Testament scholar, Bishop N.T. Wright, and his commentary has stuck with me since:
Why are Americans so fixated on hell? Why is it the most prosperous, affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be?
If we are honest with ourselves, we must face the fact that this debate on hell is shrouded in mystery. Not the it’s-too-difficult-to-talk-about-so-I’m-not-going-to-think-about-it type of mystery (which really is deliberate ignorance), but the kind of mystery that says we can search Scripture, pray and listen, but in the end, we just don’t know everything. Our faith calls us to hope that no one is sent to hell, but we don’t know with any certitude.
The fact that the title is punctuated with a question mark is not lost on me. Miller’s attempts in this film address many of our own searching in faith and unfaithfulness as we try to understand our choices and consequences in this life and the next.
One of those interviewed in the film quotes 1 John 4:18a, NRSV: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” If we believe in a God of love, we will not fear the questions and even doubts that arise as we continue on this journey peppered with more questions than we know what to do with, accompanied by a God who is big enough to handle the questions that arise. However, we must be bold enough to ask the questions, and as Rainer Maria Rilke says, to live them.
For more information on the film, including a listing of show times in select theaters, visit www.hellboundthemovie.com.
 Full text of Rilke’s original quote from “Letters to a Young Poet”: Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
More: What We Believe
Originally Posted: Sep 24, 2012