Hell's existence as a literal place of eternal conscious torment for sinners provoked lots of questions in the mind of Edward Fudge, a lawyer and Bible scholar, and his search for answers led to a series of books.
Now that search has been dramatized in an award-winning — and likely controversial— motion picture that will be shown twice this weekend at a Rolla church.
It's free and open to anyone interested in Fudge's conclusions about the possibility that a loving God has created a place to torment people who don't measure up to His expectations.
"We're not taking a theological approach. We're taking a student's approach," said Bob McKune, a member of Christ Community Church, the congregation that is bringing "Hell and Mr. Fudge" to Rolla for screenings at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at the church building.
The church is located about half a mile east of the Highway V/Interstate 44 junction on the South Outer Road.
McKune, who learned of the movie through Fudge's instructional and inspirational email subscription service, said he recommends note-taking during the movie.
Most evangelical Christians believe people who trust in Christ will go to heaven when they die, but those who die without repenting and accepting Jesus Christ as their "personal savior" will go to hell after they die.
Hell is described in various ways in the Bible and in popular culture; it is said to be a place of both fire and darkness, extreme sorrow, thirst and loneliness. It has been described as a bottomless pit and a lake of fire. It is said to be a place of eternal torment and the souls that go there are conscious.
But other Christians, including some evangelicals, believe in two other theories of what happens after death.
One is called annihilationism, meaning the soul is obliterated and all consciousness ceases forever. Some theologians who accept this theory say God Himself forgets the person ever existed; it is ultimate separation from God.
Another theory is universalism, meaning all souls will go to the heavenly paradise, wherever that is, perhaps here on a regenerated earth or on a new earth with the Lord Jesus Christ as King.
McKune said Fudge looks into the questions of how and why a good God would or could allow eternal conscious torment as punishment. Fudge also looks into the question of whether mankind has an immortal soul.
"It's all scriptural," McKune said of Fudge's writings and the movie, too. Fudge is a master of both Greek and Hebrew, so he has looked deeply into the meanings of the words in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible.
McKune said he has not seen the movie, sent to the church on DVD, because the rules prohibit his watching it.
Page 2 of 2 - "They said you may show it two times in three days but you can't preview it or copy it," McKune said.
The movie has been shown in some theaters in major cities, but it has not obtained a major distributor for a nationwide theatrical release. The film company offers the movie for showings in church for minimal fees.
What conclusion does Fudge draw? Does he affirm the traditional evangelical Christian view of hell? Or does he promote annihilationism or universalism instead?
"His conclusion is God created the soul," said McKune. "None of us know when it comes into being."
The rest of Fudge's conclusion can be learned at the free screening of the movie, and audience members can judge whether they agree or not.
"Some of us may draw a conclusion. Some of us may not," McKune said.
He stressed the church is neither endorsing nor repudiating whatever Fudge's conclusions are. The congregation just wants to hear various viewpoints.
"We're kind of non-traditional," McKune said. "It's a knowledge thing. We hope we'll learn something."
After the movie, people may want to stick around and talk about it. They might want to break into small groups and discuss it.
"It's all going to be very informal," McKune said.
An offering will not be taken.
An announcement from the Christ Community Church noted the following for parents: "There will be no child care provided, nor facilities available. Parents should note the topic and doctrine of the film in choosing age limits of those to attend. An age limit of 12 years old is generally recommended."