Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fireproof Reprise

In one scene Caleb, the character played by Kirk Cameron, is forced to make a decision between his internet addiction (which is really an addiction to pornography) and his covetous lust for a boat and his responsibilities as a husband. He unplugs the monitor, takes it outside to a table, and smashes it with a baseball bat. He does the same with the CPU. He leaves a nice bouquet of roses for his wife where the computer once sat with a note, “I love you more.” The money he’d saved goes to purchase a hospital bed and wheelchair for his wife’s mother so she can remain at home in comfort following her stroke. Kleenex time, right?

Well, let’s examine this some. It is true that the couple needed to stop this silly game of your money, my money, your bill, my bill. Marriages like that often indicate that the unity of the flesh is understood only to mean sexual partnership, not also human partnership and unity. Marriage isn’t meant to be sexual convenience. That is not the one flesh union God is speaking of. Marriage is the melding of two lives into one, although two persons are not absorbed into each other. Identities are retained. So when “Caleb’s money” paid for Katherine’s parents’ needs, it was actually their money being spent for a greater need than both of their own.

Perhaps Caleb needed to toss out the computer in order to stop his addiction. However, a more potent message was given when he did: It was the computer’s fault, so kill the computer! Where was the killing of the flesh in Caleb? Where was the confession of this sin from Caleb, and to whom? It was nowhere shown. In fact, in the scene of his final breakdown with his father along that lakeside trail, the song heard playing as the two were praying and talking had a refrain with words along this line, “waiting for Jesus...” Waiting for Him where? Like Simon Burch did when he shouted his confession to the sky and waited for an absolution that never came?

So the computer was offensive and had to be thrown out. It caused debauchery. Just like wine causes drunkenness and had to be tossed out of the Holy Supper of our Lord. It wasn’t until after Mr. Welch came along that even Baptists found justification for that, and rationalization for Christ not really serving wine at the marriage in Cana. What’s next? Obesity is the biggest health problem in America today. Bread causes obesity. So now we need to deep six the bread from Christ’s institution? Better yet, let’s find justification for hoodia as the real deal in the wafer served.

When Paul tells his hearers that being drunk with wine is debauchery, he does not also say “Don’t drink it,” for that would be giving a new command–one that his Lord had not given. Jesus tells us to drink wine, at least in His Holy Supper. Paul also says that we are to fill ourselves with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It is then he describes the relationship of husband and wife as an icon of the relationship of Christ and His Bride, the Church. The relationship of husband and wife originated from the a bloodied side in the First Adam as he lay sleeping just as the relationship of Christ and His Bride arose from His bloodied side as He lay sleeping in the grave. The church is recalled to this each time she communes on Christ's Body and Blood in the bread and wine. Husbands and wives are recalled to this as they submit to each other as unto Christ.

In one remarkable scene in the movie, Caleb goes to his friend after his faith breakthrough and says, “I’m in.” The friend finally understands and responds, “You’re my brother from another Mother, which means we have the same Father.” I wanted to throw that non-existent Kleenex box at the screen and shout, “So why don’t you baptize babies?” St. Cyprian wasn’t speaking of a Mother who gives birth by air and sunshine. He was speaking of a Mother who gives birth by water and the Word. Yet this is denied to infants and its salvific work is denied by any who receive it at all by those who produced the movie Fireproof . “We know baptism doesn’t save,” is a commonly heard refrain. “It’s man’s work.”

It’s in the presupposition. Repeat after me: It’s in the presupposition. It is not what goes into but what comes out of... It is not what goes into but what comes out of... But how can we expect those who deny Baptism to infants to produce anything better? The answer is, we can’t. It hearkens back to the fact that it's because they cannot see that infants need Baptism. Jesus came for sinners, not the righteous. That gets in the way of going to one’s death with “my faith” being the last one good work held tightly in the hand before the throne of grace. The irony of plucking out the right eye that offends is the left one remains to pick up the slack. Gal 3:27; Col 3:9; Ro 13:14, all speak to putting on Christ. All Christ, nothing but. Our weak faith is no match for His one sentence from the cross, “It is finished.”

Fireproofing is wet work, daily and much.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


An email this week from a deaconess colleague touted the movie Fireproof as a “must see.” “Bring a box of Kleenex,” it suggested. My husband is with his mother and sister this weekend, so I took a friend along. A good thing to do, too. If I’d taken along that box I might have thrown it at the screen. She’d have stopped me. We probably had the only dry eyes in the place.

Fireproof is the production of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Many of its members appear in the movie.

Kirk Cameron did as fine a job of acting as he can do. He plays a firehouse captain whose marriage is suffering from neglect. Erin Bethea is cast well as Catherine, his wife. There are some good firehouse humorous moments, as well as some well-played drama.

The marriage scenes are typical and can be related to by many who see the film. There is not a stretch-n-leap to fit oneself from the theater seat into the situation on the screen. The language was accurate and comfortable to the ears. The movie drew the watcher into the context of the setting and pulled him along, “Yeah, that’s how it is.” The defining line for divorce was: when you can get respect everywhere except at home, it’s time to call it quits. That’s an all too familiar refrain.

So far, so good. Then dad steps in with a challenge—a forty day challenge. Now why does that start to make the hairs on the back of my neck creep up? What is this? Forty Days of Purpose Marriage? And that’s what it turns out to be.

Fireproof is connected with the book, The Love Dare, which is a forty-day plan for re-igniting marriage. Samples of chapters can be downloaded in PDF files at their website. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan is presented as a moral tale demonstrating racial tolerance and mercy. If Christ’s essential gift of mercy is absent in His parable, then readers can be assured that He is absent in the larger theme of the book, marriage. And He is.

Marriage is spoken of as a social arrangement established by God, but Paul’s greater point that marriage is an icon of the church, Christ’s own Body, is not mentioned at all. To be fair, I’ve not read the whole book. Still, of what I have read, nothing flows in and out of Christ. Rather, all is centered in and out of decisions one makes for himself to do for another and for God.

And that’s the biggest error of the movie. At the “final breaking point” for the character played by Cameron, his father is leading him to realize that he has not kept God’s Law. The Law is being proclaimed in all its severity. “How can I go on loving someone who keeps rejecting me?” Cameron asks. His father is now standing near a cross, built near a lakeside trail. It is then Cameron realizes there is a connection between Christ and his marriage. His father fills in the gap, and does so beautifully while proclaiming the Gospel in all its sweetness, “God doesn’t love you because you are lovable, but because He loves you. He loves you because His Son died for you.” Then it all comes crashing down as the Gospel is ripped away and everything is left in utter despair, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” followed by a litany of what must be done to be acceptable or to let Jesus in. Shoulda known. Wasn’t it daddy who first told his son, “Well, you haven’t opened the door very much to let Jesus in, either.”

Faith flows in and out of Christ; faith is not a decision made by us.

Marriage is hard work, just like the movie said. Too hard for a quickie fix like the forty day challenge of The Love Dare.

Marriage is precious. So precious, Paul says, that husbands ought to treat their wives as those for whom they would die for, just as Christ died for the church. Fireproof was right on this point. Any “parasite” on your marriage, that which is attached to that sucks the life out of your marriage, needs to be gotten rid of. But sinners that we are, once that parasite is gone, a void is felt. What will replace it? Only living in Christ’s forgiveness, daily drowning the Old Man, and regular sustenance from His altar will provide the means for surviving that.

This is not to say there is no room for books that offer advice on ways to be kind and show mercy to your spouse. The Love Dare says, “If you accept this dare, you must take the view that instead of following your heart, you are choosing to lead it.” Wouldn’t it be better to have one’s reason and intellect conformed and informed by Christ so that it is led by Him? Without that, there can be no demonstration of selfless, sacrificial love, for those belong to Him. Apart from the certainty of the Gospel, giving up things for someone else, holiness living, and decision living leads to the despair of uncertainty and hopelessness.

From The Love Dare:

Remember, you have the responsibility to protect and guide your heart. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. Resolve to lead your heart and to make it through to the end. Learning to truly love is one of the most important things you will ever do.

Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

For myself, I’ll take Psalm 51 over The Love Dare. God took responsibility for my heart in Christ, even before He began creating the world. To say “I love you” is to choose to love beforehand. To learn what love is we look to Christ and His Father. To know what marriage looks like, we first look at Christ and His Bride.

As for Fireproof, the movie, watch it if you wish, but be forewarned of its decision theology. As for Fireproofing a marriage, there truly is a better way. Instead, why not remain wrapped in Christ first by Baptism, and second by marriage. Then daily live in that.