For Christians, hell is controversial. Or at least talk about hell is controversial.
Just ask Rob Bell.
Books have been written. Blogs have been posted. Tweets have been tweeted.
And now, movies have been produced.
The topic? Hell. Or more precise, how Christians have traditionally understood the Bible’s teachings on hell and how we should live with this teaching now. As the website states, “Hellbound? asks why we are so bound to the idea of hell and what our view of hell reveals about how we perceive God, the Bible and, ultimately, ourselves.”
Before engaging the content, an important point: Hellbound(?) is art. Deeply theological, yes, but not theology proper. And while you could make the argument that a documentary should be more authoritative than a feature film - it often involves more straightforward presentations of facts and arguments - I don’t think this has to be the case. You see, documentaries also tell stories, just differently. They provide a context for a particular argument or topic by giving voice to a variety of perspectives and highlighting examples of the subject matter. Hellbound(?) does this well.
So right from the start, viewers need to experience the movie as such: a work of art. From music, to creative editing and transitions (at times a little over the top - e.g. Phelps family and Mark Driscoll shouting), to locations, and to the overall quality of the picture, Hellbound(?) succeeds as a work of art.
For the viewer, then, especially ones with a vested interest in the topic (i.e. Christians - this movie is primarily addressed a Christian audience), we need to remember that any artistic presentation cannot represent the fullness of the Bible’s teaching on a subject. As with Rob Bell’s book, this film is not authoritative, nor should it be. It is just a movie. And in movies, provocation is not bad. Good art provokes. It is the viewers’ responsibility, then, to not give too much credit to the message of the film. Take it for what is. Art. In this sense, good film watching is just as important as good filmmaking.
But like all good art, provocation leads to thinking. Hellbound(?) leads to much thinking, specifically about hell.
In part 2 I will elaborate on the content of the movie itself.