Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fireproof, The Latest Christian Cheese?

Why can’t Christian media ever seem to come up with anything worth spending your money on? Let me share my two cents, if anyone even cares. Last night, my wife and I went to a really early showing of the movie, Eagle Eye. We only go to the theatre about once every three months or so (seriously), so it is a pretty rare instance, I know. As the movie wrapped up and the credits began to run, we grabbed our snack bar remains and began to exit theatre number three. As we spilled out into the lobby, we were greeted by bright lights and people - lots of people! The 7 o’clock opening of Fireproof had arrived! For those of you who don’t know, Fireproof is the latest “Christian” movie. It stars (sigh) Kirk Cameron and is about making your marriage work and “never leaving your partner behind”. Kirk, ready to abandon his marriage and give up on life is challenged to “…try an experiment: The Love Dare. While hoping The Love Dare has nothing to do with his parents' newfound faith, Caleb (Kirk) commits to the challenge. But can he attempt to love his wife while avoiding God's love for him? Will he be able to demonstrate love over and over again to a person that's no longer receptive to his love? Or is this just another marriage destined to go up in smoke?” (taken from the movie’s synopsis page.)

OK, OK, let me just say it – I cannot get into cheeseball Christianese movies just because I’m a Believer. My wife and I watched the theatrical trailer online just to give it a shot and see if it might be worth checking out. I could literally not even make it through the two minutes and twelve seconds – no kidding. The acting looked like a local community theatre and the “faith-based” motives just seem so fake to me. I just can’t buy into it.

Now I know that many readers will say, “well, we (the Christians) are tired of “secular” movies riddled with sex, language and gratuitous, well, everything. I’m with you! OK? I reflect back to how infrequently we watch any movies – 99.9% are not even fit to watch. But, will anyone ever make a Christian movie that is actually worth watching either? Why should I have to sit through some pathetic plot and recitation acting just because it’s “Christian”? Don’t even ask me to give you a rundown of sorry Christian movies of late (One Night With the King anyone?). Thankfully, the Narnia series was picked up and Mel Gibson made at least one fantastic movie that was reputable! But seriously, “the church” and Christian media outlets like TBN (Cloud Ten Pictures) have MILLIONS of dollars within its grasp to use as it wishes and the best they can do is hire actors like Mr. T (see Apocalypse Part IV) and has been’s that no one else wants anymore. Where is the creativity? Where is something that is not just a “secular” rip-off or a “salvation in a wrapper” plot? I’ve see better green screen backdrops on The Weather Channel than in most Christian sci-fi/end times movies for goodness sake! (grrrr)

But getting back to Fireproof – the lines were crazy! The 7 o’ clock sold out, we heard. You could easily spot the “Fireproof people”. The ladies were all dressed the same and most of the men had on their “Christian” t-shirts. “3 Nails, 4 Given”… “Lord’s Gym”… “Jesus Christ” in the Harley logo… sheesh. It was like a Christians night out party!
So my question is this, is Christianity so desperate to have yet another genre that is all their own that when someone like James Dobson calls for “the churches of America to unite and get behind this great faith-based film” they all just run out and do it? “OK, boycott Harry Potter and go see Fireproof – got it. Why are we doing this again honey?” “I don’t know really… the Christian community says so, so that’s what we’ll do.”

After exiting the theatre, we walked over to a restaurant next door and within 5 minutes we saw at least 13 Christians that we personally know. “Did you see Fireproof?” “Are you going to see Fireproof?” “Did you like Fireproof?” Oh man - we began to feel like we were not even Christians because we didn’t go see the stinking movie! We chuckled though, seriously. It was quite metaphorical to me as I actually revel a bit in not following the Christian crowd any more. I want to follow Christ alone, not some rally, movement or cool thing you know? I want to be into what He is into, not what the majority would like for me to do.

If it really changes lives, then I’m all for it… I guess. I just feel like it’s just another lame attempt to do what we should already be doing in our daily lives. If people need help in their marriage and we know about it, why aren’t we sharing what the Word says about it with them instead of inviting them to a corny movie and then going through the Fireproof study booklet with them? (Yes, there really is one.) Come on people! When can we not just BE the ambassadors of Christ that we’ve been called to be? When will we stop be pansified Believers that have to always take the easy road and just hope all works out for the best? Would we rather just let a movie tell someone about Jesus so that we don’t have to?

Lastly, to all of you creatively gifted ones out there, raise the standard! If I knew how I’d do it, but it’s surely not my thing. Let’s make the best of the best with Christ as the author! I’m not saying abandon faith and standards in order to achieve excellence, I’m saying can we not have both? Will anyone do it? Can it even be done? Is there not enough quality and creativity within the Body of Christ to make it become a reality? Do we not intimately know the Creator of all who are creative, the Author of all authors, the Writer of all that was, is and ever will be written? I want to see it, do you?

Edit: What? You want to evangelize your neighborhood for Fireproof... I mean, for Jesus. Great! We have just what you need right here!

Need even more Fireproof goodies?
Here ya go!



Anonymous said...

G'morning Joel...

I agree with part.

I would love to see "the Christian world" make outstanding movies.We are all about complaining there isn't anything out there to go see..yet no one with the funds or expertise to back such a movie will step up.

As for the movies that this church has made..well..they are extremely touching..and enjoyable..

so..I won't throw out this baby with the bathwater. ;o)

I DO plan on seeing it when it comes out on DVD (just as I did Facing the Giants..which I bought..and I don't usually buy movies)

grace and peace!!

Joel Spencer said...

Oh Harriet, come on. Just kidding. :)

I know this is a "personal opinion only post" and I want all to keep that in mind. I can't stand these movies and many love them. So as far as the movies themselves go, it's personal preference. It's just that I can watch the sappiest, girliest romance film just fine as long as its done well. But I can't even make it through the Christian movies.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

thththp :-P

I guess if I was expecting "real" acting I would be disappointed..but hey..these are simply people from a church trying to tell a story..
I couldn't do it as well..


and I HATE sappy romances.. ;O)

Heather said...

Our church is giving away tickets to see it because our Pastor believes in this movie so much. We're actually doing a six part sermon/series on the principles that the movie is about. I haven't seen it but I would like to.

Joel Spencer said...

Heather: Well I hope the six part series goes well, but personally I would rather hear the Word preached from a pulpit than these formulated and boxed curriculums that some Christian organization came up with. I just think it continues to thrust the church deeper into being more of a "self-help" organization than a living organism fueled by the Living God.

I'm just tired of attempt after attempt to lure hurting non-Believers into a form of Christianity. That's how I see it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I found your blogpage from a link off of Ruth Lang's. I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts.

Thanks for this movie review. I really understand and agree with your feelings on this post!
I especially loved what you said here:
"The acting looked like a local community theatre and the “faith-based” motives just seem so fake to me. I just can’t buy into it...But, will anyone ever make a Christian movie that is actually worth watching either? Why should I have to sit through some pathetic plot and recitation acting just because it’s “Christian”?

"It was quite metaphorical to me as I actually revel a bit in not following the Christian crowd any more. I want to follow Christ alone, not some rally, movement or cool thing you know? I want to be into what He is into, not what the majority would like for me to do."

Amen! I totally understand!

Please feel free to "drop in" to my blogpage, read some posts, comment, and perhaps even add me to your blogroll. I always enjoy gaining new "blogosphere friends."

~Amy :)

Anonymous said...

Hey. I am usually with you, but here I disagree. Jesus' disciples one time told Jesus they had warned others to stop doing God's work because they were not part of "the group." Jesus reminded them that we are all trying to do the same work, just different ways.

jerry said...

Joel, cmon! We all serve different ways!

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous and Jerry: It's now a few days after writing the blog and, looking back, I should have split it up into two distinct parts to more clearly state my point. One view was my personal disatisfaction with the embarrasing quality of Christian movies (just a personal thing that is not really important). The other issue was more focused on organized religions cookie cutter "evangelism" and "help" tools (to me, very important).

I just don't understand why churches continue to pump money, time and energies into large scale propaganda all in the name of "outreach". I did it for years on church staff and never saw it bring about lasting changes for anyone.

I know many, likely most, will not agree with me on this because it's just what churches do. I'm just saying maybe it's time the church abandon what it's always done and start being the living organism church instead of the boxed and programmed church.

Joel Spencer said...

Amy: Sorry, I accidently jumped over your comment. I'll check out your blog!

Ford said...

I couldn't agree with you more Joel. We claim to worship the almighty Creator Who made this incredible planet (through which, even in its fallen state, His magnificent ability is still able to shine), and while I don't think our lousy works of art will turn people away from God any more than any of the other excuses sin may offer them, I find it incredibly dishonest on our part. God desires truth in the innermost part, so why would we want to rally behind pop "Christian" art that is terribly constructed and acted (and, yes, I do believe I can act better than that), boring, implausible, and succeeds in nothing except preaching to the choir? Is the message of fireproof a good one? Yes, I'm sure. But if it's just going to play like a sermon any way, why not just make it a sermon? A film is supposed to tell a story. Art is supposed to be creative and challenge the audience to think about something from a new angle, or introduce concepts perhaps unfamiliar. I have to echo your concern, too, Joel, about the evangelism issue. So many people seem to think that these films are successful ways of preaching the Gospel, but not only do they not succeed, where is the biblical model for this idea?

Anonymous said...

Joel, what I and others look for in the quality of a movie is not what I wish to comment on. Everyone sees the quality of a movie in a different way. I have not seen the movie or clips online, but in reading your blog and getting a chrisian catalog today, where the workbook, ball caps, t-shirts etc. for Fireproof are all for sale, I can already see this movie has "marketing" all over it. This is sickening to me. This brings to me many questions; are people going to a movie for the wrong reason, does the Body of Christ settle for a just a little, is the Body of Christ becoming the Body in all the fullness of God? I won't go to a movie to follow -the herd - I desire to live by the moving of the Holy Spirit. If I listen to a sermon or teaching, I'd much rather hear the Word of God than about a movie. Years ago there was a saying "Where's the beef?' I ask "Where's the meat?" The meat of the Word from the pulpit. Running a series from a movie or giving movie reviews from the pulpit is not what grows the Body,the depth and reality of the Word of God is what challenges and grows the Body. Let's apply -"love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself." And "be holy as I am Holy." Knowing the Word and living it, just might change a marriage or two.
Keep sharing Joel.

Joel Spencer said...

Ford: I thought of you when I went down this road as I know that you have much interest in film-making. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it as you likely have more understanding of it than most.

On a side note, I was finally able to print out your email regarding the "Day and the Hour" over the weekend (is a long story). I'll be looking over it and getting back to you soon.

Joel Spencer said...

Kay: I'm with you. Several people have even emailed me after they've discovered all of the marketing garbage that is now available surrounding this movie. It seems that they're now understanding my point a bit more. The Body of Christ, that the world knows of anyway (not the little flock), continues to sell her wares for earthly gain.

Joel Spencer said...

It only took me about 30 seconds to run across some real gems of what the church is doing with this movie. Here's some of my favorites:

X Baptist Church has purchased 200 tickets for the showing on Sunday, Sept. 28, in lieu of evening service.

X Christian Church will offer a four-week Bible study designed especially for first responders.

X Church’s marriage and family deacon will offer a six-week Bible study as a follow-up to the movie on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

X Church bought 300 seats for the 7 p.m. showing - members are encouraged to invite friends; extra tickets will be provided to fire chiefs and fire marshals.

X Community Church will host Fellowship Sundae on Sunday, a certified Christian conciliator with X Ministries, will team with trained couples of the church to offer advice and help with relationship issues among couples.

The Rev. X will offer “Fireproof” sermon series, inclusive of but not limited to fireproofing marriages - all couples will be invited to take the “Love Dare”.

X Gathering has rented the 7 p.m. showing on Friday; members are invited to buy two tickets for $5 to invite a friend; some tickets may be available for people who are not members.

X Presbyterian will invite couples to renew their vows on Sunday, Nov. 9.

X Baptist rented the 4 p.m. showing on Sunday; will sell them for $5 to members first and then anyone who wants them (should any be left).

redstarpodcast said...

I would much rather see a movie like August Rush or Freedom Writers, Something that doesn't explicity speak of God but that the Holy Spirit speaks to me through.

Leon III said...

I think you give too much credit to the 'church to begin with.

I would expect nothing less from today's 'church leaders' then the embracing of this type of foolishness.

Are these not the same 'churches' and 'church leaders that embrace and PRAISE things like Harry Potter? Things like Lion King? Things like Narnia? The list goes on and on and on.

In todays 'church' one can find just about everything EXCEPT the Holy Lord Jesus Christ. It's an absolute joke. A joke I will not partake in.

My 'religion' is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ ONLY and I am FIREPROOF in that.

Joel Spencer said...

Redstar: I've found over the years that God can speak to me through various "secular" movies. He can use whatever He wants. Now with that being said, I see VERY few movies because I won't sacrifice holiness for entertainment. The Lord can use any way He deems fit to draw us unto Himself. It would seem that Christian media however, thinks differently.

Thanks for stopping by.

Joel Spencer said...

Leon: Now don't go stepping on my Narnia toes now! Just kidding, but I happen to think it's a fantastic book/movie.

Your stance on the status of the church is quite evident in your short post. We'd likely agree on much, so I encourage you to do as I'm doing - HATE the religious spirit that blinds the eyes and LOVE the eyes that are blinded.

Anonymous said...

Well Joel you know where I stand on this stuff. I have had some believers ask me if I am going to see it. One asked since I used to do some film work would I be interested in seeing it for it’s production value with a faith twist. I laughed at the person!! First off this movie is awful looking. It doesn’t get a creative pass cause they are preaching. It is still a major motion picture. As for it being a faith movie, well personally it will make me judge it more. I mean I saw left behind I, II, & III. Revelation and all the other pieces of trash the corporate church marketers have made for my torture. Narnia was a good movie. Why, it was made like a movie telling a story not shoving anything down your throat.
This whole notion of boycotting and supporting certain entertainment things is beyond me. I saw the Golden Compass, and you know what their portrayal of the church was accurate. Their description of most Christians is accurate. Why can’t we make movies, I am a Christian who does marketing. Doesn’t make it Christian marketing. Why can’t we make movies as Christians, not to be Christian. Once the music industry embraced this concept it got better and now there are a lot of mainstream bands that are Christians. Giving a good message, shining their light in their own way to God. God never said be lame and annoy the world. He called us to love our neighbor and God. We were called to use our megaphone of our life to shout about God. Not persecute, boycott, rally behind, trick, and alienate our non-believing friends. We should have community with insiders, but we need to have influence with outsiders as well.

That’s all I have to say about that!

Joel Spencer said...

the hoov: I've got nothing to add. Well said.

Georgetta Nextdoor said...

Thank you for expressing my own thoughts so perfectly.
When I hear at church that I "must see" a particular movie, I know I will avoid it like the plague.

Joel Spencer said...

Georgetta: Let's be friends. :)

Anonymous said...

@GeorgettaNextdoor "avoid it like the plague" that was wonderful!

Joel Hosler said...

haha with all those links, it looks like you really like the movie, you just don't want to admit it. JK. I am there with you man. I am tired of the Christian Music industry being 5 years behind the times. They just released a band that sounded like Korn yesterday.. haha wait when was Korn popular ummmm 10 years ago haha. I haven't seen this movie yet, but my wives family (Part of the Christian Market participators) raved about it. I watched the trailer and thought the first 5 seconds the cinematography was ok, then when they started dialoging it all went out the window. Yeah I think if they would use actors who could act, everything would be better. The scripts would be a little cheesy, but at least the artistic side would be better. They are using better cameras now so they don't look like 1980 b-rated flicks. Anyways I agree with you and yeah I'm with you haha...


Joel Spencer said...

Joel: You caught me - I'm secretly a Fireproof promoter and one of Kirk Cameron's best friends. We used to work together on Growing Pains and did an episode of BibleMan together.

But seriously, those who know the Creator must begin to create. It's not about being better than, or even equal to, "secular" media, it's just a matter of representing the Author of it all.

Anonymous said...

what are we becoming??

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: Oh man have you got me good on this one! I have to be really careful with this kind of stuff as, for whatever reason, it REALLY gets under my skin.

We have merchandised and whored the name of Jesus Christ for the sake of earthly gain and worldly relevance and it makes me sick.

Thanks for sharing the article with us.

Atha said...

It would indeed be nice if the Christian world could make outstanding and quality movies with no compromising of God's message, but unfortunately it's ALWAYS about the money involved. And the 'powers that be' in Hollywood just aren't real anxious to stick their collective necks out on a chopping block for fear that quality faith films won't fly at the theaters. Obviously they don't know everything if that many people are lined up to see these films.
[The money issue was a lot of what Mel Gibson had to deal with. The McKendrick Brother's had a cap budget of $500,000 for this film, only a $100,000 for 'Facing The Giants'. So some of the cheese is to be expected when you are using volunteers.]
However, I understand the point of your blog. It's like when a certain unpopular pastor in our area used to write into the paper about how disgusted he was with the WWJD trinkets. At first I was put off by his sarcasm, but as I have seen first hand, there are many who say, "Lord, Lord" but there is no substance to their beliefs, and little power in their lives that I guess all they have is a tee-shirt. I hate to sound like I'm judging another, but what we do and say screams so much louder than what our tee-shirts or bumper stickers say. I actually knew someone that had one of those awful tags on the front of his vehicle, "God is my Co-Pilot". It made his vehicle recognizable when he went into the package store for a 24 pack of brew.
I think also that too many times when we see marriages in trouble, we don't say anything for fear of being told to butt out. And commitment isn't a word that is respected anymore, also due in part to the messages and images out of Hollywood. Bottom line, is as you say, is a matter of preference. Hey, I liked 'Bruce Almighty' - thought the spiritual messages in that film were mightly powerful, and more true than a lot of what I've been taught in church.
But that's just me.
Hey Joel, I have a question for you. It's not meant to be sarcastic or flippant so I hope you won't take it that way.
Based on what I've read, and what I think I understand about what you say in your blogs... here's the question:

What would (should) the "church" look like, if it were doing what it is supposed to be doing?

Joel Spencer said...

Atha: Your question was such a good one, I wrote a new article to answer it. Look for it to be posted tonight or tomorrow.

Ford said...

I watched Fireproof last night, and I have to admit I rushed to judgment on this one. while half of the actors are about as bad as you would expect, Kirk really comes into his own in this one in the last hour or so. It's probably his best performance ever. His best friend in the film alone just about makes the movie worth the price of admission-why?

Hollywood, for all its talk of tolerance and progressive thinking, is about as racist as it gets when it comes to blacks. Blacks are almost invariably portrayed by mainstream Hollywood: as plucky comic relief, deadbeat dads, sex-crazed womanizers or men fighting the system. Rarely will you see a black man who is a committed family man. In this movie, he's helping the white man get back on track, and I found that refreshing. It's not all good, but the overall message of the film is solid. It doesn't get much right at the beginning-most everything is overplayed, the screenwriting is on-the-nose, the jokes pretty unfunny-but at a certain point the caricatures turn into characters, and the film moves from after-school special to a thoughtful look at what saving a failed marriage would take. I'll be writing a review this week once I get my thoughts a bit more solidified, but suffice it to say-while it may not be Brief Encounter from a filmmaking standpoint, it's way way better than Left Behind.

Joel Spencer said...

Ford: Interesting. You're one of the few people that I'd actually believe regarding what you stated.

I doubt if I'll be going to see it and I, interestingly, I haven't even heard a peep about it for a week or so now. Nonetheless I'll keep what you said in mind if it comes up again. Thanks for the update.

Lionel Woods said...

Hey Joel,

I know I am late brother. But I was asked "Lionel are you guys going to go see this movie". I said "well no why would I".

Let me explain briefly. Our marriages are failing at alarming rates. Two things aren't happening. 1. People are in each other's business enough to ask them tough questions and hold them accountable. 2. When divorces do occur because people "grew apart" no Church discipline is ever instituted.

I am not a gun-ho discipline guy. But I am beginning to realize that we really don't follow the simple commands in scriptures. Things like "don't look out for your own interest". Things like Eph 4:32, things like living sacrificially. Most people are so romantic hogwash in marriage and not the glue of the grace of the gospel.

Community is a near joke. We see things and we bury our head. So instead of getting in each others life we recommend a movie. If the scriptures don't give you enough confidence to confront a dirt bag husband or a wife who refuses to love her husband, then a movie will only be a band-aid on a severed leg. It won't even stop the bleeding.

What we need is strong in your face accountability, we need to be honest and we see problems we need to confront lovingly, refusing to shrink away. That is what biblical love is. I am not saying go be a jerk, but if we can't confront and challenge each other in the word, I promise a movie and some chessy books ain't going to fix this epidimic.

Joel Spencer said...

Lionel: Well said. I particularly liked, "We see things and we bury our head. So instead of getting in each others life we recommend a movie."

God has really been challenging me lately to correctly represent the Body to other members of the Body. It is our duty to address issues that we see within Her - whether it is tough or not more on this topic here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Clifford Swartz said...

Hi Joel -- I got to this post on your blog after putting "Christian cheesy" into my google search engine! Thanks for the post, which dovetails with a couple of conversations I've had recently.

One with a friend who attended Ted Baehr's thing in LA, which gives awards to films that are wholesome (even if not evangelistic in an explicit manner). The other was a comment from another friend who really enjoyed Fireproof, but who felt it wouldn't play well in our context (Manhattan), as it would give rise to the prejudices here against Christian culture (particularly from the American South, sorry to add).

I think that you're right to divide the issues as you did in later comments. I would add to that the notion that Gospel issues arise in some films that I wouldn't have my kids watch -- in terms of people coming to terms with their desperation and being transformed by love (Peter Parker's relationship with aunt and uncle in Spiderman come to mind) or even the desperation/hidden sin of the characters in a show like the Office.

I find it tricky to decide what to watch, seeking to stay away from vulgarity but finding the themes of redemption more present in films/shows that are rated R than rated G. But I find such guides helpful for understanding what is being shown to decide for my children.