Recently released to wide critical acclaim across the U.S. and Canada, Hellbound? is the brainchild of filmmaker Kevin Miller, a graduate of Columbia Bible College and resident of Abbotsford, BC, from where he began his career as a film writer in 2003.
Miller grew up in rural Saskatchewan, where he became a Christian through the “love shown by a Mennonite Brethren church”, which became his church home. Theologically, he still considers himself a Mennonite, but his desire for a more liturgical worship has recently led him to an Anglican church.
Some years ago, Miller befriended evangelical author Brad Jersak and worked with Jersak on his book Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem. The book asks: “Would the God of love revealed by Jesus really consign the vast majority of humankind to a destiny of eternal, conscious torment?”
“I had long struggled with this question”, says Miller, “and with Brad I discovered that the traditional understanding of hell is only one of a variety of views on hell throughout history.” As an example, Miller points to early church father Gregory of Nyssa, who was instrumental in the decision to put the four gospels into the New Testament but did not believe in hell.
Miller decided to make a film in which he would share his spiritual journey with others by exploring different views on hell. He does this through interviews with an eclectic group of scholars and church leaders, including Jersak, Brian McLaren, Gregory Boyd, Mark Driscoll and many more. When Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, took the evangelical world by storm in 2011, Miller knew his timing was perfect. “Many evangelicals today are struggling with this contradiction at the heart of Christianity: how to reconcile a loving God with the violent God who condemns people to an eternity in hell.”
“Mennonites should be leading the way in thinking about the violence of God,” Miller says. “Our Christ-centred peace theology is about orienting our hearts to be like the God revealed in Jesus, who wants us to love our enemies and rejects violence as a way to peace. If violence is God’s last word, then we would be justified in making violence our last word as well.”
Miller is hoping that both Christians and non-Christians will view Hellbound? as ‘good news’. “So many people have been turned off of Christianity because of the ‘bad news’ about hell and needing to be saved from a violent retributive God. But Jesus came to bring us good news, to free us from our violent self-centred ways and lead us to the way of self-giving love, the way of the Kingdom. There is so much pain in the world. We are called to be agents of hope and of peace. That is good news.”
Miller hastens to point out that his views do not represent a soft-sell version of Christianity. On the contrary, he says, as those involved in victim-offender mediation will confirm, restorative justice can be very difficult, for it still involves being called to account for what we have done.
For this reason, Miller has trouble understanding those who say hell is necessary for Christianity. “When I was a young camp counselor, I told my campers what they needed to do to stay out of hell and I had a 100% conversion rate, but what does it say about a religion when your only motivation for conversion is your fear of hell?”
Hellbound?, a well-made and very entertaining documentary, was a big hit at the Wild Goose Festival in June. The well-edited interviews provide many thought-provoking answers to questions like: ‘What did Jesus really say about hell?’ and ‘What does our view of hell reveal about how we perceive God, the Bible and ourselves?’
Particularly appealing to younger audiences, Hellbound? is nevertheless accessible to all adults and should fuel many interesting church discussions. Despite what Miller says above, the film as a whole presents a fairly balanced set of opinions on the existence of hell and does not make any strong statements. It is highly recommended viewing!
HELLBOUND? opened in theatres throughout Canada on October 12 in Vancouver and Langley, followed by Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina on October 19, and rolling out to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa on October 26, with additional markets to follow.
--Oct. 16, 2012