Fireproof’s rousing box office success and the harsh response to the film by some critics speaks volumes about the society we currently live in and its blurring of the meaning and purpose of marriage.
Fireproof is the latest film from Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia and stars Kirk Cameron as a firefighter who turns to God to save his marriage through a biblical method titled “The Love Dare.” The movie’s take just jumped the $20 million mark, grossing forty times its budget. Christian support of the film shows how a large segment of the population feels alienated by the message and values that pour out of Hollywood.
In many ways Fireproof is rerminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden era, when Frank Capra directed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra’s films were known for stressing a strong personal ethic, for displaying virtue in the face of evil and for triumphant endings. Fireproof has all of that as well as an unconcealed Christian worldview.
In a well known World War II film about the American home-front titled Since You Went Away, the opening narration begins with a statement about America’s greatest attribute: “This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home.” Likewise in Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed “There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America.” The strength of religion in America combined with the strength of marriage and family was critical in this country’s rise and continuing stability. Unfortunately those observations are less true today and the high divorce rate among couples has had a tremendous negative impact on society’s long term moral and economic health. One study after another continues to show that economic advancement, educational performance, and physical and mental wellbeing are all correlated with the health of marriage and family life.
Some critics of the film speak to how much of our culture finds Fireproof’s message so offensive. An angry reviewer in the Boston Globe called the film “made for TV schlock,” and added “Fireproof is good for just about one thing: dousing whatever flames might be left in your marriage.” Unsurprisingly, Sin Magazine also mocked Fireproof: “This [film] could be enjoyed if you go with a group of friends and get drunk.”
But when circumstances seem overwhelming, people often look to religion or the Church for answers, helping to make the actual plot line believable. Most striking however is the film’s attempt to strike a blow against the more self-centered and individualistic understanding of marriage and love we find pervading popular culture.
In Scripture marriage is used as a central analogy between God and Israel and Christ and the Church. If Fireproof is excellent in any way, it is in how wonderfully it compares understanding marriage from a man-centered perspective with doing so from a God-centered perspective. Thus marriage becomes less about personal fulfillment and selfish desires, and more about honoring the perfect relationship, the Triune God.
The Kendrick brothers, who produced the film, have made a considerable leap from their second film Facing The Giants, especially theologically. Facing The Giants at times points to a Christianity of the prosperity gospel, where believers attain more worldly success and comfort because of their faith. Fireproof is a shift away from this facile doctrine to a theology of the Cross. The Cross of Christ models preeminently unconditional and unyielding love.
While there is plenty in the film that makes it recognizable as the product of an amateur cast and crew, the deeply moral message strikingly contrasts with almost everything encountered on the big screen today. In that manner it is a return to many classic movies where good and evil was painted in black and white, and love was modeled by sacrifice and commitment. In a world troubled by international threats, economic instability, and moral uncertainty, that is a message worth promoting.
Ray Nothstine is associate editor at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.