Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick, The Love Dare (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2008)
The book is remarkably powerful.
One might expect 199 small pages of easy-on-the-eyes print and short sentences to be an easy read, something easily absorbed on a weekend with a glass of lemonade outback. Not so. This is not a book one reads straight through in a few nights; well, physically one can scan all the words with one’s eyes in a matter of hours, but the message of the book would be completely lost. The book is meant to be read one day at a time, just as in the movie. The book is the movie Fireproof on paper, in a very real sense.
[T]his is the movie in print form, minus Wayne and fire trucks and kitchen sinks and tomato juice hiding in salsa bottles.
Each day’s reading is three pages, followed by a “dare” of a few sentences. The dares are short things the reader is asked to do in order to improve his marriage. The order of the dares, and the dares themselves, are exactly as Caleb read them in the movie, and in fact, reading the book increases one’s understanding of the movie. But one need not watch the movie first; the two are autonomous. Readers who have seen the movie, though, will recall, as an example, that after Catherine rebuffs Caleb’s candlelight dinner, Caleb has a long talk with his father and tells his father that he’s quitting the dare challenge. On film Caleb seems to have skipped that day’s dare, or at best postponed it. As far as the viewer knows he spent the whole day with his father and did not so much as touch the book’s jacket. Not so! That was Day 19 according to the book. The substance of that talk with Dad was dare 19. And the next day at the fire station when Caleb tells Michael “I’m in” was in fact the substance of the dare of Day 20 in the book. Caleb did not miss a beat. In the climactic bedside scene when Caleb tells Catherine that he’s on day 43 he paraphrases from the book’s discussion: “This book may end at Day 40. But who says your dare has to stop?” And so on – this is the movie in print form, minus Wayne and fire trucks and kitchen sinks and tomato juice hiding in salsa bottles.
And just like in the movie the second half of the dares are better than the first half. The first half is a warm up, a prelude, the stretches one does before a ballgame. The second half is the ballgame, the performance itself, the thing you came here to do. It is when inner changes occur, when the “muscles” grow and the body takes on new abilities. And it is decidedly Protestant Christian. In Days 36 and 39, and Appendix III, the authors stress the written Bible as the sole source of God’s word to mankind. This grounds the book firmly. The reader has the clear, unmistakable impression that the authors are not making anything up themselves but are instead passing on wisdom thousands of years old. However, there is a notable omission: there are no quotes, not even references, to great men or women of prior generations. For example, at Day 35 the reader is challenged to find a marriage mentor for the purpose of benefiting from the experience of someone who has gone before. But do not people from other centuries have wisdom to share? Luther, Wesley, numerous Early Church Fathers—do they not have wisdom to share? No such people are mentioned.
Perhaps this was intentional. On Days 19-21 there is a slight bias in the book toward a decision-theology form of Protestantism. The authors are Baptist ministers so this was perhaps inevitable; Day 20 could even be described as a Baptist “altar call,” and Baptists are not known for citing long-gone theologians. However, the bias is not so strong as to ruin the effect of the dares as a totality. Although the authors insinuate “accepting Jesus” on a few occasions, the standard “Sinner's Prayer” is omitted and the sinner's justification is attributed entirely to Christ's merits. Days 1-18 demonstrate the need that every person has for Jesus. In Day 12 the reader is introduced to the gospel message, but it is not pushed. Then Day 19 is the realization of the truth of Days 1-18. Despite giving it one's best effort, anyone taking the love dare will fail (pp. 191,193):
So how can you do it? Like it or not, agape love isn't something you can do. It's something only God can do. But because of His great love for you—and His love for your spouse—He chooses to express His love through you. ... The truth is, you can't live without Him and you can't love without Him.
The bulk of Day 19 focuses on sin and the need for the forgiveness Christ won—both for eternal salvation in the life to come and for empowering believers to love in the present life as God has loved them. (Recall the scene at the cross, in the movie?) Day 20 is about acting on that realization. It is the crowd’s response to Peter at Pentecost, and Peter’s response back to them (Acts 2:37-38):
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
Though drifting at times toward decision theology, the book, like the movie, deserves high honors as a magnificent presentation of God’s love to this generation, à la 1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Days 22-40 and the appendices are then about living out the change wrought at the conversion experienced in Day 20. (Readers who are already Christians should recall that 1 John 1:9 was directed at them.) The journey of dares then closes with the reminder that “[the] book may end at Day 40. But who says your [Christian life] has to stop?” This is a challenge to act like Jesus in everything you do, and it is probably the hardest one in the list.
Though drifting at times toward decision theology, the book, like the movie, deserves high honors as a magnificent presentation of God’s love to this generation, à la 1 John 1:9—‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’
But all is not roses and glory. Cover to cover, for all 40 days of the dare, the authors write awkwardly of what sounds to be polygamous marriage. No doubt the authors were seeking to be gender inclusive and avoid the awkward repetition of "he or she" and "his or her" throughout the book.The employment of "they," "their," and "them" unfortunately leaves the suggestion that the person taking the love dare has more than one spouse. For example, on Day 27 the authors write, "Promise them you'll seek to understand, and assure them of your unconditional love" (134, emphasis added).
More substantively, the authors at times use the term "human" carelessly, when "sinful nature" would be more accurate (e.g., at pp. 2 and 131). It is unlikely they intended to deny Christ's humanity, and yet their contrast between one's spouse, who is "[merely] human," and God, who "is not," suggests a confused christology (102). The Father and the Holy Spirit are not human, but for Gospel clarity one needs to emphasize that Christ was fully human for us, without sinning like us. (Elsewhere the authors present the Gospel message quite well.)
As another concern, the authors do not follow a consistent Bible translation. Although most verses are taken from the New American Standard version, the authors occasionally use any of three other translations. This is a minor criticism, but nonetheless it weakens the message when one picks and chooses translations, since it looks like one is hunting for agreement rather than letting God speak what God will speak.
But all things considered, these criticisms do not—and will not—eclipse the magnificent clarity of God’s voice, and God’s light of love, shining out of these 40 days of dare. No person can read this book and deny, or even question, that it would work if tried. That is not to say every troubled marriage will be rescued by this book. Rather, as the authors explain: "There's no guarantee that anything in this book will change your spouse. But that's not what this book is about. It's about you daring to love," and God transforming the reader who contemplates Christ's unconditional love for sinners (76). The purity of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unmistakable in the first 20 Dares. The purity of “new life” is unmistakable in the latter 20 and is beyond challenge, according well with Romans 6:4 and 2 Corinthians 5:17:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. ...
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
And yet, there is one thing missing from the book: a single list of all the dares. Appendix I is a guide to prayer. Appendix II is conversation ideas for communicating with one’s spouse. Appendix III is Bible verses. Appendix IV is a sermonette on securing one’s heart inside God’s heart. Appendix V does not exist but it should be the list of 40 dares. Or not? Is this omission by design? What if one is already a mature Christian, watches the movie, loves the movie, and is 100% sold on doing the dare. All he wants is the complete list of dares. Where can he get them? The answer is “nowhere,” but maybe this is by design. To shortcut out of the three-page discussions that precede each dare would, in the cumulative, denude the book of its power. The overwhelming effect of the book comes from the cumulative build-up of the presentation first of God’s love for the reader and his spouse, and then practical ways of living out the reality of God’s love in an actual human life from now until the end of time. That cannot be taught or caught in a mere list of 40 check boxes.
Maybe that is why the authors did not provide a list. As the back cover says, “Whether your marriage is hanging by a thread or healthy and strong, ‘The Love Dare’ is a journey you need to take.”
Scott MacPherson, who has an M.S. in Mathematics, has also completed several courses toward a Master of Divinity degree. He homeschools his children in mathematics, natural science, and religion, with his wife teaching the other subjects. The family lives in Southern California, where Scott works as a software engineer.