Some of the critics were quite critical concerning my dysfunctional little family of fellow believers. For the record, I have been willing to admit that we Christians are often flawed in how we live out our faith. The title of my first book (When Bad Christians Happen to Good People) might be a clue that I understand that Christians often miss the mark. And I understand that trying to communicate a message as complex as the need for justification and salvation is tough within a two hour movie.
I saw the movie Fireproof before I read a single review. Only after seeing the movie did I read what is being said about the movie. To say the least, I found some of the comments puzzling. This movie did not hide it's intent under a rock.
Here is a brief synopsis of the plot. Kirk Cameron plays the role of firefighter Caleb Holt. He is successful and respected at work but not at home and his anger bubbles over at the smallest slight. Wife Catherine has grown distant from her self-centered husband. Caleb obsesses over buying a boat and has an internet pornography problem. Catherine begins to find the kindness and conversation missing at home from a doctor at the hospital where she works as public relations director. She seeks a divorce. Caleb finally goes to his dad who suggests faith was the reason his own marriage was saved and also following a forty day program called the “love dare”. Caleb refuses faith at first but does begrudgingly agree to try the “love dare” program. The rest of the movie deals with Caleb’s search for faith and saving his marriage.
Here is a sampling of some critics with my comments following. Boston Globe writer Michael Hardy wrote this.
At the last minute, Caleb's father steps in with a 40-day marriage recovery guide, which he's written and guaranteed to work.
Caleb’s dad did not make any sort of “guarantee” that the love dare would work. He did say it worked for his own marriage. And that is the point of this movie. Faith works for the writer. Faith works for the actors and production volunteers. Faith works for this humble blogger. But faith is never a guarantee that everything will work as you wish. That is clear throughout the Bible. Mr.Hardy continues.
With the production values of a straight-to-video cheapie and the script of a mediocre soap opera, "Fireproof" is good for just about one thing: dousing whatever flames might be left in your marriage.
Ouch. And unfair. My wife of thirty-two years and I both thought the movie had a great message. Perhaps that is because we lived this movie. I did not have an anger problem but I did have a self-absorbed problem and a work-a-holic problem. She reached the end of her rope and was thinking about separation. My rededication to my Christian faith changed me. It changed how I treated my wife and reordered my priorities. Her faith allowed her to forgive me and eventually trust me again. If I put that story to paper it might sound like a mediocre soap opera. But it was life saving for us.
The comments about the production values are fair game but must be placed in context. I would suggest that the production values are remarkable considering the budget. The $500,000 budget is ridiculously low for a movie. I found the full budget for the movie “The Village” that was produced in 2004. That movie budgeted nearly twice as much for makeup ($982,000) as director Alex Kendrick spent on his entire movie. Their previous film (Facing the Giants) was produced for $100,000 and generated over 10 million dollars. That profit has built an 82 acre youth sports program in Georgia. You might disrespect the quality of the production but the quality of the people behind the films is demonstrated by that gesture.
Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly made these comments.
You probably can't blame pastors moonlighting as moviemakers for wanting to pack their film with multiple messages, but the conversion subplot feels shoehorned into the more crucial marital doings, as if coming to Jesus might be just one of a long checklist of steps to restore sizzle to your marriage, right between buying roses and preparing a candlelit dinner.
That just makes followers of Jesus chuckle. The question of salvation is hardly a “shoehorned” subplot for believers. It is the key plot element to life for Christians.
Neil Genzlinger had a fair and thoughtful review in the NY Times.
“Fireproof” may not be the most profound movie ever made, but it does have its commendable elements, including that rarest of creatures on the big (or small) screen: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy.
That is actually a very real compliment. Look at how conservative Christians are generally portrayed on television and in movies.
Whooo-eeee…. a Christian who doesn’t sound crazy! Baby steps.
And maybe with other folks as well: among those caring-for-marriage tips are some that anyone could use to improve any type of relationship, with or without the God part.
That is one of my takeaways from the movie. The relationship was worth saving but communication had died. The “love dare” allowed communication to begin to slowly take place. I would suggest the “God part” is a very big deal in the equation. Since my faith saved my marriage is it wrong to desire that others have that same option to consider?
I thought this comment from writer Ken Hanke of the Asheville Mountain Express was thought provoking.
Co-critic Justin Souther, who watched most of Fireproof with me, pegged it when he remarked, “The problem with movies like this, with people like you and me, is that they drive us further away from accepting Christianity.” That neatly sums up the central drawback. Fireproof isn’t merely preaching to the already converted; it’s helping to further alienate the unconverted and the skeptical. I doubt that was the intention, but it pretty much is the result with films such as these. The simplistic and often self-righteous tone is off-putting.
That just makes me sad. I can see how the aggressive message of the movie would be off-putting to those not interested in hearing it. That was Hankes response. But I think others are touched and moved toward faith by efforts like this. I would agree that the script made the lead character’s conversion a bit too simplistic and predictable. I would also suggest that in this case self-righteous is in the ear and eye of the beholder. My personal prayer is that I will never come across as self-righteous or off-putting. Jesus changed my life. I naturally want to share that with others. But always with grace. I pray that I will never drive anyone further away from accepting Christ. Here is snippet from an article I wrote about proselytizing.
If I care about you I will naturally want to share the most important thing in my life. But I think you have some rights as the hearer of that message. I wrote the following in my book When Bad Christians Happen to Good Christians.
- The Unbelievers Bill of Rights…
I have the right to never have faith forced on me.
I have the right to never be treated in a condescending manner.
I have the right to always hear the truth.
I have the right for you to patiently hear my concerns and doubts.
I have the right to seek answers to those questions and doubts that you can’t answer.
I have the right to be steered to resources for my own study and investigation.
I have the right to be loved no matter how I respond to the gospel message.
I hope that I honor you by following the list above. I hope you will understand that my wanting to let you know about the most important thing in my life honors you as well. My desire is for you to experience the peace, joy and contentment that Christ has given to me. God only comes into lives when invited. You have every right to reject my message and the invitation. But I want to let you know that invitation changed my life completely. I hope you believe that I feel no superiority, judgment or impatience with you. I just wanted you to know. The rest is up to you.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.