part 1, good art is primarily provocative, rarely conclusive on any one topic or idea. When it comes to understanding hell, Hellbound(?) cannot be seen as authoritative theologically or conceptually.
But all art still says something. While not authoritative, art still presents a point of view in the provocation. Dante’s Inferno, for example, was very influential in determining peoples’ conclusions on hell - a poem! In the case of Hellbound(?), then, what is it saying?
The film makes a case to raise the credibility of Christian Universalism (not to be confused with universalism in general). Kevin Miller, the filmmaker, reflected on this sole purpose in a recent interview: “The people who are opposing the idea of eternal conscious torment are Christ centered, biblically based, and around since the beginning of the church (e.g. Gregory of Nyssa).” Beyond semi-controversial figures such as Brian McLaren and Frank Schaeffer, Hellbound(?) includes several thoughtful and nuanced descriptions towards a biblical understanding of Christian Universalism. Brad Jersak stands out in this regard. At the very least, the viewer should take their views seriously and respectfully.
At the same time, however, Hellbound(?) doesn’t do itself any favors in establishing this desired credibility. The film very clearly slants towards supporting some sort of Christian universalism. The lack of interaction with annihilationism and the caricatures of the eternal conscious torment folks (although the examples are true) leave Christian universalism looking like the only sane option. This will no doubt - and it should - leave viewers who disagree very frustrated, unfairly represented by the Phelps clan and an angry Mark Driscoll. To get the respect he desires, Miller would have been well served to convince better proponents of the traditional view or annihilationism to participate in the film.
In the end, I’m not convinced by Christian universalism. Well it’s interesting to learn of some in history who have held this position, such an appeal still stands against the majority of theological tradition and orthodoxy. There is too much speculation on exactly how God enacts his love and judgement in the afterlife to make a convincing case, although this could be said about all detailed descriptions of heaven and hell. To Miller’s goal of establishing a greater appreciation and understanding of the Christian universalism project, I do think this movie helps dispel false caricatures of universalism devoid of Jesus and the bible. I resonate and support the desire for faithfulness to Jesus and biblical interpretation. I’m just not convinced they're right in their conclusions.
And finally, like my conclusion with Love Wins, the greatest value of Hellbound(?) is not its speculation on the afterlife but rather how it challenges the audience to consider the implications of their belief for life here and now. Cosmic speculations are never far from down-to-earth ethics. I was particularly surprised with the repeated reference to peace and violence in relation to our views on God’s love and judgment. I found my inner-Anabaptist cheering (reserved Mennonite cheering of course) as folks interacted with how our beliefs about God and judgement will inevitably influence how we treat others in the world. Near the end of the film, the gospel of peace boldly confronts Christianity’s tendency towards violence. If we truly believe, as Christians on all sides of the heaven/hell discussion do, that Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s love and judgement, we should all default to patience and humility as we interact around ideas of love and justice, ideas only fully known and lived in the divine mystery of God in the flesh.
So yes, I recommend Hellbound(?). Find folks to interact, challenge and reflect with. Don’t just speculate without turning to the bible. But also don’t just read the bible without taking the speculation seriously. And with a topic as controversial and divisive as hell, let this reminder be your guide:
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.
But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:12