Did you watch the Golden Globes on Sunday? One of the biggest stories from this year was the accolades given to Boyhood, an epic-of-the-ordinary that took 12 years to film. We wrote about Boyhood back when it came out, and if you read that post you’ll get a sense of why its director, Richard Linklater, won top honors on Sunday. Oddly enough, though, as Linklater was bestowed his award, my twitter feed was not filled with applause for Boyhood, but for another project of his: 2003’s School of Rock.


Why in the world would School of Rock be so well remembered over a decade later? A few factors jump to mind: Jack Black reached pinnacle Jack-Black-ness with his role as Dewey Finn, a rock-loving front man who snags a substitute teaching gig at the state’s best prep school. The movie features a ton of excellent music, with tracks from The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, Cream, The Doors, and more. The kid actors are adorable, especially once you learn they’re also the musicians and singers on the sound track, and Joan Cusack is delightful as the straight-laced principal trying to keep a legion of prep-school-parents satisfied.

Those are all wonderful aspects of the film. But if I had to guess why it’s stood the test of time so well–if there’s one thing has only grown more widespread and relevant since 2003–it’s the outrageous performancism lampooned in the movie. Indeed, School of Rock encapsulates how a voice of grace can undermine (and outperform!) the rigors of a culture that places outsized importance in a person’s utility.

It is no secret that the world, with its resumes and scorekeeping and ladder climbing, makes little distinction between our performance and our value. Unfortunately, the church often works that way, too. One’s significance is measured by one’s ‘giftedness’ or how much we volunteer or how much we provide financially as a ‘giving unit.’ That attitude gets translated vertically: one’s standing before God is interpreted through the lens of how well we’re doing here below.

I recommend School of Rock because it’s a parable about the deficiency of performancism when compared to a passion rooted in unconditional welcome.

The prep school where the movie takes place, Horace Green, comes with all the neuroses you would expect: children striving to meet their parents’ high demands, parents afraid for their children’s success, teachers afraid of their principal’s no-nonsense attitude, and a principal afraid of the parents’ wrath and isolated by the fear of her teachers.

When Jack Black’s character commits a bit of harmless identity fraud to substitute teach at the school (suspend your disblief!), we see someone whose love for rock creates a lack of fear. Dewey Finn is annoyed by his brother’s girlfriend (Sarah Silverman), but not afraid of her. He’s worried about what getting caught will mean for his students and his chance at the battle of the bands, but not so much that he does the “wise” thing and bring the class band project to closure. Just observe how much Dewey has his pulse on the law when he gets going about gold-stars and demerits and “the man”:

“How do we get gold stars [performance] if all we have is recess [play]?” Notice the gasp of death in Summer’s breath and the wild, subversive passion in Dewey Finn’s eyes! The next lines in the movie are “As long as I’m here, there will be no grades or gold stars or demerits. We’re gonna have recess all the time… You’re not hearing me, girl. I’m in charge now, OK ? And I say recess. Go. Play and have fun, now.” It’s fearless.

Later in the movie, when Dewey defends his antinomian-esque lawlessness to the students, he gives a heart-breaking but inspired lecture on “The Man.”

It’s a little dark, but you get the vibe that Dewey Finn has been crushed by the same law that these students are trying so hard to uphold and live by. “So don’t go wasting your time trying to make anything cool, or pure, or awesome, because The Man’s just going to call you a fat, washed up loser and crush your soul!” You can hear the prophetic voice of someone all-too-familiar with the weight of accusation warning the class to run away and find acceptance elsewhere, because The Man has no love. The Man has made that much painfully clear to Dewey. Indeed, The Man is a powerful metaphor for a law that by its very nature does not and cannot love. No exceptions, no mercy.

The escape from performancism here comes, of course, in the form of rock ‘n roll–an agent of grace and acceptance for schlub substitute teachers, overworked students, and stressed-out school administrators. But the rock in School of Rock doesn’t foster a skip-school, disobey parents, angst factory–it spurs the students on to freely and creatively follow their passions.

Students are dancing, playing music, reading up on business management, designing fashion, programming computers, doing graphic design–they’re actually learning! Not only that, but quiet students come out of their shells, insecure students find confidence, bullied students speak up for themselves, and bullies learn to tone it down. Not to mention, in an irony-of-all-ironies, rock ‘n roll makes Dewey into an incredible teacher. In the end, (again, suspend your disbelief) even the parents come around, recognizing that joy, passion, and acceptance do more for their children than the pressure to perform and achieve ever could.

In fact, remember how motivated Summer was for her gold stars? Here’s how she responds to law-based approval later in the movie: “I didn’t do it for the grade.” The motivation has changed. It’s no longer about meeting some requirement or earning the right judgement–it’s about play, fun, freedom, and joy. See the following:

The timing of this conversation couldn’t be better. Alas, The Man seems to have gotten his hands on The School of Rock. It’s headed to Broadway as a musical later this year, and Nickelodeon has picked up the franchise for a TV show, which I can only imagine will produce a few of 2016’s tween pop idols. Let’s just hope these new Schools of Rock don’t become as pop-performance based as the Horace Green Prep! Nothing like The Man creating a new “law of cool” out of “sticking it to the man.”

But for now, School of Rock gives us a vision of a world in which joy and foolish passion trump law and performancism. Music in this movie is the voice of sympathy, the great identifier, the agent of grace which loves its listener apart from their track record and especially in failure. Not only that, but the music begets a closing performance more righteous than the laws of performance ever could. Here, you don’t have to suspend your disbelief–this is a real life experience for many, including our own chief editor.

So why then would we consider God as one to motivate us with a standard of performance when we can see through our own life experiences and even our culture’s (better) storytelling that it doesn’t work as well as ‘the heart on fire?’ Why should we think our value to God is based on our passion for him, our bible study regimen, our giving, or our other work? The reality we see on screen in School of Rock is the same one we find in the New Testament: coercion and leverage cannot hold a candle/lighter to the Gold-Star-trashing, Demerit-thrashing, Performance-ending work of the Crucified Savior.