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The Movie "Hellbound?" A Deceptive and Dishonest Hatchet Attack On Christians By A Profess

Just this past week, I had the chance to watch the movie "Hellbound?" This film is being released tonight in theatres in Calgary and Edmonton. The movie is billed as a "feature-length documentary that explores the modern debate over the doctrine of hell."

Hell is a very important subject, and it needs to be discussed--especially in our day. Nothing underlines the importance of our standing before God like the question of our eternal destiny and God's wrath against sin.

Christians are called by the Apostle Paul to "test all things." Now, that does not prevent Christians from being edified by things we disagree with.

Theological Debate Is a Good Thing

One book I have heartily recommended to others, and given away, is the book "Is Christianity Good For The World?", which is a debate between the late atheist Christopher Hitchens and the Presbyterian pastor Doug Wilson. I find the book thought-provoking and edifying, not only because (as a theist) I naturally sympathize with Pastor Wilson's argument, but because Hitchens's arguments force me to be honest and articulate in how I present and confess my faith.

See, even those I deeply disagree with can be beneficial to my faith, in an "iron sharpens iron" way.

Similarly, I really enjoy reading books that present theological debates, such as Zondervan's "Counterpoints" series and B&H's "Perspectives" series, each of which present several arguments from different sides of particular topics. Thinking of one of those books in particular, "Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond," which looks at different views of the end times, I personally enjoyed the contribution by the "postmillenial" author the most of the three submissions--even though I, personally, hold (tentatively!) to the amillennial view, and probably sympathize more with premillennialism than I do with postmillennialism.

So I'm not at all afraid of different theological perspectives, and find them useful in helping me understand my own faith. That's not to say that all views are equally valuable--they aren't--or even that all views are helpful, because some are downright dangerous. But God uses such discussion to strengthen our faith and deepen our understanding, as the discussions of theological controversies even in the New Testament show us. In other words, "Hellbound?" should be the kind of movie that I not only really enjoy, but that I could potentially recommend to others as a useful exercise in articulating their own beliefs. Sadly, I can't, and here's why.

"Hellbound?" Is NOT An Evenhanded Discussion At All

In all the examples given above, there are two key things that make the debate format work. First, there is equal time given to each contributor. Second, each contributor is permitted to present their best case. "Hellbound," unfortunately, does neither. In fact, it was not was in any way fair or balanced, much less biblical or exegetical.

With respect to the first point (equal time and opportunity to speak):

The trailer on the movie's website suggests, by the time allocated to each position in that preview, that the movie will be a more or less evenhanded look at both traditional and dissenting views of hell. Specifically, in the trailer, traditional advocates are shown speaking for 29 seconds (I timed it), while those dissenting were shown for 45 seconds. Sure, the dissenting view had more time in the trailer, but as it's got a higher burden of proof (being the minority position, after all), most folks wouldn't be put off by that 40% to 60% ratio. And since there are (historically) two major alternative views to the traditional view, the trailer, if anything, suggests the traditional view would receive more than fair treatment.

Unfortunately, the trailer is extremely misleading. I suspect it is deliberately so.

Out of an hour and 22 minutes (and 47 seconds) running time, the filmmaker gave the "traditional view" (that is, hell as eternal, conscious torment) advocates only a total of 17 minutes and 53 seconds to make their case (less than 15% of the total running time!). Conversely, those in favour of universalism (I don't recall any annihilationists given significant time--more on that shortly) had most of the remaining one hour and 5 minutes to make their case.

80-85% versus less than 15% isn't a reasonable split by any fair and objective standard. Just look at the concerns of Republicans in the US over the extra three or four minutes Obama had in the last presidential debate, or the pains the Democrats go to to point out that Romney speaks faster than Obama in response--this shows that a fair opportunity to make one's case is valued even by those who don't claim to be believers. From one who professes to be Christian, like Kevin Miller does, those who hold the traditional view have even more of an expectation and a right to fair treatment.

But it gets even worse than that.

"Hellbound?" Poisons The Well Against The Traditional View

Of the mere 17 minutes and 53 seconds given to the "traditional" side, almost one-third (4 minutes and 56 seconds, to be precise) were spent with members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, who were picketing the 9/11 memorial and rejoicing at dead US soldiers. This group is noted for its perverted pleasure in the destruction of others.

This is what particularly shocks and disgusts me, by the way.

That's a classic case of "poisoning the well," putting these obvious lunatics alongside mainstream evangelical folks like Mark Driscoll, Kevin DeYoung, Hank Hanegraaff, Ray Comfort, and Justin Taylor. No serious advocate of the traditional position would consider Phelps' crew to be allies in any sense.

What astounds me is that this is a self-professed Christian who has written this film in this way. Secular and unbelieving folk would be rightfully shocked to be treated in such a fashion. Christians are called to an even higher standard.

Would a person who was, say, a political conservative feel fairly treated if they saw a documentary discussing their view of limited government and the filmmaker not only gave a mere 15% of the running time to the conservative view, but allocated one-third of that 15% to Timothy McVeigh?

Or, to posit an opposite example, would a person of progressive/liberal political views feel that a documentary that gave only 15% of the running time to their view of community responsibility went further and gave one-third of the time allocated to their case to members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, or to Carlos the Jackal?

The presentation of the traditional view in this film is heavily, and I believe deliberately, tainted by the unnecessary inclusion of the Westboro folks in the movie. That borders on breaking the ninth commandment, because it suggests that evangelicals who believe in hell are like the reprehensible folks at Westboro Baptist Church. Coming from a Christian filmmaker, it's an outrage.

"Hellbound?" Does Not Allow The Traditional View To Make A Case

With respect to my second point (allowing all sides to make the best argument they can):

In "Hellbound?" only the bare outlines of the traditional case from Scripture (and a very quickly shown list of proof texts) is provided. None of the strongest biblical arguments for hell, like Jesus drawing an equivalence between "eternal life" and "eternal punishment" in Matthew 25:46 (as just one example of many) are treated in any depth. Conversely, much time is given to a "biblical" case against hell, with considerable time spent on the historical and cultural background of the Valley of Hinnom, and even attention paid to the Hebrew meaning of "'olam" (everlasting). And lists of proof texts are also given (briefly) for annihilationism and universalism that are equally long as the traditional case, with no attempt to weigh any of them in their contexts and see if they bear equal weight to the traditional texts.

In other words: there is a reason why the vast majority (yes, not all, but most) of Christians throughout history have held the traditional view. Yet the film seems to pretend this isn't the case, as it minimizes the strength of the traditional position by neglect and omission, while making the universalistic case appear far stronger simply by sheer proportion of time given to it.

"Hellbound?" Virtually Ignores The Third Major View On Hell

And one more thing: the film acknowledges, several times, the existence of three views on the subject--the traditional view, univeralism (everyone is saved), and annihilationism (there is no eternal torment; the wicked are mercifully wiped out of existence and don't suffer everlastingly). And the film does define what annihilationism is. However, it virtually ignores annihilationism otherwise. I don't recall any advocates of that position interviewed (despite its prominence even in the evangelical world; the late evangelical Anglican leader John Stott, for instance, was an annihilationist). Personally, I deeply disagree with annihilationism, but I have to note for fairness' sake that if I were an annihilationist, I would feel like I was the "third wheel" in this discussion. This is damning evidence of the true intention of the film.

"Hellbound?" Is Deceptive And Unfair

Kevin Miller needs to be honest. When his film gives less than 15% of its running time to the position held by the vast majority of Christians throughout history (and almost one-third of that to a group of theological terrorists that no serious traditionalist considers a legitimate example of their position!), and virtually ignores the third major alternative position on the subject, it's crystal clear that this movie is not one that (in the words of the website) "explores the modern debate over the doctrine of hell" so much as it is an hour-long infomercial for universalism.

In short, I see the film as basically a largely one-sided hatchet attack on the traditional position, with just enough time spent with the Westboro "crazies" to poison the average and ill-informed viewer against the traditional position, and just enough traditional folks interviewed to give a semblance of fair treatment without actually presenting a coherent case (and, by the way, provide sufficient material for the trailer to deceptively suggest the movie is an honest look at the subject).

And sadly, judging by the deceptively evenhanded trailer and the innocently inquisitive-sounding language on the website, this movie is being marketed to evangelical Christians as an objective debate on the issue. Which is a damnable lie.

I can't recommend or support this film, and neither will Calvary Grace Church. Nor should any evangelical Christian.

Spread the word. And I pray God grants Kevin Miller repentance.

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