The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.
Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:
We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.
The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films,Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.
Through interviews with Brian McLaren, Greg Boyd, Mark Driscoll, Frank Schaeffer and many others, we not only are informed about the issues and varying perspectives involved in the debate, but far more, we are taken into a complex and rich discussion that challenges us to ask fundamental questions of who God is, and what justice looks like.
For me, the movie stirs up all sorts of emotions and questions. Over the years I have been increasingly troubled by the doctrine of Hell. As my love for God and my neighbor increased, the horror at the thought of many of those I loved suffering eternal punishment increased with it.
I was shocked at how nonchalantly my fellow Christians accepted the idea that the majority of the world was going to Hell. How could they believe this and not be deeply broken and grieved over it?
Some would say we need hell to motivate us to be moral. But what does it do to a person's soul to be motivated by fear? How can you love and feel safe around a God like that?
Others seem to need hell for people such as Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler. But if you believe that all non-Christians are going to hell, then that means that not only would Hitler be there, but so would most of his victims.
How could it be just for someone to go from the fires of Auschwitz to the fires of hell?
These are disturbing questions, especially if they are not abstract and theoretical, but connected to the fate of real people whom you know and love. Yet I know there will be many people reading this who will feel the need to defend the idea of Hell. Indeed, in the documentary in addition to those who question the justice of hell, we also hear those who say that to doubt hell is to deny the Christian faith.
When Bell raised the mere question in a trailer for Love Wins, hyper-Calvinist John Piper famously tweeted "farewell Rob Bell," as if Bell had fallen from grace merely by asking the question.
In the end, what Hellbound? succeeds in doing is setting the stage for some very important and needed discussion. To be sure, these are vital and important questions that will stir up lots of emotions. One of those questions is why is it that we are so afraid to ask?
[For more info on the film, and to request a screening in your area, checkout the official Hellbound? website.]
Derek Flood (TheRebelGod.com) holds a master’s in systematic theology and is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post.