One of the biggest of problems with the Fireproof movie is that it turns marriage into an idol. People are exhorted to do just about anything to save their marriage. Fireproof was released in September of 2008 and it became an instant hit in churches around the country. The “love dare” and many other books and marriage teaching materials spawned from this movie and some churches to this day still use this movie to teach advice about marriage.
Fireproof features Kirk Cameron in the lead role as a firefighter named Caleb Holt. The movies shows right from the beginning a strained relationship between Caleb and his wife Catherine. He is short with her and she is disrespectful with him. Eventually Catherine says she wants a divorce and they go through the divorce process during the movie. Caleb talks to his father who had become a Christian in recent years and his father tells him of marriage troubles his mother and he had. He offers to send his son something that he wants him to try before he gives up on his marriage.
It must be pointed out that neither Caleb nor his wife Catherine are Christians at the beginning of this film.
Caleb receives a handwritten journal that is later referred to as “The Love Dare” and it gives Caleb 40 days where each day he must working on his marriage with most days asking him to do something kind for his wife. In the middle of the movie when Caleb feels his efforts with the love dare are not working his father uses his failed efforts to bring him to Christ. Then after becoming a Christian he redoubles his efforts despite his wife basically spitting in his face the entire movie only for her to accept him back at the end of the movie. She becomes a Christian because of the change she saw in him and they renew their wedding vows as Christians.
So now we will dive into the problems that make “Fireproof” a movie that Bible believing Christians should reject.
The chain of events that lead to the breakdown of Caleb and Catherine’s marriage
Most Christian reviewers of the movie as well as the people who produced the movie itself want your primary focus to be on Caleb’s wrong behavior and not Catherine’s. There is only one small scene in the movie where a Christian nurse confronts Catherine’s sinful emotional affair with a doctor at the hospital. Catherine’s behavior is seen simply as a wife’s natural reaction to a mean and self-centered husband and we are supposed to believe Caleb’s behavior came out of thin air.
Caleb says the problems started about a year earlier. So now I will present what I think were several problems that lead up to breakdown of their marriage based on several key statements made in the first two arguments of the movie.
Here is the chain of events that eventually lead Catherine to seek divorce from Caleb:
- A year earlier Catherine comes to Caleb asking for him to use part of his savings for his boat to pay for a new hospital bed and wheel chair for her disabled mother who is living in a nursing home and Caleb refuses to part with any money from his savings feeling that he works hard as a firefighter and after saving for years deserves to get his boat.
- Catherine reacts to his refusal by going to work full time as an administrator in a local hospital. Caleb tells her that if she is going to work full time then she will need to help pay the bills in the house while he will continue to pay the house payment and their two car payments.
- Catherine begins spending much more time with her mother on the weekends in addition to working full time and Caleb becomes frustrated by his wife’s neglect of him and her home.
- Caleb begins looking at porn at some point and Catherine starts sexually denying him and tells him that she won’t give him sex while he looks at that “smut” and she would not compete with it. She later tells him that he has lost all honor in her eyes because he looks at porn.
- Catherine’s bitterness toward Caleb over her feelings about him being selfish with his savings, his looking at porn and his not doing enough in helping with the affairs of the home leads to a very disrespectful attitude toward Caleb.
- As could be expected in any marriage that has experienced these types of issues there is also a complete breakdown of even the most basic communications between the couple.
- Caleb gets frustrated with Catherine’s disrespectful attitude and he finally let’s her have it. He yells at her in frustration and gets in her face telling her how ungrateful and disrespectful she has been after she has spent several minutes smarting off to him. She goes from being a defiant and disrespectful wife all of sudden to a fearful victim who begins to cry in fear. She tells him “I want out” and thus begins Caleb’s and Catherine’s journey into divorce.
It must be noted that beside Catherine’s neglect of her home, her sexual denial of her husband and her highly disrespectful attitude toward him she compounds her sinful behavior by beginning an emotional affair with a doctor at the hospital where she works.
The sins that Caleb and Catherine each committed
Caleb acted selfishly in not wanting to part with any of his savings for his boat to care for the legitimate needs of Catherine’s mother for a hospital bed and wheel chair.
Catherine began to grow bitter at Caleb for his selfishness with his savings and at the same time decides to put her mother’s care ahead of her duties to her home and her husband.
Catherine’s comment acknowledging she has been sexually denying her husband and that she would not “compete with that smut” (the porn he had been looking at) also reveals a sinful heart of pride on her part. While much our current culture (including Christian Churches) teach that a man must have eyes only for his wife this concept is not supported by the Scriptures (see my post “10 Hard Truths Christian Wives must accept about their husbands and porn”). Even if it were sinful for him to be looking at porn and it was required by God for him to focus all his sexual thoughts and energy on her it still would not be right for her to sexually deny him.
Could Caleb have helped more around the house with his wife working full time and helping to care for her mother on the weekends? Probably. But there is an argument to be made that unless a husband asks his wife to work to help support the family and if she decides on her own that she needs/wants to work then he has no obligation to help her with the duties of the home. In essence she as decided to pull “double duty” – to work outside the home while fully keeping up with her duties to the affairs of her home.
In either case it appears that Catherine has also been woefully neglectful of her home. There is also another question regarding whether or not she should have been spending all those weekends with her mother at the nursing home. Did they not have nurses to care for her mother?
Even though Caleb was not a Christian man he worked many hours as a firefighter and expected and had grown accustomed to his wife being the keeper of the affairs of the home. This is a natural instinctive expectation for any man in regard to his wife even without knowing anything about the Biblical commands for wives to occupy this role. Our society has tried to reprogram men to be “joint keepers of the home” with their wives but this reprogramming has still not taken affect with a lot of men. The refrigerator and cupboards being stocked, meals being made and his laundry being done were all things Caleb had come to expect from Catherine. Then when she went to work that began to change.
I believe this change in Catherine’s neglect of her home was due to several factors. She believed that since she had to work due to her husband’s selfishness with his money that she was no longer going to take care of all the affairs of the home. He was going to have fend for himself – he deserved that for how he had been treating her. She also decided that her mother’s needs were more important than her husband’s wishes. Even if she was right about all the wrong things he had done – her wrong behavior in reaction to her husband’s behavior caused a destructive spiral of sinful behavior in their marriage that eventually lead to their divorce proceedings.
Right behaviors that could have prevented the collapse of Caleb and Catherine’s marriage
First Caleb could have realized the true need of Catherine’s mother for a hospital bed and wheel chair and sacrificed his dream of a boat to help her mother’s real need. This would have strengthen her love for him. But rather than do what was right Caleb acted selfishly and refused to help her mother.
However, Catherine could have chosen to act to both preserve her marriage and at the same time help her mother at the same time. She could have taken the difficult road of fully taking care of the needs of her home and working full time at the same time. Would this be tiring for her? Absolutely. But then she would have been fulfilling her duty to her home while at the same time helping her mother. Another thing to remember is Catherine and Caleb had no children so really Catherine’s duties to her home would not have been as burdensome as if they had children.
Caleb could have chosen to be more discreet about his porn use and least given his wife the perception that he was not looking at it anymore after she caught him the first time knowing how much it hurt her feelings. He seems to be have had little regard for being discreet about his porn habit.
Catherine felt great emotional pain regarding her husband’s porn use as she felt she was to be center of all his sexual thoughts and that she should not have to compete with images or thoughts of any other women on the part of her husband. But even with her hurt she could have decided to act in a right way and not drive him to look at porn further and also increase his frustration toward her by sexually denying him.
Caleb tries to save his marriage
At first both Caleb and Catherine just want to pull the eject level because of hurts they each feel they have suffered at the hands of the other. But then Caleb’s Dad convinces him to fight for 40 days to save his marriage using the love dare journal.
Caleb while not being a Christian yet out of respect for his father decides to give it a try. In the beginning he is doing these things expecting his wife to notice and then apologize for her behavior and they could make up and cancel the planned divorce. But as he does each kind thing toward her she becomes more and more hostile instead believing his actions are not based on genuine changes she would like to see.
This is where we get into some unbiblical concepts and misapplied biblical concepts that are introduced by the love dare and Caleb’s father.
Fireproof confuses God’s unconditional love with God’s conditional affection
Many Christian men and women do not know that God has two kinds of love for us. There are certain actions God performs toward us that are completely based on God’s unconditional love for us. His salvation for us is chief among these actions and this passage is used in the movie to refer to God’s unconditional love:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (NIV)
This passage is used as central theme in teaching Caleb to unconditionally love his wife. Now should a man unconditionally love his wife? Absolutely. That is what all men vow to do when they take a woman as their wife.
However when a man vows to unconditionally love his wife he is vowing to unconditionally provide for her, protect her, care for her when she sick, lead her, forgive her when she sins against him, show her kindness, teach her, discipline her and sacrifice himself for her.
When Caleb refused to take money out of his savings he was not sacrificing himself for his wife’s true needs as he should have. When he became a Christian he realized what that meant to sacrifice himself for his wife and took the money out of his account and paid for her mother’s hospital bed and wheel chair.
But the Bible shows that God’s affection for us is in fact based upon our affection toward him:
“No, the Father himself loves you BECAUSE you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” – John 16:27 (NIV)
The word here in the original language for “love” is different than the word used in Romans 5:8 in regard to love. This word could be translated as “affection” so it could read as this:
“No, the Father himself shows affection for you BECAUSE you have shown affection me and have believed that I came from God.”
See my post “Why doesn’t my husband love me anymore?” for more on this subject of unconditional love and conditional affection in regard to both God’s love for us as individuals, his love for Israel and a husband’s love for his wife.
Getting back to Fireproof – they teach that God only has one kind love and it is always unconditional. In the view of fireproof a husband is not only to unconditionally love his wife by providing her, protecting her and sacrificing himself for her but is also called to perform unconditional acts of affection toward her.
The message we get from Fireproof is that a man should do things like buy his wife flowers, make her romantic dinners, clean the house and a host of other acts of affection despite his wife’s continued sinful behavior including complete and utter disrespect, a generally critical and hostile spirit, neglect of her duties to the home, sexual denial and even an emotional affair.
The Biblical truth is that while God calls husbands to unconditionally love their wives he does not call them to unconditionally perform acts of affection toward them in spite of their rebellious and sinful behavior or to cause them to turn from their sinful behavior.
What did God do in the Old Testament when his wife acted in rebellion against him, disrespected him and she became unfaithful like Catherine did here in this story?
“41 They will burn your houses with fire and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women. Then I will stop you from playing the harlot, and you will also no longer pay your lovers. 42 So I will calm My fury against you and My jealousy will depart from you, and I will be pacified and angry no more. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged Me by all these things, behold, I in turn will bring your conduct down on your own head,” declares the Lord God, “so that you will not commit this lewdness on top of all your other abominations.” – Ezekial 16:41-43 (NASB)
From Ezekiel and many other Old Testament passages we can see just how God handles a rebellious wife. He brings her conduct on her head. He disciplines his wife.
Notice in this next passage from the book of Isaiah how God removes his blessing from Israel because of her rebellion:
““What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
6 “I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” – Isaiah 5:4-8 (NASB)
God did not continue to bless Israel and do even more for her and perform unconditional acts of affection toward her while she was in her rebellion. God’s example as a husband to his wife Israel is in DIRECT contradiction to what Fireproof advices husband’s to do with a rebellious and unfaithful wife.
But didn’t God show that he would “allure” Israel back to him?
Often times Hosea and the prostitute God called him to marry are brought up to bolster Fireproof’s approach to the rebellious and unfaithful wife. But if you closely examine the story of Hosea you will see that God had Hosea take a prostitute as his wife who was later unfaithful to him and he took her back to show that AFTER Israel repents and turns from her wickedness God would remove his discipline and restore her blessings and her rightful place as his wife.
For more on the subject of a husband disciplining his wife see my post “7 Ways to Discipline your wife”.
Fireproof does get it right about a husband confessing his sin to his wife
God calls husbands to confront sin both in themselves, their wives and their children. But before a husband can confront his wife’s sin he must confess his own and make it right.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Luke 6:42 (NIV)
Caleb did do this with his wife in the movie after he became a Christian. This is something the movie actually gets right.
I do though think it was silly in the movie that he paid for her mother’s hospital bed and wheel chair and he did not tell her about it. He could have used that as a powerful moment to let her know how sorry he was for being selfish with his money and that he had paid for her mother’s hospital bed and wheel chair to demonstrate his repentance. It could have avoided prolonging their problems and if she would have never thought to ask who actually paid for it they may have continued with the divorce.
Fireproof teaches the false doctrine of “Happy Wife Happy Life”
During an exchange early in the movie before Caleb’s conversion he is talking about how is respected everywhere he goes except in his own home. His fellow firefighter tells him that he has been there before his wife not feeling respected and it was a rough place to be. His friend tells Caleb that ultimately his marriage problems were not about his wife’s disrespectful attitude toward him but rather it was because of his mistreatment of her.
He offers this advice that he learned in marriage counseling “Your wife is like rose, if you treat her right she will bloom but if you don’t she wither and die”. This is the essence of “Happy Wife Happy Life” that is taught in both secular marriage counseling and sadly in most Christian marriage counseling in our society.
Today marriage counselors often say that most marriage problems come down to the husband’s treatment of his wife. If the husband would just love his wife as she desires to be loved and do whatever she wants their marriage will be great and in return she will love him and be the best wife to him.
But this is blatantly false.
God calls Christian husband’s to make their first concern to honor God with their lives and to model the relationship of God to his people in their marriages. In keeping with that primary goal of marriage husbands are called to sacrifice themselves not for their wife’s happiness – but rather for her holiness:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” – Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)
In most Christian churches when they teach on the sacrificial love that God calls Christian husband’s to emulate with their wives they stop abruptly at “gave himself up” but they never explain for what purpose a husband is to give himself up for his wife. The primary purpose of a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is to make her holy not to make her happy. In fact often times a husband will be called to make leadership decisions that his wife disagrees with but he believes are in the will of God. This might make her unhappy. He might have to confront his wife for some sinful behavior she is doing and this will definitely make her unhappy. But the goal is his wife’s holiness, not her happiness.
Now is it wrong for a husband to try and make his wife happy where he can? Of course not. If what his wife is asking for would not conflict with what he believes God would have him do then by all means he should do it. If a husband were presented with the same scenario with saving for some boat or other unnecessary thing and a true need arose for a close family member he should sacrifice his wants in these kinds of cases.
Now there is also the case of a selfish wife where is she is very demanding of her husband’s time and money on a regular basis and not for legitimate needs like a hospital bed and wheel chair for her mother. Men need to be careful in these cases to not spoil their wives.
See my previous post entitled “Does the Bible teach “happy wife happy life”?” for more on this subject.
I have personally seen the damage that the Fireproof movie has caused in marriages
When Fireproof was released in September of 2008 I was in the midst of my divorce from my first wife. My story in many ways mirrored the story of Caleb but in some ways it was different.
First let me state the biggest difference is that my wife and I were both professing Christians and we both had attended church for most of our lives. When I say “professing” I don’t mean that I did not truly believe because I have truly believed in God since I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior at the age of seven years old. But by “professing” I mean in my opinion I am not sure that my ex-wife was ever truly a genuine believer. I cannot say for sure that she is not a Christian as only God knows that. But the fact that she has rarely graced the door step of a church in years and the way she has lived her life since our divorce has not given me any cause to think her faith is genuine.
But the reasons for the breakdown in our marriage were similar in some ways to Caleb and Catherine and different in many other ways.
My first wife thought I worked two much – I worked a full time job and a part time job to support our big family with five children. Unlike Caleb though I was not tight with the money and pretty much anything my wife wanted she got if we had the funds. In fact in many ways I was too soft on her as she was an extremely lazy woman with a princess mentality.
Like Caleb I also had a habit of viewing pornography although it did not affect my desire for my wife in the least bit and for all of our marriage until the last year of it we had sex several times a week. At the time though and for most of my life I condemned myself on a regular basis for viewing porn and I ask God’s forgiveness and her forgiveness on a regular basis. After my divorce from my first wife God finally revealed to me that my self-condemnation for viewing porn was misplaced and that I could view some type’s porn guilt free as long as it did not lead to obsessive behavior or affect my desire for my future wife.
Now the reason that our sex life decreased rapidly in the last year of our marriage was not due to my porn habit or any decrease in desire on my part for my wife. The decrease came because for the first time in our marriage she began to sexually deny me. At first it was only a decrease in our relations and then eventually she started to flat out deny me.
What I eventually came to learn is that she had been having an affair with another man for the past year (which completely explained the change in our sex life). She cited my working too much and my history of viewing porn as her primary reasons for the affair. She felt that she should have been the only woman that I desired to see naked and she should have been the center of all my sexual focus and really my life’s focus. She wanted to be number one in all areas of my life and she felt she did not occupy that position based on me putting so much into my job and my viewing porn.
I started attending a support group at a church for people facing the possibility of divorce or actually going through divorce. The director of that group was a huge fan of what was at the time new “Fireproof” approach to handling the wayward wife.
He actually told me that I needed to do what Caleb did in the movie and compete for my unfaithful wife. He convinced me for a time that my porn use was just as unfaithful to my wife as he being unfaithful to me with this man she had been sleeping with for the past year. Many good Christian men have fallen for this false comparison as I once did.
I did what Caleb did and I apologized to my ex-wife in tears on my hands and knees. I begged her to return to me and that I would treat her like the “jewel” she was if she would just give me another chance while I knew she was still seeing this other man.
For a time following this horrible Fireproof advice I was given I convinced myself that my ex-wife was not truly the lazy and the self-centered princess that she truly was.
But then I realized very quickly what this man from this church support group was saying was wrong and that I was trying to convince myself of a lie. Was I the perfect husband? Certainly not. Did I work too much at times and was I neglectful of her at times? Yes. But what I did certainly did not justify what she did.
Did God win back his unfaithful wife by performing acts of affection? No way! He brought down the house on Israel because of her sin. My ex-wife and other Christian men who had unfaithful wives saw their wives emboldened in their unfaithfulness by the example of the Fireproof movie.
It was their husband’s fault not theirs and their husband’s needed to win them back. What heresy! What an utter and complete false teaching this is!
Yes the story of my first marriage did tragically end in divorce and with her quickly marrying the man whom she had the affair with. It was interesting that not long after our divorce before I married my first wife she realized the mistake she made and this guy was not all he acted like he was and she wanted me to consider taking her back but of course there was no real repentance for what she had done. I told her NO WAY and even if I remained a single Dad for the rest of my life that would have been better than being with a wife like her that I could not trust. About two months after that I met the women who would later become my future wife.
As I have written on this site in other places my second wife is a good Christian woman and she certainly has more character and is a far more trust worthy person than my first wife ever was. She truly loves my children and has been a great step mother to them.
But I came to realize that she was indeed a “rebound relationship” not long after we were married and I realized all the differences between us we had overlooked even while both being Christians with her feminist upbringing being a big red flag I overlooked. But I have learned a lot from my first marriage and this second marriage has taught me a great deal as well. We have our rough days and she and I both struggle with certain sins. I still struggle with working too much at times as my wife will attest to. I have tried to carve out some time together and we try and schedule date nights (something I did not do in my first marriage).
But we do love one another and care for one another and we try to do our best to make it work despite there still being many conflicts of marriage philosophy in our marriage. And to answer the question everyone will ask in the comments – is my wife still a feminist? Yes but not as much as she was when were first married. Over the years through our many discussions (some more gentle and others more heated) God has worked through me trying to teach her God’s Word on this subject and she is not the same person she was when we were first married. But we still have a ways to go and sometimes my wife will have relapses and revert back to her old feminist attitudes and it gets tough during those days.
In my first marriage I never disciplined my wife and I did not confront her sinful behavior until the end of the marriage when it was too late. I provided for my family but I did not lead in all areas the way I should have. But in this marriage I have learned to stand up and lead and sometimes do the difficult task of confronting my wife’s sinful attitudes and behaviors while admitting I have some sinful habits and behaviors myself too. It’s not that I don’t still struggle with disciplining my wife and my kids – because I certainly do – but at least now it’s happening.
We have demonstrated that one of the biggest of problems with the Fireproof movie is that it turns marriage into an idol. People are exhorted to do just about anything to save their marriage. God does NOT call us to enable sin to save our marriage. Our faithfulness to God and his will and design for our life is the most important thing. Some marriages cannot be saved due to unrepentant behavior on the part of one or both spouses.
Do I think Kirk Cameron and those who produced this movie had good intentions toward helping couples to save their marriages and stem the tied of divorce? Yes I do. I think Kirk Cameron is truly a man of faith and so are the people who produced this movie and they were sincere in the beliefs about what they thought love in Biblical marriage looks like. But sometimes Christians can be sincerely wrong. Egalitarianism is evident even in the movies theme phrase “Never leave your partner behind”. Despite modern misconceptions about what Christian marriage looks like the Bible never ever refers to marriage as a partnership. It calls a wife a husband’s companion but never his partner. Instead the Bible refers to marriage as a patriarchy.
Contrary to Fireproof’s motto “Never leave your partner behind” – God did in fact leave his wife Israel behind after he disciplined her and she failed to repent of her rebellion and unfaithfulness toward him and then he divorced her. He tells us in the New Testament that he has taken on a new wife in the form of the Church to make his first wife Israel jealous and one day Israel will repent and be restored as his wife in addition to the church.
I am surprised it took me so many years to write my feelings about this movie but now I am glad that I have. I hope that Christians will realize that while there is some good in Fireproof the good DOES NOT outweigh the bad. It completely distorts how God’s unconditional love works and neglects the discipline of God and his conditional affection.