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Hellbound?


Peter T Chattaway
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And so the battle begins.

I sometimes (okay, often) think that evangelicalism can be like politics in that both sides of conflicts like to engineer conflicts in predictable manners so as to rile up respective bases and have fodder for fundraising, newsletters, blog posts, etc.

Frank Schaeffer responds to the Christianity today article. (warning - his comments are sure to piss some people off.)

Ironically, I mentioned on Peter's Facebook a few weeks ago that Schaeffer in the film had a very different tone/voice than what I expected having become more familiar with Schaeffer as a blogger/pundit. I speculated that some people may be tone deaf in writing but reasonable when you sit down and talk to them (or vice-versa) and wondered if Schaeffer were one of those people who was either unaware of his voice in print or who deliberately crafted a more provocative voice/tone in print. His posts/writings usually come across to me as strident, angry, sarcastic, bombastic, etc. but his comments in the film struck me as pretty thoughtful and a nice contribution to the film.

FWIW, the two biggest complaints in the CT review--lack of focus on a narrower range of particular theologians, and "never takes a stand" were plusses in my book. Some people may want a more editorial film but this one seems to have room to speak to a range of different people. That's (one of) the point(s), isn't it? That there are actually a range of Christian beliefs about hell. (Galli's review comes across to me like he wanted the director to evaluate all the different arguments and state which is correct, whereas the film pretty evidently, imo, thought the viewer capable of doing that evaluation and just wanted to present the various sides.) Yeah, the Westboro people are annoying, but it is not as though the film is about them or that they are the only representatives of more traditional views. (Driscoll makes many similar points but in a more measured tone.) Plus, by juxtaposing lots of different speakers, the film invites us to consider to what extent viewers/listeners respond to content in ANY argument and to what extent they respond to presentation.

(Full disclosure, though I'm sure most everyone on these boards knows, I do write freelance for CT from time to time.)

Edited by kenmorefield
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Kenmorefield said:

:I sometimes (okay, often) think that evangelicalism can be like politics in that both sides of conflicts like to engineer conflicts in predictable manners so as to rile up respective bases and have fodder for fundraising, newsletters, blog posts, etc.

That could very well be true and if so it's a shame.

:and wondered if Schaeffer were one of those people who was either unaware of his voice in print or who deliberately crafted a more provocative voice/tone in print. His posts/writings usually come across to me as strident, angry, sarcastic, bombastic, etc. but his comments in the film struck me as pretty thoughtful and a nice contribution to the film.

I haven't read much from Schaeffer over the years, but in the above mentioned article I read a hint of smartalecy humour behind his bombastic comments. Almost as if he was intentionally trying to get people riled up and was actually chuckling to himself. It seems to me that he knows exactly how to get some people's goat and he's playing on that to challenge them.

:FWIW, the two biggest complaints in the CT review--lack of focus on a narrower range of particular theologians, and "never takes a stand" were plusses in my book. Some people may want a more editorial film but this one seems to have room to speak to a range of different people. That's (one of) the point(s), isn't it? That there are actually a range of Christian beliefs about hell. (Galli's review comes across to me like he wanted the director to evaluate all the different arguments and state which is correct, whereas the film pretty evidently, imo, thought the viewer capable of doing that evaluation and just wanted to present the various sides.) Yeah, the Westboro people are annoying, but it is not as though the film is about them or that they are the only representatives of more traditional views. (Driscoll makes many similar points but in a more measured tone.) Plus, by juxtaposing lots of different speakers, the film invites us to consider to what extent viewers/listeners respond to content in ANY argument and to what extent they respond to presentation.

From listening to several interviews with the filmmakers and following the film's blog I'd say that this is probably a fairly accurate view of their intentions for the film. They wanted to give the various sides a fair representation although the filmmaker does have a certain perspective. To my understanding the process of making the film actually strengthened the director's, and some others who were involved, views on the subject.

Edited by Attica
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If I can weigh in here briefly, I agree with the commentor on Galli's "review" (picture me saying this word while holding it at arm's length due to its foul odor) who said that having Galli review my film is like asking Mitt Romney to review Barack Obama. Seeing as Galli wrote "God Wins," he has too much of a vested interest in a certain camp. It would have been far better to have someone like Scot McKnight or someone similar critique the film, a person who has played the field on the topic of hell. I actually confronted CT Entertainment editor Mark Moring about this, saying it reeked of a set-up. He pleaded innocence, saying he assigns a lot of reviews each week, and seeing as Galli had written on hell recently, he seemed like the ideal choice. He also championed Galli's objectivity. Apparently Frank Schaeffer (and a lot of other folks who have commented on Frank's blog, Galli's review and elsewhere) disagree. Moring also chided me for not arriving at a conclusion in the film, saying he the average CT reader would expect a Christian filmmaker to arrive at a definitive conclusion that there is a literal heaven and hell and universalism isn't the answer. I find that interesting, seeing as he is esentially saying no Christian filmmaker would defend universalism. That pretty much tells the story.

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Moring also chided me for not arriving at a conclusion in the film, saying he the average CT reader would expect a Christian filmmaker to arrive at a definitive conclusion that there is a literal heaven and hell and universalism isn't the answer.

And there is the problem with making films for the CT and Movieguide audiences in a nutshell.

(I don't mean to imply that was your goal, Kevin. Just that it feels like those audiences are not going to be satisfied with any film that goes outside certain parameters.)

Edited by Nezpop

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Welcome Kevin! I look forward to seeing the film.

In juxtaposing Westboro Baptist protesters and an angry Mark Driscoll with calm universalists, the film suggests that those who believe in hell as conscious eternal torment are basically tormented themselves: fearful and judgmental. It never seems to have occurred to the filmmaker that there are thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelicals who believe in hell and may have some pretty strong reasons for doing so. . . .
If there are thoughtful, careful, irenic arguments for a literal hell in which God's justice is only fully satisfied in the unending torture of its occupants, I've never heard them. The "thoughtful" evangelical apologetic tends to be that "Scripture clearly says it's true, so even though i personally find the idea repugnant, I must believe it if i want to be an authentic christian". This is usually followed by a lecture on conservatism and how our self-centered, postmodern culture wants to modify all the hard sayings of Jesus to suit our selfish, liberal leanings. In this context, the apologetic for a literal, eternal hell is not about thoughtfulness and reason, but posturing who's most "true" to Christ and historic Christianity.

Ultimately, this is the only "strong reason" for believing in the doctrine. There's nothing at all in nature or human reason and experience that makes sense of the concept of neverending, conscious torture as payment for temporal sins committed in a human body. Nada. At least the Westboro people understand the ramifications of this belief and stand by it: only a God who actively hates people would inflict this type of brutality on other living creatures.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Which "camp" does Galli have a supposed vested interest in?

Are we just saying that because he wrote a book disagreeing with Rob Bell that his response is disqualified somehow? Or am I missing something?

Painting a picture of Galli toeing a party line seems overstated to me. But, again, maybe I'm missing something?

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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kevinxi wrote:

: I actually confronted CT Entertainment editor Mark Moring about this, saying it reeked of a set-up. He pleaded innocence, saying he assigns a lot of reviews each week, and seeing as Galli had written on hell recently, he seemed like the ideal choice.

Interesting... I had wondered if maybe an actual film review was still on the way, and this was just something more akin to a "commentary"; this is why I have shied away from calling the article a "review" per se, so far. But I guess not; I guess this is it.

: Moring also chided me for not arriving at a conclusion in the film, saying he the average CT reader would expect a Christian filmmaker to arrive at a definitive conclusion that there is a literal heaven and hell and universalism isn't the answer. I find that interesting, seeing as he is esentially saying no Christian filmmaker would defend universalism. That pretty much tells the story.

Oh, the dreaded "average CT reader" (or, even worse, the editor's perception of said reader). The bane of many a CT critic's existence.

What I find bizarre about this whole "doesn't take a stand" / "doesn't arrive at a conclusion" critique is... well, it's two things, mainly. First, there's the fact that you're clearly trying to open up the dialogue around "hell" in your film. Second, I think it's actually pretty clear that your film *leans* in a certain direction, and indeed, Galli even says as much ("In juxtaposing Westboro Baptist protesters and an angry Mark Driscoll with calm universalists...").

Actually, now that I go back and look at Galli's review again, I notice that the phrase "never takes a stand" never comes up in the actual article itself; instead, it is part of the deck, below the headline. Which means it was quite possibly written by some other editor, rather than Galli -- and, as often happens, this other editor may have mischaracterized the article and inserted an opinion of his own into the deck, blissfully unaware that it doesn't really convey what the article actually says.

But if certain CT editors think nothing of inserting their own opinions *under* someone else's byline, then it's hardly surprising that they would insert them *above* the byline, too.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Greg P said:

:This is usually followed by a lecture on conservatism and how our self-centered, postmodern culture wants to modify all the hard sayings of Jesus to suit our selfish, liberal leanings.

Sure. It's another trip up. The ideas are that Hell has to be true ... ... because.....and people are rejecting it because of selfish, liberal leanings. Instead of really looking into what Jesus had said, according to better Bible Translations ect.

:Ultimately, this is the only "strong reason" for believing in the doctrine. There's nothing at all in nature or human reason and experience that makes sense of the concept of neverending, conscious torture as payment for temporal sins committed in a human body. Nada. At least the Westboro people understand the ramifications of this belief and stand by it: only a God who actively hatespeople would inflict this type of brutality on other living creatures.

Great thoughts Greg. I've wondered before if the Westboro crazies are the ones that are actually true to the beliefs they hold. Many others have similar beliefs about God but don't live according to them (more than I care to think about).

Nope there is nothing in nature that makes sense of this concept. In fact fire in the Old Testament is used in the sense of purification. Of course in nature we see fire completely destroying something (at least to ashes.) Or the argument could be made that it burns away what is unnecessary like a forest fire destroying dead and old trees where afterwords the forest was able to grow healthily again.

As to human reason the Bible says that we have the light of Christ inside us and that our conscience is tuned into God's law. So then if the concept of Hell is just..... then why does our conscience recoil against the idea of people who haven't had a fair shake in this life being eternally tormented. Our conscience knows that it isn't just (at least until it gets scathed over... like the Westboro people.)

Many argue that we have problems with hell because of our "fallen nature" being too broken to understand God's ways. I think it's just the opposite, people have a problem with it because there is still something in them that is tuned into God's law. Otherwise if our nature was so fallen and selfish wouldn't we relish the idea of our enemies being tortured mercilessly. I guess though of course .... some Christians do. hmm. Maybe they are the ones whose consiences are scathed over.

:In this context, the apologetic for a literal, eternal hell is not about thoughtfulness and reason, but posturing who's most "true" to Christ and historic Christianity.

Yep. Exactly..... and I'd argue that it's not in the Bible when properly translated. But as I've mentioned elsewhere, when one gets looking into the very early church there were a suprising number of Christians who taught ultimate reconciliation. In fact, in his writings Basil the Great mentions that most Christians believed that there would be an end to the punishments.

There were also some of the very early Christians that believed in annihliation (eternal destruction). Any debate on the manner seemed to be between the annihiliationists and those that believed in ultimate reconciliation. There were those like Justin Martyr and Ireneaus that seemed to teach annihliation (although his understanding of recapitulation fits very well with ultimate reconciliation), and those such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa that taught Apostastacasis.

Augustine was the first to dogmatically teach it and he was reading from Jerome's Latin Vulgate Bible which had bad translations of certain pertinent words.

So that's the thing the view of eternal conscious torment isn't even that historic when compared to the very early church. It's historic when compared to the dark ages of Christianity which occurred shortly after Augustine. Are the dark ages a coincidence or connected?..... I don't know. I do have my questions though.

:in which God's justice is only fully satisfied in the unending torture of its occupants

If God endlessly tortures sinners then his justice would never be fully satisfied though. Would it. wink.png

: I've never heard them. The "thoughtful" evangelical apologetic tends to be that "Scripture clearly says it's true, so even though i personally find the idea repugnant, I must believe it if i want to be an authentic christian".

: that makes sense of the concept of neverending, conscious torture as payment for temporal sins committed in a human body.

But scripture doesn't clearly say it's true. Even some of the people who believe in eternal torments are starting to say that the Bible isn't as clear on this as they had originally thought.

Jesus never really taught it (in better Bible translations) and in fact said a few things very different from this. Related to the idea of temporal sins being paid through eternal torments, why is it then that Jesus makes a point of mentioning the sin of unforgivness ....."if you are not forgiving, neither will your father in heaven be forgiving your offences" Mark 11:26. Yet elsewhere he tells the parable of the King who didn't forgive (Matthew 18:23-35.) At the end of the account his says this about the man who wouldn't forgive "And being indignant his Lord gives him up to the tormentors until he may pay all that he is owing him".

The word until means that once all is payed the punishment will end. So what we have is Jesus saying that those who don't forgive will not be forgiven but instead will be punished until their debt is paid. This is not eternal conscious torment for a finite sin.... one that Jesus makes a specific point of mentioning in his sayings.

Edited by Attica
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Nicholas said:

:Which "camp" does Galli have a supposed vested interest in?

I think the idea is that Galli would have interest in the infernalist camp as Christianity Today caters towards, and is supported mostly by evangelicals many (at least in its leadership) who want to shut down the current conversation/debate about hell and move Christianity back to the "traditional" (although it's not as traditional as many think) understanding of hell. The concept is a belief that Galli is one of these leaders who wants to shut down the conversation.

:Are we just saying that because he wrote a book disagreeing with Rob Bell that his response is disqualified somehow? Or am I missing something?

Not that his response is disqualified, but that because of his book he had too much vested in a certain side to properly review the film. Some such as Frank Schaeffer believe that this shows in his review.

:Painting a picture of Galli toeing a party line seems overstated to me. But, again, maybe I'm missing something?

I think the idea that Frank was getting at is a belief that Galli was one of the ones who wrote a book in order to try and shut down the conversation about hell after Rob Bell's book. Therefore he could likely have an interest in shutting down any similar conversation or leanings that might come out of Kevin's film.

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This would make the group an excellent subject for the film, imo.

And they are. Check out The Most Hated Family in America. Very well done doc.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Is there a particular place where Galli has come across as wanting to "shut down the conversation"? Or is that the overall impression of his book? Does his opinion give off that implication?

Also (and this is more a genuine question than anything), doesn't Galli merely believe in a hell? Has he specifically said, "Hey, it's almost definitely conscious, eternal torment with literal fire"?

Check out The Most Hated Family in America. Very well done doc.

Yes, agreed.

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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Is there a particular place where Galli has come across as wanting to "shut down the conversation"? Or is that the overall impression of his book? Does his opinion give off that implication?

I think it's an overall impression although some people seem to indicate that they have information saying that there is an attempt (not necessarily by Galli) to shut down the conversation. I haven't read his book, but it came as a direct response to Rob Bell's book. So either he wants to shut down the conversation, or protect people from the "waywardness" of Rob Bell's book. Or both.

The general idea the Frank was getting at that Galli is one of the "evangelical gatekeepers" (in Frank's understanding. I think) that want to stop thought about ultimate reconciliation. I of course don't know Galli and can't read his mind. But there are a growing number of Christians who are saying that this sort of gatekeeping does exist in evangelical circles.

Edited by Attica
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This would make the group an excellent subject for the film, imo.

And they are. Check out The Most Hated Family in America. Very well done doc.

Yeah. I've seen that one. Theroux does about as a good a job handling those people as any journalist I can think of.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Look, I don't really consider myself a Galli defender and I don't want to come across as protecting any "camp." Full disclosure: I think there are good reasons to hope that all will be saved in Christ, and I would consider myself (as of now) an inclusivist who thinks hell's primary punishment is separation from God. And I'm sympathetic to the annihilation argument if only because of sin qua nothingness/disintegration.

All that said, based on my own impressions of Galli, I feel like he's not being characterized all that fairly. But I haven't read everything, so it's just an impression.

Another thing: I'm also very wary about what I think is reasonable/acceptable, because what's considered reasonable is so couched within a time and place.

Edited by Nicholas

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
Filmwell, Twitter, & Letterboxd

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Given that a few voices have appeared in this thread in response to comments made both here and in private, I hope that this thread doesn't devolve into something less meritorious. Can we keep this about the film and handle the CT editorial history stuff in pms and emails?

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Look, I don't really consider myself a Galli defender and I don't want to come across as protecting any "camp." Full disclosure: I think there are good reasons to hope that all will be saved in Christ, and I would consider myself (as of now) an inclusivist who thinks hell's primary punishment is separation from God. And I'm sympathetic to the annihilation argument if only because of sin qua nothingness/disintegration.

All that said, based on my own impressions of Galli, I feel like he's not being characterized all that fairly. But I haven't read everything, so it's just an impression.

Another thing: I'm also very wary about what I think is reasonable/acceptable, because what's considered reasonable is so couched within a time and place.

Nicholas. Just in case you misread me. In my replies I wasn't intending to come against you or attack you, if I came across that way I apologize. I was simply trying to place together the reasons why some folks would have this impression of Galli's review. You might be right, maybe he isn't being characterized all that fairly. But if so, I can see how some people could make that mistake, considering various things surrounding the situation.

Edited by Attica
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markmoring wrote:

: Apparently Peter is still miffed about his dismissal from the team of CT film critics.

Clarification: I quit writing for the CT Movies Blog, for a host of reasons that I won't get into here. After I quit, you posted a snarky comment about me here at A&F (a comment that was deleted after I notified one of the moderators). I then called you on it privately, after which you told me you didn't want me to continue writing for CT Movies after the end of the year, and I then replied that I didn't want to write the reviews that had already been lined up for the rest of the year. So the split was pretty mutual.

I would also note that I avoided saying anything about this to the other CT writers, but eventually I heard through the grapevine that you had sent a message to all the other writers behind my back, accusing me of doing something that I had not, in fact, done. And to my knowledge, you've never apologized for that anywhere. Oh, and you deleted my byline from all of my blog posts. So, there's that, too.

: But he chronically missed deadlines . . .

Yes, the year I became a full-time stay-at-home dad was not an easy one.

: . . . and argued vehemently about every single edit, however minute.

Not true, but, as I indicated in my earlier post, I do think it is a basic matter of principle that editors should never insert their own opinions into other people's opinion pieces (including reviews).

I do know that I wasn't the only writer who had problems with the way you treated both us and our articles, and indeed I was not the first writer to quit contributing to CT Movies because of this. But that's all I'm going to say about that in this forum.

Apologies to the board for this brief tangent. Back to Hellbound?, I hope.

M. Leary wrote:

: Can we keep this about the film and handle the CT editorial history stuff in pms and emails?

Sorry, just noticed this post. (It was on the 3rd page; the post I was replying to was on the 2nd page.) I have said my piece and will definitely refrain from saying any more about that in this thread. I did have to reply to some of the charges that were made, though.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Oh no, I don't feel that way in the least, Attica. No apology necessary.

Good. Cheers.

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Seeing Persiflage's* latest comment in the current 'Theology' thread got me thinking... would C.S. Lewis be a "professional theologian"? Certainly not, I would think, as he was actually an English professor. But his writings about Christian faith have been profoundly influential. So if Kevin had had the good fortune to interview Lewis (whose views on Hell *are* mentioned in the film), would that have satisfied anyone who thought the film was lacking in quasi-conservative academic credentials?

*Sorry, haven't memorized your current handle yet!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Another interview with the filmmaker.

It's a tour de force of a movie that grabs you from the very first interview with Margie and Jonathan Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church right up until the final words of quiet conviction from theologian Robin Parry of The Evangelical Universalist. With those two as bookends to the compelling theological discussion inside, Hellbound? is sure to ignite a firestorm of criticism, outrage, relief, and kudos from around the Christian landscape.

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I have deleted my previous comments from this forum. After further thought and prayer -- and in respect to M. Leary's plea to keep the discussion about the film -- I've decided not to join in on saying negative things about other people, or get into he-said/she-said battles. It's just not productive -- or appropriate -- in this public forum.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Here's a pretty good review of the film. Simple yet comprehensive.
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