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There has been a firestorm of conversation, debate and controversy surrounding the topic of Hell in the past few years & though this topic has been hashed out over and over with books like 'Love Wins' by Rob Bell and others like 'Erasing Hell' by Francis Chan, this conversation is far from done, I suspect.
One of the players in this ongoing conversation is Kevin Miller (Director) with his documentary 'Hellbound?', where he interviews different voices with differing perspectives and attempts to wrestle with the topic of Hell trough the medium of film. If you have not seen the film yet, you are able to watch it on netflix, video on demand or get more info at their website.
'Hellbound?' has not been without its controversy and has definitely created conversation and debate. One of the dangers that can happen when we look at a film like this (or a sermon or book for that matter) is we can begin to read between the lines, take statements out of context, misunderstand points being made and assume motives behind the creators of these works.
So, instead of giving my opinion of the film itself or the differing messages and perspectives that the film highlights, I thought it would be better to reach out to Kevin Miller directly and let him speak for himself and give some insight into his own journey, his thoughts on the topic, his motives behind the movie and thoughts on the film itself. So... love it, hate it, still asking questions or somewhere in between, here is Part 1 of a conversation I had with Kevin Miller (Director and Producer of Hellbound?) .
1. Kevin, can you tell us a bit about yourself for those who don't know you?
Perhaps the most important thing you should know about me is that I grew up on a grain farm outside of Foam Lake, Saskatchewan (pop. 1200). Even though I loved living "on the frontier," farming was the least of my interests. I was more intrigued by films, comics, science fiction and the like, all of which my dad put under the catch-all term "garbage." So I never really felt affirmed in my interests or abilities, and I never quite fit in on the farm. I'm also adopted, and that created its own set of struggles, although I wasn't consciously aware of it at the time. I battled low self-esteem and had a terrible time figuring out how to fit in growing up. So in many ways, I'm the least likely person to be doing what I do today--writing, speaking, making films and generally sharing my ideas with the world. Growing up, I felt a lot like Ethan Hawke's character in "The Dead Poet's Society," that I had nothing inside me worth sharing. I dreamed of being a writer or a filmmaker, but I tended to keep those dreams a secret, and I kept disqualifying myself before I'd had a chance to see if I was any good. It's a horrible thing to be imprisoned by such a self-deprecating mindset.
These days when I teach character in my screenwriting classes, I talk about how the identity a protagonist has adopted when we first meet him or her is often a false identity, a coping mechanism carefully crafted to prevent the protagonist from facing his or her greatest fear. The job of the story is to strip away this false identity and force the protagonist to face his or her greatest fear so that the character can finally break free from it and embrace his or her true self.
I went through that process in my mid-twenties. It was an excruciating experience, but had it not happened, who knows where I'd be today. So you could say every day when I wake up in the morning and write a blog post, go off to a shoot, edit a film, etc., I'm constantly facing my greatest fears of inadequacy and being a non-person. I'm trying to silence those voices. So who knows, maybe all I've done is adopt another coping mechanism. But even if that's true, I think my current identity is a much healthier way of dealing with life.
These days I split my time between making films (primarily documentaries), teaching and speaking, writing and editing. I've been self-employed for the past 14 years, which was one of my life's ambitions. Now if I can only become independently wealthy, I'll have it made. Apart from work, I'm married and I have four kids, so they keep me busy--and young (at heart at least). I'm still recovering from a thumb I broke skateboarding last September, if that's any indication.
2. Can you give a little bit of what Hellbound? is as a film and what drew you to make it and be a part of this project?
"Hellbound?" grew out of a long process of reexamining the evangelical Christian faith I unwittingly adopted when I became a Christian at age 9. I didn't grow up in a Christian home. In fact, for a large part of my childhood, my parents were somewhat antagonistic towards evangelicals. So I was what you call a "closet" Christian. However, right from the get-go, I was in the grip of fear that unless the rest of my family came to believe what I had learned, they were all going to hell. The problem was, I was too afraid to tell them about the decision I made for fear of being ridiculed.
That changed in my teens when my mom and then my dad became Christians. I could finally come out into the open. I even went off to Bible college, with the idea that going there would help straighten me out. It didn't though. While I learned a lot, it merely showed me how to be more secretive in my sins. And that only caused my fear of going to hell to magnify itself, because I didn't share those fears with anyone.
Things reached a breaking point for me in my early twenties when I essentially walked away from Christianity for a few years. That was the beginning of the deconstruction process I mentioned earlier. I emerged from it with a strong sense that God loved me despite the way I had lived my life. I truly felt like the prodigal son who had finally come home. But what did that mean for the rest of my theology, for other prodigal sons and daughters out there? If I couldn't figure out a way to sin myself beyond redemption, could anyone else manage to do it?
These are the sorts of thoughts that percolated under the surface for the next few years. It wasn't until I moved to Abbotsford and reignited my friendship with author/speaker Brad Jersak and a few other folks that I began to put some language around what I was feeling.
I formed a publishing company with Brad and became his official editor. We also published other authors, such as Wayne Northey, who forced me to challenge the relationship between God and violence. Wayne's book "Chrysalis Crucible," which I edited, was pivotal in this regard. So was "Stricken by God?", a collection of essays by Brad Jersak, Michael Hardin and others who questioned theories of the atonement that attributed violence to God.
The final nail in the coffin for me was Brad's book "Her Gates Will Never Be Shut," which I also edited. The book makes a simple argument: If we're going to be biblical about hell, let's be biblical. That is, let's listen to everything the Bible has to say about hell not just the parts that affirm what we already believe. Brad proceeded to look at the biblical terms for hell, the various symbols and metaphors used by Christ and others, and the various streams of interpretation throughout the history of the Church. From that emerges a far more nuanced understanding of the topic. Furthermore, it showed me that throughout the history of the Church, all sorts of views fell under the term "orthodoxy," including everything from eternal torment for sinners to ultimate reconciliation for all people.
I found this discussion so exciting and freeing that I knew I had to make a film about it. That was in the fall of 2008. I wasn't in a position to begin thinking seriously about making the film until January 2011. Right around the time I was finishing our poster art in order to issue a press release about the film (and wondering how on earth I was going to convince investors that people would want to see a documentary about hell), Rob Bell came out with his book "Love Wins." Within a month, Bell and hell were on the cover of Time magazine, and all sorts of people came out of the woodwork for and against his views. The timing couldn't have been better for my film. A month after that, we had all of our financing and began shooting.
I know I'm giving a long answer here, but I'll say this about the production: I did a ton of research going in, and I continued to research it throughout the shooting and editing phase, traveling everywhere with a suitcase full of books (in my pre-iPad days). So I thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the topic. But nothing prepared me for the seismic shift in my thinking that making this film and then touring it across North America would bring about. As Reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung said in my interview with him, if you pull at the thread of hell, everything else comes with it. That's certainly been true in my case. You can't examine any theological idea in isolation. Reexamine hell, and that leads automatically to questions about the atonement, the character of God, the nature of biblical authority, and on it goes. It can be a scary process, but for me, it's been liberating. I'm still in the thick of it, so I don't know where or if it will end, but I'm certainly enjoying the ride.
Check Out Part 2 as we dig deeper into this debate and Kevin's Thoughts on it all.
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