By Kay Campbell, Religion News Service…
ATHENS, Ala.—Black and white. Heaven and hell. Right and wrong.
Blur or question those lines and, well, all hell can break out.
At least it did for Edward Fudge in the early 1980s in this small northern Alabama hamlet.
Mr. Fudge was a young Church of Christ preacher who also worked in his father’s publishing company. When he began to teach a doctrine of hell that contradicted the traditional view of a place of eternal fiery torment for the damned, a quick succession of events cost him his job and his pulpit.
A new film, Hell and Mr. Fudge, compresses the events of the years when Mr. Fudge, now a Houston-based lawyer and internationally known Bible teacher and author, began an intensive study of the Bible and the doctrine of hell. What he found made him question one of the bedrock doctrines of Christianity.
The feature movie, which was filmed in Athens last year by the nonprofit religious education organization LLT Productions, won a Platinum Award during its premiere at Worldfest, the Houston Film Festival. Producers are shopping the film to find national distribution.
Mr. Fudge’s conclusion that hell is a place of destruction, not torture, got him fired from his pulpit. The fact that he asked a black preacher to pray at a revival didn’t help.
“My life went in a direction I didn’t anticipate—or particularly want,” Mr. Fudge said in an interview. “But at every step, God’s been there to make happen what he wants to happen. I’ve just kind of been along for the ride.”
To outsiders and even some Christians, the debate over the nature of hell may seem like splitting theological hairs. But for Christians who orient their lives around a literal understanding of biblical teaching, the belief in eternal hell is seen as an essential truth.
Hell can be the third rail of Christian teaching—step on it and you’re bound to get jolted. Last year, Michigan evangelical megachurch pastor Rob Bell found himself on the cover of Time magazine when his book, Love Wins, questioned traditional notions of hell. Many conservative leaders swiftly denounced him.
Mr. Fudge’s independence of mind and determination to dig deep into the Bible—and then to stand for what he believes despite vehement opposition—is what makes the film transcend narrow questions of theology, said Pat Arrabito, director of the Angwin, Calif.-based LLT Productions, which made the movie.
“Even though this is a specific story about a specific train of events, this has wide appeal,” Ms. Arrabito said. “This is the story of someone who had to change their mind—and it wasn’t easy. And then he had to stand up for what he believes.”