Freedom, Responsibility, and the Theological Implications of Jonathan King’s Black Sheep
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
There are two primary schools of thought regarding Christian ethics. On the one hand we have the legalism: “these are the rules and you had better live up to them, or else!” On the other hand we have license: “you can do whatever you want because God loves you.” Both of these extremes fall short of the truth!
In legalism, everything depends on me, including my own salvation. If I screw up, even a little bit, God is disappointed in me and I need to feel guilty. This is not what the Bible teaches! I think of the book of Galatians, in which we learn of the precious freedom that is now ours and of our position as God’s children and heirs.
In license, nothing depends on me. I can do whatever I want. Problem is, this isn’t what the Bible teaches either. If you have truly grasped and understood God’s grace, your life will be radically altered. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18)
True freedom happens in the context of an obedient relationship with God. John 8:32 gets tacked on the side of academic buildings and libraries, but without verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This is a messy freedom, but I am free to make mistakes, knowing that God does not love me any less for making them. Nothing I can do can wreck his plans. Nothing I can do, short of utterly rejecting him, can wreck my standing with him… and even that probably depends on him more than I realize.
The new ethical standards Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount are both more difficult, more personal, and more flexible than the rules of the Old Testament (Matthew 5-7). Jesus came down so hard on the Pharisees because their hearts did not match their actions. In the new ethics, why I do anything matters even more than what I do. Are my motivations pure?
Which brings me to the movie about zombie sheep. Jonathan King’s Black Sheep really is the best bad movie I’ve ever seen (not to be confused with the worst good movie I’ve ever seen, Eregon). Shaun of the Dead was an A-movie in a B-movie genre, and one of the best comedies of 2004. Black Sheep really is a B-movie trying to be the best B-movie possible. It suceeded, with maximum gore, witty dialogue, and close-ups of man-eating sheep heads chomping their way to victory. There were also the recurring themes of the importance of family, of taking care of the environment, and of facing one’s fears. The fruitlessness of money, the occasional ridiculousness of New Age spirituality, and the grossness of Scottish food also formed a comedic backdrop. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed all year. What could be funnier than zombie sheep chasing a dude with a sheep phobia? As in any mad scientist movie, we realize that the ones who created the zombies are the true monsters. In the midst of their despair, the heroes must decide that there is something worth fighting for and that hope is always the best choice, however unlikely.
Despite its low status in the eyes of critis, horror has been the only genre of film to retain an overwhelming sense of the transcendent. Granted, it is a transcendent evil, but transcendent nonetheless. Just because it depicts evil does not mean that it is an evil movie. (See also Broaddus’s “The Theology of Horror“.)
I do not think that God would have been pleased with 6-year-old me seeing this movie. I would have had nightmares for weeks. But for 28-year-old me… I can say with confidence that God was glorified in my viewing of this gory film.
Paul writes, using the Corinthians’ own words against them: “‘Everything is permissible’– but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’– but not everything is constructive.” (Corinthians 10:23)
Black Sheep would not be beneficial or constructive for everyone. But for those who can endure the flying intestines (you know who you are), there is much that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. What could be more beneficial than that?
God doesn’t like all B-movies. Only the good ones.