Friday, January 1, 2016

Fireproofing The Movie Fireproof


I first watched Sherwood Pictures Fireproof nearly eight years ago through the lenses of a person going through a separation of what I believed to be my wife of 18 years. I cried throughout the whole movie. It was as if the movie was directly related to my life and the circumstances surrounding the separation. I was waiting on my spouse, believing, hoping and praying that we could restore the marriage. I believed I was doing all the right things to change my heart to be more like Christ so that she would see that I was a new person. That was eight years ago…today I view Fireproof much differently.

The movie Fireproof is the third movie from Sherwood Pictures written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The movie is based on Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron), a respected Captain fireman who is facing the possible separation and divorce from his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea). Caleb is approached by his Christian dad John Holt (Harris Malcom) to save his marriage by spending 40 days in what is known as the “Love Dare”. In the process of saving his marriage, Caleb faces the fact it is he who needs to change. 

Apart from the cheesy comedy and less than spectacular acting, the movie makes the point that marriage is holy. What the writers intend to show is that marriage is God’s plan and that apart from the love of Christ, one cannot truly love his or her spouse apart from believing the Gospel. The center theme is that marriage is a representation of the Gospel and the writers make it clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of what it takes to love a person even when they do not deserve that love.

The Lord Jesus Christ loved us while we were yet undeserving sinners. When we by faith believe that Christ redeemed us from our sins, we enter into a covenant relationship with Him.  Marriage is a reflection of that covenant love that Christ has for His bride, the church. I believe that Fireproof does a very excellent job in conveying the grace, mercy and love of a husband for his wife. 

The concept of the marketable “Love Dare” is to show unconditional love to a spouse for a period of 40 days. In a pivotal scene, Caleb attends to his sick, but very reluctant wife Catherine. Up to this point, Catherine has all but made up her mind to leave Caleb, but Caleb has persistently shown unconditional love despite her lack of trust in him. In this pivotal scene, Catherine discovers the Love Dare booklet from Caleb’s dad, and asks Caleb what day he is on. Caleb tells her 43, and a curious Catherine replies, “There’s only 40”, in which Caleb responds, “Who says I have to stop?”

The idea that a husband should pursue his wife is wonderfully displayed in the movie. I do not question the intent of this movie and the intent of Sherwood Pictures in providing an accurate description of what loving your spouse looks like. Nor do I question the intent of showing people that apart from the love of Christ, we are dead in our sins. This scene ends with a tearful Caleb convincingly apologizing (repenting) to tearful Catherine for his awful ways.  

The key scene (Scene 16) the writers will tell you revolves around Caleb making a decision of salvation by accepting Christ as His personal Savior. This key scene involves Caleb’s dad asking Caleb to make a decision about his life. It is after this eternal decision that we she a change in Caleb and that he is determined to love his wife like Christ loved us. There is no mistaking this point of the movie. We as the viewers begin to see that Caleb is a new person.

The next scene (Scene 17) involves Caleb telling his lieutenant Michael Simmons (Kevin Bevel) that he is “in”. Michael is Caleb’s friend and reliable lieutenant, and throughout the movie we learn that Michael has a strong foundation in the Lord. Prior to Caleb’s conversion, Michael was known as a Christian by his fellow firefighters. Caleb wanted Michael to know of his new found faith and this scene depicts the kinship of those in Christ.  As stated, the prior scene is the key scene in the movie, and I believe this follow-up scene is equally important on many levels.  

The importance of this scene is reflected in Caleb’s response to Michael’s marriage to Tina (Carla Hawkins). Caleb says to Michael, “At least you haven’t had to face divorce.” In which Michael responds, “I wish that were true.”

Michael proceeds to tell Caleb that he is in his second marriage and that he married and divorced from his first wife (no mention of her name) for all the wrong reasons. Michael said he was just “following his heart”.

This scene is where I believe that Sherwood Pictures, the Kendrick brothers and the whole production subverts the word of God. Up until this point, we can understand that the Gospel is unconditional love to a fallen world and that marriage is a perfect example of unconditional love. We can also understand that apart from salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ we are dead in our sins. We can also understand that marriage is God’s design and not susceptible to man’s definition or the “following of one’s heart.” 

The Bible clearly paints a picture that every living person is without excuse to know God (Romans 1:18-20) and they are fools of they say there is no God (Psalm 14:1). The Bible says that man’s heart is corrupt and to follow our hearts is desperately wicked. When we say we do not know God, we are saying we do not fear God. If a person dies without knowing God through the finished work of Christ, they will be without excuse. They cannot say, “I never knew you God, so I must enter your kingdom based on me believing that I never knew God.” 

If this is true of salvation, what does it say on the things of God? If marriage is God’s design and is an outward sign of His creation and a reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ’s love for us, does one have the excuse that marriage is anything other than God’s design? 

Sherwood Pictures wants the viewer to believe that a marriage is worth fighting for and that the right circumstances can lead to a restored marriage, and more importantly, a new life in Christ. Sherwood Pictures wants the viewer to have a clear view of God and His love, righteousness, faithfulness, and His truth, yet they want us to believe that a divorce can end a marriage and that a “remarriage” is a marriage in the Lord? 

On two occasions in God’s word we see the Lord Jesus Christ say that marriage is from the beginning (Genesis 2:24) and that what God has joined let no man put asunder. (Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9) There is two very important concepts in these passages. The first is that the law of marriage (see Romans 7:2,3) came before the fall of man into sin and the second is that the law of marriage has precedence over the “idea” that a divorce can end a one-flesh marriage covenant bond. If man is without excuse to know God, then man is without excuse to know that a marriage covenant cannot end until death of one or both spouses.

The whole length of the Bible is about God’s love for His creation and the pages unfold into the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Marriage is the clear picture of the Gospel and represents the Creator’s reconciling to His creation. You cannot separate marriage from the Gospel. (Eph 5:31-32)

In this scene 17, Michael explains that he married and divorced before knowing the Lord, and that when he tried to “reconcile” the marriage it was too late because his first wife had already “remarried”. Here are some rhetorical questions:

If Michael’s wife “remarried”, who remarried her? God, or man?


1 Cor 7:10,11 says, And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.


A wife (Michael’s wife, not his “current “remarried” wife), if divorced (Michael claims he divorced) is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. 

Who “remarried” Michael’s wife, and is this marriage a marriage “In the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39)?
It is most likely Michael’s wife went to a church that accepted her story that Michael was a loser and an unbeliever, and that her state accepted divorce decree “freed” her into remarrying another man. Based on the widely popular and readily acceptable Westminster Confession of Faith of Divorce and Remarriage, it was fairly easy for Michael’s wife to attend a few marriage classes, become a member at this particular church, and pay the necessary fees to get a “remarriage”. 

The most unlikely scenario (and least talked about) is that she went to a Justice of the Peace and remarried without the consent of her pastor who told her to remain “unmarried” should Michael come to know the Lord. She disregarded the pastor’s warnings that her “remarriage” is not a marriage in the Lord and that she will remain in adultery if she remains in a remarriage. 

We know Michael repented of his sins and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, and we also know that Michael believed that his marriage ended in a divorce.  Unfortunately, the word of God says that a marriage cannot end in divorce and Michael’s second marriage places him in an adulterous union as well. 

If Michael is in an adulterous union, why does Sherwood pictures present the idea that his remarriage is acceptable? 

Great question. If I were to write, produce, and direct a movie called Fireproof, it would include a man (Michael) who unilaterally divorced (no-fault divorce) his wife against her will. His estranged wife knew Michael was exactly like Caleb (A rude, conceited, sexually immoral jerk.). After the divorce and before his conversion, she went to another accepting, all grace, no truth mega-church (not the same one as Pastor Strauss’s (Alex Kendrick) church). There she found another divorced man who asked her to marry him. They both went through all the right steps and loops to ensure that their second marriages were “for life”, and that divorce was out of the question…

Michael tells Caleb that he will remain in covenant with his wife despite her actions and the actions of the other mega-church.  Michael explained to her and the pastor who remarried her that he is a new man in Christ. Michael also explained to her and her pastor that they had no right to sanctify her adultery and that her new church subverted the word of God to allow her to believe that God honored her “remarriage” vows while he is still ALIVE.

Michael would lovingly tell Caleb that his marriage is for life and that even should Catherine divorce him and shack up with Dr. Keller (A flirtatious “other man” who tries to win Catherine from her husband), Caleb is responsible to honor the marriage vow he made before God. Michael would tell Caleb that he is not responsible for Catherine’s vow to him, he would tell Caleb that she is responsible before God with her vow to him. Michael would continue to tell Caleb to speak truthfully about marriage to Catherine and to remain in the “Love Dare” even until his or her death.   

Why did Sherwood use the “divorce and remarriage” scenario for Michael if it wasn’t the truth of God’s word?

Mostly they believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith has precedence over the Bible in the case of divorce and remarriage. Never mind that over the years that many theologians and men of God have believed that scripture points to marriage permanence and that divorce (A true reflection of a hard heart) was a means to reconcile the marriage or remain unmarried, rather than a loophole to remarry another. 

Perhaps it is because so many are divorced and remarried at Sherwood, and it is less stressful, less threatening, and financially appropriate to accept the idea that grace trumps truth then to accept a perfect combination of grace and truth pointing to marriage permanence. The easy way out is to exit the marriage and start over. It is far too problematic to save a marriage as a body of Christ then it would be to mind your own business and send the divorcee off to DivorceCare. The problem with this is that it sells marriage as anything other than God’s design. This idea takes away the power of God and places the power in the hands of men. 

Then there is the idea that culture and the ways of the world have precedence over God’s ways. Same-sex marriage is old news, and even older than that is unilateral divorce. If the institutionalized church has already succumbed to state issued divorce and marriage redefinition, it is only a matter of time when marriage is not even necessary.   

If Sherwood presented the truth of marriage, then would this not convict the divorced and remarried that to remain in their remarriages is sinful? 

I like to compare “remarriage” with kidnapping. If I know kidnapping is wrong and kidnapped your child, what would “repenting” of kidnapping look like? If I repented and kept your child, did I repent? Remarriage is “spousenapping” a spouse from a covenant marriage and not giving that spouse back. You may say: “Kidnapping is against the person’s will, remarriage is most likely the willful result of a person’s consent to divorce.” Unfortunately, a one-flesh covenant marriage vow gives up the right of individualism because God joins two to become ONE. God cements a couple to become one flesh until death. It is adultery and remains adultery the moment a spouse ‘thinks” (Not just acts…) he or she can leave a covenant marriage and join to another while their spouse is still alive. A “remarriage” is sanctifying that adultery. Repenting of adultery is exiting the thought that a “remarriage” is anything other than adultery.   

Imagine if the modern church had a spirit of Ezra and today she stated that no longer will she recognize divorce as a means to end marriage covenant and that all “remarriages” were null and void. Would there be a revival, or would there be chaos? I believe there would be both, but only for one generation. Sin always has consequences, and the consequences of “remarriage adultery” would be substantial. However, the succeeding generations would benefit greatly from the dissolution of present remarriages. Here are my previous posts on convictions of dissolving remarriages and solutions of preserving marriages.

In conclusion, Fireproofing the movie Fireproof would be a rather simple task. It would include rewriting the script on one character (Michael). Only time will tell of the eternal implications of continuing to endorse the movie under the current definition of marriage. I pray that Sherwood Pictures and all those involved with making this picture possible would reflect on the content of the Gospel in light of their understanding of divorce and remarriage. 

A hypothetical “Love Dare” is trusting in the Lord regardless of the outcome. Forty-three days is whole lot less than eternity, and once the Church has an understanding and an irrevocable commitment to display and define committing to a vow of marriage, the world can truly understand the love God has for us. I pray that those who read this are convicted by the Holy Spirit and that we can know that marriage means so much more to God than we have ever thought possible.
When we see marriage do we see the love of Christ?...and to echo the words of John Holt (Caleb’s dad) as he leans up against a wooden cross right after Caleb’s self-absorbed tirade.

“That’s a good question.”

In Christ’s love,

Neil  

2 comments:

Unilateral Divorce Is Unconstitutional said...

There does indeed need to be a standers' story, and perhaps the story of a righteous pastor being won over by the truth and witness that withstands the pasting by congregation, denomination and peers that occurs when he is suddenly convicted of all the souls involved and starts preaching the truth with a sense of urgency -- against the backdrop of all the drama of ISIS crouching at the border, tax exemptions being stripped from churches by homofascism, and the pending return of Christ. It could be immensely powerful, especially if it shows the process of one or two couples in the church heeding his message and voluntarily coming of their adultery to stand and/or reconcile, but triggering more worldly blame on this pastor.

I'm scribbling away at ideas in a composition book and committing them to prayer in the upcoming year.

Neil Novotnak said...

In recent days I have revisited this movie and wanted to make some important comments that I left out in my post. In particular, I wanted to address the depiction of the wife (Catherine Holt) in this movie and the writer’s inability to address some very key issues.

It is clear to me that she was not a Christian during the length of this movie and only briefly at the end of the movie do we see that it may appear that she made a commitment to Christ. However, there was very little attempt by the writers in addressing Catherine’s sins in the film. In particular, the writers did not address her adulterous affair in the film, and nor did they feel it was necessary for her to repent of these sins.

What is also important to note is that Catherine really had no biblical stance to divorce Caleb. One may say that his viewing pornography was just as if he had committed adultery, but even his cyber-adultery is not grounds for divorce. I certainly believe that the writers were more concerned with the definition of marriage and that prior to Caleb’s salvation, both he and his wife were unbelievers. The point being that marriage is still a marriage in the eyes of the Lord despite the salvation of either man or woman.

The fact is that this became an “unequally-yoked” marriage which required the actions depicted by Caleb in the film. What should have been addressed is that even though this ended up being and unequally-yoked marriage prior to Catherine’s conversion, the writers should have made it clear that divorce was not an option.

The irony of this whole review of this movie is the real life actions of the actress who played Catherine. Erin Bethea is the daughter of the Senior Pastor at the church which is solely responsible in making Fireproof. In 2014 she divorced from her husband. It is clear that her character in the Fireproof movie was depicted as an angry woman who only was lining up husband number two when it appeared that her husband was more concerned about his boat, than her. What has happened to the real life marriage of Erin Bethea, and why did it end in divorce? Sad.