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Christian Movies: Not a Ministry Tool

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From the title of this piece, I’ve probably already angered someone. But I’m not here to make you happy with my controversial opinion. So go ahead and condemn me to hell, but give me a second to explain.

My husband and I recently went with some church friends to the movie Fireproof. We’ve been going to dollar movies and drive-ins for a while now, and no one told me we’d be paying ten bucks each to see this thing. But supposedly it’d be worth it, so we choked out the money, sat in the most uncomfortable seats in the world, bought the most expensive popcorn in the world, and watched.

Fireproof stars Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea as a married couple on the verge of divorce. Cameron plays firefighter Caleb Holt, a hero to everyone but his wife. In the course of two hours, Holt saves some teens from a crash, gets saved himself, then turns around and saves his marriage.

I’ll be honest. I was expecting to see an extremely unrealistic, Jesus-loves-me-on-the-surface, happy-ending film that would leave me bitter and empty. Some of that turned out to be true, but Fireproof had good production values, dealt with honest addictions and heartache, and gave great advice to married couples who are struggling to make it through. It’s an inspiring movie for people everywhere.

Except that’s where the problem lies. The people watching these entertaining, screen-friendly biblical principles are not the ones who really need to be. Most of the people in the theatre last Friday night came with a church group.

Don’t get me wrong; all married couples, Christian or not, need a boost, or rather a big kick in the pants, now and again. And there are plenty of Christian marriages on the verge of divorce. I really hope the movie inspires these people to treat one another in the way the Bible instructs us. And if that’s the audience that Fireproof was hoping to hit, they did a great job.

However, I have a feeling they had a bigger goal in mind: to teach the unsuspecting world about Christ. Or “impact Hollywood,” as the Fireproof blog says. The producers and actors are counting on Church enthusiasts to gather the heathens in busloads to watch the movie that will change their lives. I do commend them. At least they’re doing something. But if that really is their goal, it’s not working!

If the movie ends up number three in the nation, it’ll be because Sunday school teachers somehow convinced hearty church members to attend, not lost souls looking for inspiration.

But I don’t blame them. While producers and so forth are hoping I invite my bar-going friends to their Christian movie, I’m not going to, because I know what my bar-going friends will think. They’ll think it’s lame.

Church people get all warm and fuzzy on the inside when they see Kirk Cameron get saved…again. But salvation doesn’t always work that way. People search years, sometimes never hearing the voice of God. It’s a heartbreaking road. As Christians, we should know that it isn’t easy, and yet we portray it in books and movies as if you preach at sinners for a day or two (or during a two-hour movie) and they’ll suddenly be inspired to turn their lives around.

Besides, using the unrealistic nature of these multimedia conversions is a cheap way to bring the good news to someone. If you want to produce a movie that touches a crowd who lacks that all-essential moral compass, don’t make a Christian movie. Make something real. Make something true to life that people would go see without the influence of their Sunday school teachers.

Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis’s stepson, made a great point during an interview with Focus on the Family. He said that we need more Christians writing books and making movies, but not necessarily Christian ones.

He says that Prince Caspian “is not a Christian film, and the Narnia books aren't Christian novels."

However, we find morality and truth in those stories, not because they are overtly Christian, but because C. S. Lewis followed Christ. And that is the kind of media that will speak to the world today.

Movies like Fireproof are good for inspiring those who are already inspired. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need KLVV. But the biggest issue I have with these venues is that a lot of the time they cut Christians off from the rest of the world, as well as create reasons to give others a good ol’ snubbing.

If you didn’t cry at The Passion of the Christ, you’re not really forgiven of your sins. If you didn’t read the Left Behind books, you don’t know anything about the end times. And if you don’t watch Fireproof, you marriage is a failure.

I have a better idea. Let’s all read the Bible. Because then we can smile during the Passion because we know how it ends. We can read Revelation. It’s better than any man-woven plot anyway. And there are countless scriptures about how to treat your spouse!

If you want to go see Fireproof, I encourage you to. It really is a great movie! But if you’re hoping it’s going to save your lost friend, don’t bother. Read the Bible instead, and I swear you will be much better equipped to teach and pray for that person. That will be a heck of a lot more effective than inviting them to some Christian movie.

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About Janica Unruh

  • Laura Reid

    Quoting your last two lines: “While producers and so forth are hoping I invite my bar-going friends to their Christian movie, I’m not going to, because I know what my bar-going friends will think. They’ll think it’s lame.”
    My comment: You didn’t!

  • This movie is designed to help failing marriages, not to win people to Christ. And true to its purpose, many lives have been changed. Please read “Fireproof stories”, of people who have been impacted by the movie.

    It served its purpose fully, and I disagree with this story.

  • “Too many folks have twisted that into the idea that we shouldn’t be ashamed of any piece of garbage that mentions Jesus Christ”


    You crack me up! Thank you for that scripture. I absolutely agree.

  • Christian Marriages? What a bunch of tripe!

    Great article, Janica. I once went to see one of those “high production values” end-times movies, and then tuned into the local big-hair affiliate to see the folks on TBN raving about it and reading emails from folks who thought it was the best movie ever.

    I sent them an email with my opinion, but it never made it on the air; go figure.

    The apostle Paul suggests that we should not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and goes on to explain why. Too many folks have twisted that into the idea that we shouldn’t be ashamed of any piece of garbage that mentions Jesus Christ, no matter how shameful it is. Those people need to re-read Romans!

    I am ashamed of movies like this, of pretty much anything Kirk Cameron has done since Growing Pains. I am also disinterested in The Passion of the Christ, Left Behind, and anything so far produced by Cloud Ten pictures.

    I’m especially disinterested in #1’s idea of Christian Marriages.

  • Many Christians are married, but not all married Christians have Christian Marriages. I believe this move is for those Christians. And to that extent, I think it is a good tool.