I did not want to see this movie.
I did not like "Facing the Giants", the last Christian-themed movie from the same church group that produced "Fireproof". I thought "Giants" trivialized an important Bible story - David and Goliath - by selling the idea that God really cares about who wins football games. Yes, I know the football game in the movie was a metaphor for bigger life battles, but I just thought the movie failed in what it was trying to do. So, I was not very excited about seeing "Fireproof".
I saw "Fireproof" tonight, and I was touched.
To tell the truth, it is not a great movie. The writing is predictable, the acting is terribly uneven, and the story about the marriage is not all that realistic. So, I understand some of the bad reviews I have read in the secular press. On the other hand, the emotion in the story is real, the earnestness of Kirk Cameron's character's father is dead on, and the scriptural focus is accurate. So, I understand some of the good reviews I have read in the Christian press.
It is interesting, and instructive, that a movie like this can produce such livid negative reviews. The secular press (interestingly, not the New York Times review, which was actually lukewarm) has produced a number of vicious articles about the movie. Undoubtedly, some in the church will take these reviews as badges of honor, pointing out that the scripture always draws pointed responses and arguing that the movie must be hitting close to home.
I look at it differently. I was touched by the movie because I already believed - and thus resonated with - the basic points of the movie: we love best when we understand Christ's love for us; God intends for marriage to be permanent; and salvation is real. I don't know if non-Christians will understand any of that from watching this movie; I am not at all sure that non-Christians can hear those messages in the tone this movie presents them. I am just not convinced that taking a sermon out of a pulpit and putting it on the big screen disguises the fact that it is a sermon, and I know lots and lots of people who are not the least bit interested in sermons.
If you know me, you know that I am not saying that the gospel should not be presented. It can be and it must be. But as I learned from my years in competitive debate, a little audience adaptation is appropriate. If you read the reviews of "Fireproof" in The Village Voice or in The Onion or in the Austin, Texas newspaper, you will see that there are plenty of moviegoers - or at least professional movie critics - who have reacted so violently against the movie that any point that was trying to be made was not only lost but ridiculed.
I am glad I saw the movie, in the same way that I am glad I sang in a hymn festival at my church last weekend. But I have plenty of friends whom I did not invite to the hymn festival, because inviting them would have been a waste of time. I am glad that a Baptist Church in Georgia made the movie - it is a courageous act to intervene into the Hollywood world with a movie like this, and I believe it is their honest attempt to use their gifts and resources creatively.
But I hope that others in the church will be aware of the kind of reviews that an evangelical attempt like this produces and conclude not that the reviewers are wrong or evil but rather that there are different ways to speak to different people. One size does not fit all. I have lots of friends who may read this blog because they know me, but they are not about to go see "Fireproof", nor are they about to darken the door of a church. I hope they respect me, and I hope that they consider some of my points of view - and my faith - because I have built up some credence with them. I would lose a lot of credibility with them if I dragged them to the theatre to see this movie, or if I made them sit through a hymn festival. One day, maybe they will be ready to enjoy a hymn festival with me, but not now.
The message of "Fireproof" is true for everyone. The medium will not work for everyone. We Christians have to learn the difference.