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.
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Thanks John. A couple of points you make here really “hit the nail on the head” for me. Your parenthetic question, “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?”, is one our church is currently asking. A previous post of yours on community is often quoted in my circle to make the case for not “doing” community. From the perspective that we cannot force a manufactured community on people and expect it to produce genuine, Christ-centered relationships, I agree. Where I have difficulty is determining how we foster a sense of community that leads people to desire to function as a body that can pursue mission both corporately as well as personally. Producing community without producing a church culture that is so isolated from the “real” world that it has no reference point from which to relate to it (a “cultural cocoon”) is a puzzling task.
The second statement you made that spoke very directly to me was, “There are no problems that cannot be met if you simply love Jesus enough. This is not real life.” When my marriage was crumbling before my eyes, it was the wise counsel of a dear friend that called me and my wife to honor God by honoring our vows, come what may, that saved it. When we committed to reconcile and to work on the issues that were leading us toward divorce, nothing magical happened. I still didn’t like her and she still didn’t like me. In our previous mindset, that would have been reason to give up on God and marriage all together. It was a call to walk in faith in the midst of a difficult situation that has made our marriage better; not great, but better. If God is ever pleased to give us a marriage that is “happily ever after”, praise God. If He requires us to trust Him in a marriage that tests our faith every day for the next 50 years, praise God, because He will be glorified and we’ll be more like Jesus.
Friend, I couldn’t disagree with you more.
I found great value in the movie – not because of its cultural relevance or because of it’s hipness or excellence. I loved it because it had a very clear, simple and compelling (at least to me!) message: THERE IS HOPE for your marriage, no matter how great or how bad, there is reason to hope that it can be better and should be better if you’re willing to put forth the effort and to build the foundation on Christ. That is a HUGE message that is INCREDBIBLY needed today. I think it was Jimmy Evans who I heard say something like, “We know that practice and effort is critical to success in almost everything we do – in the sports we pursue, in our work lives, in the instruments we play… for some reason, however, we tend to think that once we get married, the work is done and now it’s all about reaping the rewards. No effort required.” In my pastoral counseling I see this all the time. Let’s be honest, in my own life I see this all the time.
So the simple message of HOPE was a huge encouragement to me. I spent $150 to buy tickets to send friends and many of those I’ve been counseling through marriage struggles – and the response from them has been overwhelming too.
So, to reiterate, I couldn’t disagree more my friend!
p.s. I think it was quite well done for the budget it had and that’s not a slam. Budget is a limiting factor and needs to be. From an business standpoint, a film with a message like this can’t have the dollars poured into it like a regular flick – not enough payback.
p.s.s. You conclude by stating that the movie won’t bring someone to Christ. I didn’t know that was one of the purposes of the movie. Maybe it was but everything I saw was not “this is a tool for evangelism” but rather, “we want to challenge you to focus on your marriage”. If evangelism was not one of the purposes of the movie, then I’m not too disappointed that it didn’t achieve that. It doesn’t need an alter call to be a successful. Here’s the stated purpose of the movie from the movie’s website, “Cast and crew understand they are ambassadors for the film’s message of hope… FIREPROOF will have audiences… inching toward the edge of their seats as they are drawn into the world of a firefighter, his wife … and a marriage worth rescuing.” (http://www.fireproofthemovie.com/)
How bout we create a ministry that seeks to get the works of novelists such as Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Francois Mauriac and others of their ilk adapted for and produced in film. I realize that many of my Evangelical brothers will not be happy with the moral and existential complexity of their works, and their lack of a clear Gospel presentation. However, if such works were produced the viewing public would see aesthetically sound films that would confront them with issues regarding sin, the problem of evil, redemption, the nature of God, faith, and what it is to be genuinely human.
I am only half joking about creating a ministry like this.
Artistic: A few scenes rung true, authentic. Most didn’t. Dialog was too precise. However, humor was a welcomed positive factor.
Audience: Seemed odd to see this film in a theater rather than a church auditorium. Even as a pastor I’m struggling to identify the couple in our church and/or community that I’d invite to see this film.
Evangelism: I’m still having difficulty deciding whether I think it wise to direct an unbeliever to progress through a Bible-based workbook on marriage improvement.
Local church: While I agree with John, the film seemed to take us back in time in a sense, it also had a very modern, or to be more precise a postmodern feel in that evangelism, faith, religion, God, redemption, discipleship, etc., are not in any way connected to a local church. The one redeemed fire fighter speaks of his faith, and his Christian spouse, but not his church. The parents are clearly people of faith, but no mention of their church. Even the closing scene where the central couple is renewing their vows takes place outside, not at a church. And there is no suggestion that the newly saved firefighter is moving toward becoming a part of or even considering being a part of a local church.
Although I have not seen the movie, I agree completely with your discussion of movies made by Christians.
I think many of the most brilliant and memorable films that I have watched were made by unbelievers. I heard one critic say that the most popular films in this generation are those that merely serve as an accurate mirror of the angst-ridden culture of suburbia and the post-modern generation.
They are popular simply because they are raw, authentic, and strike a chord. Interestingly, some of these movies, while secular, often challenge me more on my relationship with God and commitment.
How wonderful it would be to have Christian films made by sincere Christians that are quality and thought-provoking! =) Keep us posted with recommendations of any good movies you come across. Finding ones (especially family-friendly) are rare gems.
As a disclaimer I haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t.
Evangelism: I have received so much email and a few direct mail pieces about this film. Most of them concentrate on using it as a tool for evangelism.
The other thing I know about this is that secular entertainment shows have highlighted the fact that Kirk Cameron will not kiss a woman other than his wife on screen. So the kissing scenes are he and his wife, not the woman in the movie. Frankly I don’t know whether to applaud him for holding to a conviction (one that I think is strange) or tell him that this is another instance of when non-Christians think Christians are strange. Has nothing to do with whether the movie is good or not. Just thought it was interesting.
The premise that “There are no problems that cannot be met if you simply love Jesus enough” is a popular one in movies of this sort, and in an enormous number of ministries, for that matter. And it’s a really bad one, too, guaranteed to destroy hope and lives: To say that the only answer you need is to love Jesus translates directly to “…and if things don’t work out, it’s all YOUR fault for not loving Jesus enough!” That’s blaming the victim and, while it’s plenty popular these days, it’s not good and not Christian.
“You’re not rich because you’re not trying.” (Not “there are no jobs since the plant closed/the economy’s tanking/you’re being taken advantage of by greedy employers/your job’s been shipped overseas.”)
“You’re getting a divorce.” (Not “you/your spouse is an abusive jerk/spending too much time drinking/running around/suffering from a borderline personality defect.”)
“You’re losing a leg to diabetes.” (Not “you didn’t have insurance to pay for the meds that could have prevented this/you had undiagnosed Type I diabetes for 30 years and it’s Just Too Late to do anything now.”)
All of these things are real life problems we may face, Christian, pagan, or atheist. Some of these are things you can solve, some are things you can mitigate, and some of them are things you can’t do anything about. Not everyone should remain married. Not everyone will recover from serious illnesses. Evil people rarely die in a timely fashion and good people rarely last nearly as long as we’d like them to. All of these things happen, but blaming the victim of these tragedies for having an inadequate faith is judgmental in a way that is not in keeping with what I perceive as good Christian value, nor will it help the situation.
I disagree COMPLETELY with Adam S. I applaud Kirk Cameron for his conviction.
I know a Christian friend who is an actor who struggled a lot with kissing and even lovemaking scenes in plays and films. He had to make a decision at some point- because take after take of trying to act intimately with another woman took its toll on his emotions and also his relationship. Even kissing was difficult- even when he was merely trying to focus on the technical aspect.
I read that one underwear company- I think Fruit of the Loom maybe- is led by Christians. They required the lingerie models to wear wedding rings when posing as couples. (I have to fact check, but I’m pretty sure I read that in the book Faith in the Halls of Power.) That I found to be sincere in efforts but somewhat strange
I just got back from watching Fireproof… the over all message was solid for sure; how great is it that such a different-flavored movie made it into the regular, big screen!