Hellbound? A New Movie Challenges the Doctrine of Hell

by Max Andrews

This photo provided by Kevin Miller XI Productions Inc. shows exorcist Bob Larson, left, at work in a scene from the film “Hellbound?”. The documentary, which premiered last week in Nashville and opens Friday in New York, digs deeper into the modern Christian theological debate over hell and who’s going there. (AP Photo/Kevin Miller XI Productions Inc., via Huffington Post)

Here’s an excerpt from Travis Loller at the Huffington Post.

How can a loving God send people, even bad people, to a place of eternal torment? A new documentary struggles with questions of punishment and redemption and how culture affects and shapes Christian beliefs about God and the Bible.

Coming in the wake of controversy over Rob Bell’s 2011 hell-questioning book “Love Wins,” which put hell on the cover of Time magazine, and treading some of the same ground, filmmaker Kevin Miller believes the debate about the nature of hell is not academic.

In an interview after a Nashville screening of “Hellbound?” Miller said he believes our ideas about hell have a real-world effect on the way we live our lives and the way we relate to others.

Perhaps popular theologian Brian McLaren best expresses that thought in the movie when he says, “If I believe that a small percentage of human beings were created to enjoy bliss eternally and another group of beings were created to experience eternal conscious torment, then I look at human beings differently than if I say, `Every human being was made in the image of God. Every human being is beloved by God. God is at work to save every human being.'”

This is a recurring discussion not only in cultural spheres but also theological spheres. I’m tempted to say that Rob Bell is mixed between cultural and theological spheres, but Kevin Miller says that this isn’t an academic debate. Really? Is this just an emotional debate? What’s a debate if it’s not academic, theological, philosophical, etc? Think about it. How does one argue for the truth of a proposition outside of such a debate nature? The article doesn’t really give the nature of what the debate is, but if it’s intuitive, or morally intuitive, that’s an axiological/philosophical debate–academic. If it’s an emotional debate then the subject’s feelings or reactions to certain propositions have no impact on the ontic status or truth value of certain propositions.

Is hell a good thing? 

When someone evil is killed or dies should we celebrate in the fact that that unsaved person will be going to hell?  For instance, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden were evil men. Should we be mourning and sadded by this? Yes. This person was not saved by God and another soul is in hell because of his unrepentant sin and trust in Christ to atone for his own sins. Love is twofold. There is love and holiness and when love and holiness are violated there is justice. My continuous reflection has got me thinking, “Why am I not more appreciative of justice?”

This is how I work it out and how I believe God views mercy and justice.  Antecedently, God willed and genuinely desired Bin Laden to repent and to respond to the revelation he has been given.  However, consequently, because of Bin Laden’s rejection of God and infatuation with evil, God has willed that Bin Laden atone for his own sins and for there to be justice.  This justice is his death and punishment in the afterlife.  Why am I not taking joy in God’s justice?  I believe my apprehension of justice is far removed from how God loves justice since it is ontologically based in him.

Yes, antecedently we should not be joyful that Bin Laden is taking on his own punishment.  However, in turn and consequently, God is receiving his glory from Bin Laden’s sins being atoned for.  For the Christian, hell is a good thing, hell is the means by which God renders justice to those who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ on the cross.  The important thing is to make the antecedent-consequent distinction in how we respond.

Does love win?

Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.  I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture).  For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell.  I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (herehere, and here).

Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived.  He is perfect in every way, and his perfections do not and cannot contradict.  Humans freely do morally wrong actions.  This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being.  If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong.  There must be atonement.  There are consequences for every action, good and bad.  Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined; it’s just that there are consequences).  Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments.  I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God.  I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).

Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime.  In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just.  Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ.  He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement).  Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration will last without end as well.  Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins.  Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.

I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either.  I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement.  By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins.  Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice wins as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.


13 Comments to “Hellbound? A New Movie Challenges the Doctrine of Hell”

  1. Max,

    There are even many lines of Biblical evidence that can be marshaled in support of your position:

    1. That we are self condemned (John 3:17-19).
    2. If we hate and flee from the Light here, we will continue to do so in the next world (Psalm 15, 24)
    3. Biblical portraits of people fleeing from the presence of God and never praying to remain in God’s presence (Gen. 3; Luke 16:19-31).

    • Indeed. I took a basic philosophical approach with a theological reflection. I think a sound biblical exegesis is the strongest argument and where the debate really rests.

  2. I believe that there is a biblical case for everyone going to heaven.

  3. I have to say, I used to think the exegetical arguments for hell being eternal punishment were strong, but after considering the annihilationist view I no longer feel that way. In fact, quite the contrary. If persons never cease to sin, and there is this place of eternal conscious punishing going on then it would seem to be the case that Paul was wrong to say that all things would be brought under one head — Christ, or that that God really will be all in all. I don’t see how death is finally destroyed, Christ is all and all while there is this other realm where people are in a state of constant sin and punishment.

  4. ____________________________

    EXCERPT FROM “I BELIEVE” BY GEORGE MACDONALD (C. S. LEWIS’ “SPIRITUAL MENTOR”)

    I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing… That… hell will… help the just mercy of God to redeem his children… Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.

    George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from “I Believe,” Unspoken Sermons

  5. A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?

    Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart… Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.

    “And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?–who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”

    Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald’s words were a blessing for me to read.

    Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website) [Three sentences were edited by E.T.B.]

  6. As for hating Osama Bin Laden, I think he explained what some of his grievances were concerning “the West,” and the evils he saw the West committing, just as Southerners were ready to fight against the North for the evils of the North as they perceived them to be, and how some Southerners even came to call Lincoln “Satan,” and some Southerners also came to view the South as “the New Israel, God’s new chosen nation.” Perhaps after death, people like Osama and various Southerners will gain a wider knowledge of the world and how everyone and every nation has their faults, and how easy it is for people living in one area, understanding the world one way, come into conflict with people living in another area and seeing the world another way. I’m not saying that counter-attacks are unjustified. I’m just saying that misunderstandings are rampant here on earth. And from my perspective Osama was misunderstanding the world, and that initial misunderstanding led to him over-reacting against the sins of “the West,” and the South was over-reacting to the “sins of the North.” Also, I suspect that there’s a slippery slope of over-reactions. Take Hitler, and the Nazis and their strong reaction against Bolshevism, which certainly seemed like a potent threat to many Germans back then, which is probably how Hitler got elected in the first place, even church people voting him into office (he won an equal amount of city votes, but won a larger number of country votes than other candidates, and country-folk are probably more likely to be religious). I am a universalist because I believe that God and time are the best teachers, and there is plenty of time in eternity for everyone to learn their lessons, including Ghengiz Khan, Adolf Hitler, and the makers of Jolt Cola (a cola with twice the sugar and caffeine).

  7. You may be interested in the Conditionalist (Annihilationist) site http://www.rethinkinghell.com. You might enjoy the forums there, as I do, and if you listen to the podcast, you may be converted away from the traditional view based on exegesis alone, as I was.

    I am an M. DIv. student (emphasis ethics and philosophy) at Fuller Theological, and enjoy your site. Nice clean design, great level of content. Thanks! You can also check me out at wholereason.com – not as developed on the content side, but getting there ;)

  8. And speaking of movies on hell, have you checked out / blogged on Hell and Mr. Fudge? It’s a Conditionalist, rather than Christian Universalist view challenging the traditional view of eternal torment.

    http://hellandmrfudge.org/

  9. Thank you for this post, I completely agree with your view. Cannot wait to check out this film.

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