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What Does “Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry” and the Movie “Fireproof” Have in Common?

2 February, 2009

fireproof-1johnsonLast week my lovely wife and I  found someone to babysit Iz and got a chance for some alone time. So we were finally able to see Sherwood Baptist’s “Fireproof” which had been recommended to us by several friends.   Basically, the story goes like this:  the protagonist/fireman tries not so desperately at first to rescue his marriage in distress. His dad gives him some homework from  The Love Dare. However, after many days of following the instructions on how to really love his wife he finds that he really can’t love his wife as she needs. Then his dad leads him to the cross. The fireman believes and then begins to really love his wife.

It all might sound corny, but my wife and I (both Reformed) who have been married for almost a year, found much that was of benefit to us in this movie made by Christians.

And tonight as I was preparing for a sermon series on Galatians, I knew I that my studies would not be complete without combing through WSC faculty’s Covenant,  Justification and Pastoral Ministry. One essay that caught my eye is Dr. Dennis Johnson’s Simil iustus et peccator.

A few years ago, a pastor (not trained at WSC) cautioned me saying, “Phil, Westminster is getting a reputation for preaching too much on justification. Please, don’t preach too many of those.” I think the complaint was leaning towards the idea that the doctrine of justification is a good starting point but let’s move on to the more practical things. Along with CJPM in its entirety DJ’s article gives a good response to this sort of thinking and a Reformed commentary on the gist of “Fireproofs” message:

Daunting challenges confront pastors in their care for God’s people. What does the pastor say to defuse the pent-up resentment that separates a husband and a wife who once vowed to be one throughout life?…

Obviously each counselee and situation have distinctive features that call for great pastoral wisdom, sensitivity, flexibility, and boldness, in humble dependence on the Spirit of Christ to apply the word of Christ to the deep recesses of the heart.  No single formula or script can guarantee the desired outcome in the healing of relationships and the cure of souls. (If we pastors thought that our skills or insight could secure the results we seek, we would be succumbing to yet one more expression of works-righteousness and self-justification.) Nevertheless the practical usefulness of the biblical doctrine of justification can be illustrated by suggesting how justification would motivate each of these hurting and hurtful people to pursue the aspects of sanctification that are most needed in view of their disticntive life-dominating problems (both as sinners and as those sinned against).

The battling couple may well need to be shown and held accountable for establishing new patterns of communication: listening before speaking [Chaos needs to work on this one!!!] refusing to resurrect past slights, asking questions before jumping to conclusions [this one too!!!], avoiding inflammatory absolutes (“you never…,”‘you always…”). None of these valuable skills will be maintained, however unless and until the grace of God in the gospel breaks through the hardness of their hearts at new and deeper levels. Their bitterness toward each other may result from unrealistic expectations and hopes shattered by the spouse’s failure, from the effort to justify oneself by magnifying the spouse’s culpability, from the fear that forgiveness will be misconstrued as a license to perpetuate harmful behavior, or from some combination of these and other factors.  Each needs to see the true magnitude of his or her own debt of offense toward God, the abundance of God’s mercy in erasing that debt through the cross of Christ, and the invincible assurance of God’s approval, grounded on the imputed righteousness of Jesus.  As these truths grip their hearts (which often result not from an instantaneous change but from a prolonged struggle), defenses can fall, sins can be confessed (genuinely, not merely as a step in a required formula), forgiveness can flow, and hope can rekindle… (pp 425-26)

I’ve been a Christian since 1987 and this is as true for me now as it was then. See Fireproof.  Own CJPM.

  1. 5 February, 2009 9:13 am

    I think you ought to read Michael Brown’s critique of Fireproof here:

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    6 February, 2009 6:43 pm

    I read it. I love MB. He’s one of my role-models…but he hates fishing. that’s twisted. so how in the world can you respect his opinion on movies?? and btw…you don’t have to follow the pack on everything in life. I personally don’t get as offended by sincere evangelicals as i do by many of the trouble-makers in our own circles (read f.v., npp, pastors who try to mark anyone who doesn’t hold to 6/24 hr days as confession breakers yet uphold john murray’s intentionally uncofessional…’recasting’ of reformed covenant theology). kirk cameron is cool. paul wouldn’t hate him. however, he shows very little tolerance for gnomes.

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