When it comes to the debate on hell, Kevin Miller sees nothing short of an ugly battle where Christians tend to dehumanize those who disagree with their views and show little humility.
"Something that tends to happen during these debates is that certain beliefs or doctrines ... become a sort of litmus test to help determine insiders and outsiders, to help people figure out 'are you one of us or one of them?'" the filmmaker observed.
Miller – whose previous work includes "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" with Ben Stein – is the writer and director of an upcoming documentary titled "Hellbound?" and in it he explores the many questions and the even greater number of beliefs people hold in regards to hell.
Along with theologians and pastors – including Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church and Brian McLaren – the documentary features heavy metal musicians, exorcists and people who claimed to have seen hell firsthand.
But this isn't just an academic discussion or a matter of a personal belief system, Miller says. There are real world consequences in terms of where people come down on this issue.
"We are called to imitate God, to imitate Christ. So the question becomes 'what kind of a God are we imitating?" he poses.
Miller doesn't reveal what his views on hell are, saying it's not important and that the film isn't a vehicle to promote his beliefs.
But he revealed in an earlier interview with author Ron Dart that for the last 27 years of his life, he has been asking a lot of questions.
"It's almost like you become a Christian and you have this conversion experience ... but something else seemed to creep in," said Miller, who came to faith through the Mennonite Church and currently attends an Anglican Church. "It's like a virus, really, that begins to grow. I think there's a danger of the virus overwhelming the host because some of these questions that aren't properly dealt with begin to overwhelm this foundational faith that you thought you had at the beginning."
He knows the film is going to be controversial, considering the topic, but he says he doesn't "come into this looking for controversy."
"I come into this looking for truth, looking for answers."
Filming for "Hellbound?" began last June, just after the debate over Rob Bell's book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, erupted.
Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, had expressed his struggle with the concept that only a select few would make it to heaven and that billions of people would burn forever in hell.
Many evangelicals denounced the book over its suggested rejection of an eternal hell and the notion that it will all work out in the end for everyone (that is, God will forgive everyone).
The labels "heretic" and "universalist" were thrown Bell's way amid the debate.
The Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the country – even passed a resolution last June specifically in response to the Bell controversy. The church body affirmed its belief in "the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell" and that "the Bible clearly teaches that God will judge the lost at the end of the age."
Miller noticed that a lot of fear, anger and emotion were injected into the debate about hell. He also understood that "when someone challenges your belief on hell, pretty much everything else is on the table."
But seeing too many Christians throwing rocks first and asking questions later, Miller wants to challenge them to start thinking about why they believe what they believe.
He has met many who argued that the Bible is clear on this subject. But his response is, "If it's so clear, why don't we agree?"
Even within the traditional belief of hell – the idea that the wicked will be sent into some form of eternal conscious torment – the views are diverse, he says.
"Do people choose to go to hell or does God send them there? Does God predestine some people? Are punishments in hell actively perpetuated by God or are they a product of God withdrawing His presence? Are they literal or figurative?"
In the end, Miller hopes Christians will show more grace in the ongoing debate.
"We all in our minds, we all privilege our position as if it's got a leg up on everyone else," he said. "We just have to have a lot of grace and humility. And that's not easy."
"Hellbound?" is set for release in the fall. The film is currently being promoted at festivals, the next one being the June 14-16 Atlanta Fest.
On the Web: http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/