The new movie Fireproof is is conceived and produced by the same folks who brought us Facing the Giants, the football movie that stirred some evangelicals so deeply. The congregation of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, is to be commended for its noble efforts to present the gospel to modern men and women. The church, and numerous friends of this congregation, have invested thousands of dollars and probably millions of hours of personal sacrifice to produce these two films. I have no doubt that some people have been profoundly changed by seeing both films. I saw Facing the Giants on DVD and I saw Fireproof in the theater a few weeks ago. I had not planed to go but more than a few Christian friends urged me to, so I spent an afternoon at the theater.
Fireproof highlights the marriage of a non-Christian couple in Albany. The man (Caleb), played by Kirk Cameron, is a firefighter, thus the title. His wife (Catherine) is fed up with Caleb's control, and thus seeks a divorce. But Caleb's dad and mom, who did not rear him in a Christian home but have now been converted, sincerely long to help their son. They begin to pray and work to save the couple and their marriage. It is hard not to give too much away but the movie and the ending are "happily-ever after" Christian romanticism.
The movie is replete with Christian language and cultural forms, including a real cross and a real "invite Jesus into your heart scene" that may still work in Albany, Georgia. I seriously doubt that it will work with the majority of Americans who might somehow find their way into the theater to see this film. My honest opinion is that the fairly significant opening weekend box for this film came from Christians who were urged to attend. (Is it not interesting that Christians will come out in large numbers for a film but so few would attend a prayer meeting for repentance and renewal, or a conference on serious theology?)
Anyway, the film might well help some Christians who are in tense and unhappy marriages. I would say this is the one great strength of the film. Those who already know Christ will think twice about some simple, basic principles that might strengthen their marriage commitment. But as an evangelism project this film is dead in the water. This is not because the film doesn't try or isn't sincere. It is because this is a project that would have worked in the 1950s and 1960s much better than today. It underscores how far removed so many conservative Christians are from the real world of 2008.
When I left the cinema I thought back to the Billy Graham feature films of the 1960s and 1970s. They were far more relevant to their times than this film is to our own age. And they included far more biblical content and faithful preaching since Dr. Graham was always featured preaching the gospel. This film is way too formulaic, filled with numerous "insider" cliches, and more like an after-school soap-opera for young Christians than a really serious feature film. Sadly, it underscores how so many Christians are incapable of making a quality film even though their hearts are in the right place.
There are no tensions in this film that go unresolved. There are no problems that cannot be met if you simply love Jesus enough. This is not life. I fear that it will actually help to drive many earnest people away from the faith. In my estimation the congregation in Albany would have been better to invest all its money and energy in planting new churches, but then these churches would have likely invested their money in the same kind of film. The problem is inside the church. We have an inadequate view of the gospel, of sin, and of what real faith really looks like in daily life. This film will not help to restore the right view at all. It may actually help keep many Christians stuck in the same "cultural cocoon" that they happily live in while they fail to understand what has happened to their world and to their neighbors since 1970. If you want to reach you neighbor with the gospel, spend an evening with them and let them talk to you. Then really listen before you respond. I think it is likely that you will do far more good than you would if you took them to see Fireproof.