Recently, I have been enthralled by the BBC2 show REV which chronicled the highs and lows of a CoE vicar in an inner-city church. Being a huge fan of The Thick of It and its feature-length spinoff In The Loop, I was looking forward to Tom Hollander’s performance as the beleaguered Reverend (with the brilliant, Joe Orton-esque name of Adam Smallbone) . Surprisingly, considering the media’s traditional disdain towards organised religion, I found REV’s portrayal of Christianity to be – in parts - sincere, respectful and authentic.
However, the show also suffered for mostly portraying a Christian faith that I did not recognize the face of (hopefully this is not the early onset of theological Asperger’s Syndrome). For me, Adam seemed to have a hugely impoverished faith – one in which Christ was not central, but instead a touchy-feely one filled with benign, ineffectual moralism and unnecessary, repellent ecclesiastical legalism. Ultimately, a faith that was more British than it was biblical.
Smallbone showed all the flaws of a lukewarm, liberal vicar who loves people but doesn’t love Jesus:
A non-existent congregation, bi-annual crises of faith, a sense of purposeless…
As such, Adam represents the liberal wing of the CoE today. Dying, irrelevant and confused. A reminder that once you let go of the Gospel, you will grab hold of anything. Meanwhile, in the evangelical churches, the pews are filling up because the Gospel is being preached faithfully, with love and without compromise.
Controversially, the prime example of this would be Darren – the terrifyingly hip yet slimy evangelic Charismatic from ep2 – who [I'd like to think intentionally] was a spitting image of popular emergent Church skengman Rob Bell. Darren represented everything Adam was not – socially contemporary and theologically conservative. More importantly, Darren believed it all and was liberated by it – which made ministry a whole lot easier and fruitful. Certitude can be a beautiful thing – if a little offensive to the relativists out there.
To avert my tide of sanctimonious judgment, I want to also applaud the authenticity of REV. Hopefully REV has broken down some misconceptions about the Church and Christianity. Whilst the show did not make a particularly strong case for Jesus and why Humanity needs him, REV has helpfully dispelled some of the popular prejudices of church culture – that vicars are culturally removed and have no idea about contemporary life or that being a Christian makes you better and more moral than anyone else. Or that Christians are killjoys who don’t drink, don’t go to parties and are allergic to sexual intercourse (I do hope the writers did not think portraying a vicar with an active sex life was satirical or dissenting in anyway – even a vague awareness of Mark Driscoll’s ministry would show that sex is encouraged in a healthy Christian relationship – role-playing and all) How deprived and uninformed are people’s understanding of Christianity if they reduce to it merely a system of elevated morality and upstanding behaviour!
I had no qualms about the congregation who were a delight. From Colin the bottom-pinching hobo to Adoha’s lascivious ways – all of them have a place in the church which should be filled with all sorts. If anything I found their foibles to be too staid. Typical Sunday congregations are filled with a litany of miscreants, ‘characters’, rehabilitated criminals, unrehabilitated criminals, oddballs, wrecks and occasionally sweaty, disheveled gentlemen that have the church leadership deliberating tensions between Christian acceptance and child protection laws. The idea that even the most fundamentalist church is exclusive is a myth – a good church will hate the sin and love the person.
There is loads more discussion to be had about REV – which was a sublime little comedy in many ways if you overlook the theological omissions. Needless to say, I’m seriously looking forward to a second series.
***If you are unchurched or see Christianity as an irrelevant mythology (Naughty secularist! – read Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel or some basic apologetics), I encourage you to pop along to your local church. Challenge the people there, ask questions and keep searching. Please don’t sit passively and allow the media to spoon-feed you the mediocre – if frequently hilarious – view of Christianity as shown in REV.
Whether you are a Christian or not, what were your thoughts about Rev?