Fireproof Relationships

After much anticipation (and too many teasers), my friend Matt has finally released a response to my recent post In Defense of Fireproof. As expected, I find myself agreeing with many of the principles he defends.

For example, we both agree that in a marriage relationship, both the husband and wife are responsible to “make it work.” We both agree that the husband is the leader and head of the home. We both agree that feminism and egalitarianism are some of the church’s great losses in Western culture.

So I can sympathize with Matt’s opposition to these philosophies, especially as they worm their way into the Church. I am thankful for men like Matt, John Piper, and Voddie Baucham who take a stand for the Biblical doctrine of male headship and oppose cultural pressures to the contrary.

However, in this case, Matt seems to be reading a subversive agenda into Fireproof where none exists. He alleges that it teaches that men are solely responsible to make a marriage work. I’d like to show that this is not the case, and encourage Matt to focus his efforts on more pressing antagonists to biblical Christianity (say, Rachel Held Evans).

In this response I’ve opted not to go point-by-point through Matt’s post. Instead, I’d like to focus on his main objection:

My contention was that [Fireproof] indicated that the wife has little to no responsibility to strive to fix her marriage. Only her husband did.

The Companion Book

Fireproof centers around Caleb’s progress through the Love Dare, a companion book by the Kendrick brothers intended to accompany the movie. If you have read the Love Dare (the first chapter is available from the Fireproof website), you probably already know that it’s written in generic language for either spouse. If not, here are a few samples:

This book is about love. It’s about learning and daring to live a life filled with loving relationships. And this journey begins with the person that is closest to you: your spouse.

This journey is not a process of trying to change your spouse to be the person you want them to be. You’ve no doubt already discovered that efforts to change your husband or wife have ended in failure and frustration. Rather, this is a journey of exploring and demonstrating genuine love, even when your desire is dry and your motives are low.

But can your spouse count on having a patient wife or husband to deal with? Can she know that locking her keys in the car will be met by your understanding rather than a demeaning lecture that makes her feel like a child? Can he know that cheering during the last seconds of a football game won’t invite a loud-mouthed laundry list of ways he should be spending his time?

Our initial impression of the authors’ intent is very different from “the wife has little to no responsibility.”

The Movie Version

The Love Dare charges husbands and wives alike with the responsibility to love their spouse. It takes for granted that you can’t change your spouse, and that all you can control are your own actions. All the Love Dare can teach you is to love your spouse unconditionally, whether they deserve it or not.

For the sake of simplicity, there are three ways to illustrate the Love Dare in a movie: A husband choosing to love his undeserving wife; a wife choosing to love her undeserving husband; or two couples, illustrating both of the above.

Since the Love Dare is intended for either spouse, it’s sufficient to illustrate it with one spouse and indicate that it also applies to the other spouse. As mentioned in my earlier post, this is what Fireproof does, when Caleb’s dad reveals that his mom was the one who originally took the Love Dare. Matt quoted this point in his post, but never rebutted it.

This scene reiterates what we’ve already established from the book itself: The Love Dare is intended for husbands and wives alike. We’d have to say, again, that the authors’ intent is very different from “the wife has little to no responsibility.”

A Satisfactory Alternative?

I’ll buy that there’s no anti-male agenda in Fireproof when the same people who made this movie make a similar movie wherein a wife is told to ignore the persistent maltreatment of her by her husband and does everything the perfect Christian wife would do.

Matt’s complaint focuses only on the fact that Fireproof uses the husband to illustrate the Love Dare rather than the wife. Had their roles been reversed, he says, he would have been satisfied with the movie.

Let’s recap what we’ve established so far:

  1. The companion book demonstrates that the moral is for both husbands and wives.
  2. The Fireproof movie demonstrates that the moral is for both husbands and wives.

Versus, on Matt’s side:

  1. The Fireproof movie mostly shows the moral being applied to husbands.

I don’t know whether Matt has read the Love Dare, or whether he seriously considered the movie’s indication that the Love Dare applied to both spouses. Either way, the question remains simply this:

How should we judge the authors’ intent? Should we let them speak for themselves and tell us? Or should we ignore what they say in the movie and in the companion book, and focus only on what they don’t show in the movie?

Note that there are several point Matt made which, for the sake of space, I haven’t addressed in this post. For example, he argues that the movie portrays Catherine’s sin as justified; that the standard of “love” the movie advocates is unbiblical; that Biblical counseling should tell both parties what the other should be doing; and that it is anti-masculine because it expects Caleb to respect his mother. I plan to respond to at least one (the Bible’s standard of love) in a future post, and I’ve been engaging the last point in the comments of Matt’s post.

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