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.


Jane said...

Thanks for this review. I, too, have heard raves from fellow Lutherans, including my brother who went with a large group from his church. What you have said goes right along with what I had feared.

Red Bridges Home said...

Interesting review. Our church loved it because it shows the struggles of families without Christ in their lives, and the gifts of God that come from having that personal relationship with him.

Bruce said... are wrong about the quote from fireproof. You used the following quote to show that the movie supports decision theology. This is what you quoted, “But son, you’ve got to decide…”. That quote doesn't appear in the movie. I have watched the clip with Caleb & his father with sub titles 7 times and it's not in the movie. I was also in California visiting with Kirk Cameron two weeks ago and your misrepresentation is disappointing. The scene you refer to is law to the proud and grace to the humble at it's best. Here are some highlights from that scene.
* The father takes Caleb through some of the commandments and actually tells him & shows him how much higher God’s standard is than man’s standard. The father helps Caleb see himself as an adulterer and transgressor of the law.
* hell is addressed
*judgement and facing a holy God is presented.
· Caleb tries to justify himself as a good person (lifesaving fireman)
· The father gives his own testimony & realization of his own sinful condition & in need of God’s Righteousness- utterly hopeless before the Lord.
* The only use of the word decision is when the father is describing his own love for his wife & he teaches Caleb that biblical love for others isn’t transactional but we do for others.
* Caleb sees how he has turned his back on God, broken His commandments,spat in the Lords face, destined for hell & in need of a Savior.
* It is then that Caleb humbles himself before the cross.
* The father shares what Christ did for him on the cross to save him from hell.
The scene ends without anything else

Does it get any better? (law to the proud Grace to the humble!) AWESOME SCENE! I would appreciate it if you would reply and take a second look at the movie and set the record straight. Thanks for reading- Bruce- Psalm19711

Dcs. Emily Carder said...


I try to be accurate, but my original sin gets in my way. :) As soon as I read your response I went to the local Blockbuster to rent the movie. They were all gone. Please be patient as I try to get it, view it again, and return to you.

Thank you.

Bruce- 1Peter3:15 said...

Hi Emily!
Thanks for taking the time to look at that clip again.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

Bruce, you'll find my response to errors I found in my previous postings in the form of a new post, Fireproof: Water on Hotspots. I posted it Sunday, March 29.

Bruce said...

In your response you wrote "Caleb’s father, gets the message of Law and Grace right, only to snatch Caleb from the comfort of Grace and then to toss him into the jaws of the Law and leave him back in it." How would you have written the end of that scence? What do you mean by "toss him into the jaws of the law? Your comment confuses me because Luther said, "until man becomes nothing- God can do nothing with him." Repentance has 3 peices...1) Turn from sin, 2) turn to God 3) for works of service. (1 Thess 1:9) Just becasue someone uses the word "I" in a testimony doesn't negate the fact that God is soveignerly at work. When a sinner says "I turned from sin, I turned and came to Christ or gave my life to Christ with intent to serve the true and living God", that summary is a reflection of God's Word. It's a reflection that God did it all. Part of what you don't get is that both Caleb and Michael if asked about their faith and salvation would say that it was 100% God's action, God's doing, God turning a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.I am anxious to hear how the end of that scene should have been written. I see it as the law was given, the heart was humbled the Grace was delivered- that's how we scatter seeds and the rest if the work of the Spirit. I look forward to your response

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

The scene could easily have been written with the father speaking in the passive: "When I was brought to the cross... When the Holy Spirit called me..." Or even, "When I came to the cross through the work of the Holy Spirit."

Michael and Caleb might say it is all God's doing, but how much is their response? You evidence that thinking when you write that repentance has three parts, the third being works of service. I only know of a repentance with TWO parts: 1.) to turn from sins by the Law; 2.) to turn to Christ as one's only rescue from the Law. To add works of service to this is to mix sanctification into justification, which ought never happen, lest these works become those of righteousness. It is then even one's faith becomes the last good work which saves. For this reason I speak so clearly of a Christ that is located and delivered, which is absent from the movie.

This is not to say that repentance is not made evident by the works that follow. Faith alone, yes; but faith is never alone. If one is not daily growing in Christ, then he is rejecting his baptism. He is living outside of his own baptism. There, too, is why a marriage that demonstrates itself as a constant battlefield is one in which both partners need to be drowned again, and resurrected in Christ's resurrection for the good works He has prepared for them.

One can argue that Caleb is left alone "to think things through." OK. There is a hint of Caleb and Catherine trotting off to church. That's good. It would have been better if either one had sought out the ministry of the local pastor and his services. Doesn't Christ have anything to say to marriage? After all, it was He who instituted it, and it is His relationship with His Bride, the Church, after which marriage is patterned.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

Bruce, we can go ‘round-and-’round trying force each other into a theological agreement, or we can cut to the chase and admit to the point which divides us.

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe that those who are not converted can enter heaven? That there is a place for those who do not confess Christ as their Savior in heaven?

Bruce- 1Peter3:15 said...

Emily- your question is almost though I am not a Christian. Unless sinners repent and put their faith, trust & confession in Christ they will spend eternity in hell. The fact is Sherwood church doesnt believe in decision theology and Kirk Cameron doesnt believe in decision theology. They believe as it says in 1Corinthians 12:3b "No one can say that Jesus is Lord accept by the Holy Spirit." Sherwood says this on their website about salvation. "We believe salvation is a free gift of God's grace apart from human works, based solely upon Christ's atoning death, received only through faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from death -Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21.
If you go to Kirk Cameron's ministry website or living you will see that His entire evangelist ministry is against "decision theology". Therefore, If the church that produced the movie, and the actors that made the movie don't believe or have any stomach for decision theology; then why are you creating discention in the body of Christ? You don't have to like the film but it sure would be nice if you did your homework. It sure would be nice if stopped trashing the film. Here is my question to you. Do you think we should spend more time talking about theology on your blog or should we spend more time sharing the law and Gospel to unrepentatnt sinners? Every day 155,000 people pass from this life into eternity. Most of those probably end up in hell. We all would be better off making the Lord' last command our first concern by sharing the Gospel in public settings outside the doors of our Lutheran churches and schools. We all make mistakes ..I have made many..the question is what will we do with those mistakes?

Dcs. Emily Carder said...


You write:

"Unless sinners repent and put their faith, trust & confession in Christ they will spend eternity in hell."

OK, so stay with me on this one.

Do you believe infants should be baptized?

Bruce- 1Peter3:15 said...

yes, infants should be baptized

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Dear Bruce,

Let me stick my nose in here and introduce myself. My name is Rick Sawyer and I’m Emily’s pastor. I won’t be able to engage in much conversation, as Holy Week begins this Sunday, and I will be slammed through Easter. But I did want to write.

I’m glad to hear that you also practice infant Baptism. In our neck o’ the woods, that’s pretty much an alien concept for most who call themselves Christian. Most around here are of the Arminian stripe and are very much convinced that a person must accept Jesus in order to be saved. That’s what was behind Emily’s question. Let me explain.

I’ve had many conversations with Christians who are quick to say they agree that no one can be saved apart from faith in Christ. They agree that where there is no repentance and faith there is no salvation. Then I explain that that is exactly why we hurry our infant children to the font of Holy Baptism. To which, usually, someone says, “Oh, but we don’t baptize until children are old enough to understand and accept Jesus.” That seems a prevalent notion amongst many Christians – i.e., that infants cannot believe, though Scripture speaks differently, doesn’t it? Around here, people also aren’t convinced that infants are born sinful and in need of God’s forgiveness. So, when people who had agreed that apart from repentance and faith in Christ no one can be saved tell me that children are too young to believe I ask them if children who die before the so-called “age of accountability” are damned. They are mortified. They insist such children are saved. That, of course, means MILLIONS of people each year are saved apart from repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, and many of the Arminian stripe have not wrestled with that.

Em’s question assumed you are of an Arminian conviction. Considering your response, I gather you are Calvinistic? I haven’t yet seen Cameron’s movie, but I did briefly peruse the website you referenced. I gather he is affiliated with the Missionary Alliance? They are Calvinistic too, aren’t they? After Easter, I’d like to explore the sites you referenced further and also view the movie you and Em have been discussing.

From the brief time I spent on Cameron’s website, I’d be interested to know more about his understanding of the distinction of Law and Gospel. As you may know, we Lutherans have been big on a proper distinction of Law and Gospel for a long time. The Law condemns and the Gospel makes alive. The Law accuses but the Gospel sets free.

These were important distinctions for Martin Luther. Have you read much of him? Has Kirk? Are either of you very familiar with the Lutheran confession, especially as it relates to conversion? There are real differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism on that point, aren’t there? We believe it’s always important to discuss those and work toward more complete agreement and unity of doctrine. Personally, I would love for Kirk to have a proper understanding of these things and the way the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies Christians through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of Christ’s Sacraments. I’ll spend more time on Kirk’s site after Easter.

This is long enough. Sorry about that. If you or Kirk would like to speak about these things, I’m happy to oblige, as I know Em is as well. Finally, have you ever come across a little book called “The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel” by C.F.W. Walther? You and Kirk have an obvious passion for reaching the lost. You rightly see problems in “decision theology,” but the problems are not merely methodological. The problems would still be there even if it had succeeded in keeping more people in church.

Does that makes sense? Even if something DOES succeed numerically – and the Law can be highly successful in that regard – “decision theology” is still BAD theology. And since we are speaking of God’s surgery on the soul – so to speak – it behooves us as “under-doctors” to make sure of our instruments. To do less is spiritual malpractice. So, while I appreciate Kirk’s zeal for reaching the lost, I’d want to make sure that the Gospel is being purely taught and the Sacraments are being properly confessed, as Em has expressed.

God’s Peace as you go through Holy Week.

Pr. Rick Sawyer

Bruce- 1Peter3:15 said...

Hi Pastor & Emily,
Thanks for your comment. I don't know how we missed it but ..Iam an LCMS Lutheran. I thought I wrote that early on somewhere in the blog. I am not sure what I said that would make someone think I was a Calvinist. If I did...I stand corrected on whatever that may have been. Livingwaters & The Way of the Master ministries are essentially students of Luther's works. Sure they have some doctrinal differences but not in the understanding of salvation or how we preach a law and Gospel message. In Fact their "Basic Training Evangelism Course" is being used throughout the Missouri Synod and very often by congregations who are serious about ABLAZE and the critical event. St Louis Seminary has also employed the way of the Master training principles as seminarians are out on the streets of St. louis learning to witness one-to one through cross pollination ministries/Rev. Brad Aldrich- LCMS. When it comes to Law and Gospel and the use of the law/ Gospel WOM & LW are in harmony with Lutheran Theology. My beef isnt theological it's about mis-representing the movie- that's it. Later this summer the Pacific Southwest District will be hosting workshops on Fireproof. Their workshop leaders do not see any decision theology in the movie. Your time my time and Emily's time is best spent preparing for Holy week. Thanks for sending me your message. Bruce- (1 Peter 3:15) Your, partner in serving others and sharing God's Word.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Hey, Bruce. Sorry for the misunderstanding. As I said, I haven't been following things too closely.

I don't know Way of the Master or Living Waters, but I'll check into them. Please be aware, however, that simply because something is being used in the LCMS does not make it kosher!

I learned one-on-one evangelism using Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion back in the early '80's. Clearly, there were serious theological flaws in that system of outreach. But I certainly learned some things. Not everything in a theologically flawed system is worthless.

Would LW and WOM acknowledge the importance of baptizing infants?

In your conversation with Kirk, did you ask him whether he has baptized his children, and whether that happened in their infancy?

Maybe Kirk, LW and WOM do understand the Gospel to the degree that they baptize infants. If so, I am glad. Apart from at least that, I'd have no confidence in their truly understanding Law and Gospel. Also, we'd need to find out where they are on the Real Presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the Bread and the Wine, as well as Confession/Absolution.

These aren't adjuncts to the Gospel, Bruce, as you know. They are articles of it, and when anyone removes one of these key articles, their grasp on the Gospel is necessarily weakened.

I mean, if Kirk DOESN'T believe in infant baptism, then WHY? Because he doesn't believe babies can believe? Because he doesn't believe babies are sinful and by nature objects of wrath?

IF - and I say if because I don't know where he stands on this - If Kirk does not agree with infant baptism, then all that he says about Law and Gospel is suspect.

After all, a PROPER understanding of the Law and Gospel will find NO reason NOT to baptize infants, and every reason TO!

Make sense?

Gotta do Holy Week stuff, Bruce, but I will check in here. I know there's a lot about ABLAZE these days and borrowing from those who - while they may have something to contribute - don't properly understand the Gospel in its purity. You can find LCMS churches that promote Forty Days of Purpose too, and that's just FULL of falsity, no? But I haven't yet watched Fireproof, and I've more to check out from the sites and organizations you reference. After Easter.

Remember Bruce, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not along side or the Gospel, as optional adjuncts. Anyone who is not clear on these needs to be Evangelized too, even if he's making movies and teaching others about evangelizing. And while we may learn something from such fellow Christians, we ought impart to them the Gospel more fully, lest they lead someone astray.

God's Peace,

Pr. Rick Sawyer

Dcs. Emily Carder said...


My issue has never been with the movie per se; it has been with the division of Law and Gospel presented in the movie. As I have said before, I think Fireproof does a good job of presenting marital strife and the need for Christ to cure it. Where I have a problem is how Christ is apprehended as that cure.

I can't look to the LCMS as a guideline for what is proper practice. As Luther himself would say, "Churches and councils err," and the LCMS is not free from that. Her districts are struggling with the practice of error. I'll take my guideline from Scripture and the Confessions, thank you. It is from there I gin the best insight to rightly dividing Law and Gospel, and from that proper and salutary practice.

From that, too, comes beneficial speech by which to speak of how God calls, gathers, and enlightens us. Luther gives us this terminology in the explanation of the Third Article in the Small Catechism. It's wonderful imagery combined with Infant Baptism, especially one's own. I did not turn to Christ; I did not go to the cross; but rather, I was brought to the font when I was three months old and Christ came to me.

The way the verbs are driven is as important as the difference between Law and Grace. In the Law we are the actors doing for God; in Grace God is the actor God is the Actor working on our behalf through Christ for our sakes. We receive what He gives passively. Faith receives what God has to give through Christ.

So certain language in an otherwise well-done movie sent me reeling. Sermons of the same sort would also do the same to me. From such as these I would flee, too--especially if they were hawking a book that likewise sucked Christ out of His own parables with a similar confusion of Law and Gospel.

But that's just me.

So now I'll do as you suggest. I'll go prepare for Holy Week, of which there is much to do in these parts. I do appreciate the links. I'll be looking them up in more detail at another time.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

I should correct myself, or make myself clearer--whichever it is. There is more than language that concerns me about the movie Fireproof. Marriage is harder work than a fix from a book that separates Christ as much as "The Love Dare" does from His own words and work.

Quite frankly we Lutherans already have a very good marriage live-by and fix-it manual. We don't need to go to outside resources for such things. It's called the Small Catechism. We really ought to be tapping into our own treasures instead of relying so heavily on trying to infuse Lutheran style into foreign substances.

Bruce- 1Peter3:15 said...

Thanks Emily,
Have a great Holy Week and may the Lord continue to bless the work of you hand.