Rev-iew. Rev review. Did you see what I did there? Hahahaha!
The BBC series ‘Rev’ finished its second series on Tuesday with a Christmas special (although, as the character Nigel pointed out in the show, technically it’s not Christmas until Christmas day: it’s ‘Advent’ until then…) The series as a whole was well written, witty, and very moving in places. It also had some real moments of warmth between the characters – they were believable and I felt myself rooting for them. Essentially, the show was everything I think a sitcom ought to be.
But… but… there was something about the series which annoyed me. It irked me. It got under my skin and made me feel somewhat uncomfortable watching it. That element was there in the last series (see my review of series one on Crossring), but seems to have developed in this series. I’m not entirely sure why that is – possibly because I now am actually training to basically do Adam Smallbone’s [the vicar in Rev] job, it puts what Adam does into sharper focus. I’ve been thinking a lot about what my ministry would look like in the future, and comparing it with Adam’s it seems there are things missing from his ministry which I would like there to be in mine.
Last week, I attended an ordinand’s evening put on by Chelmsford Diocese (an ordinand is someone who is training to be ordained but isn’t yet). I got into a discussion with the Archdeacon of Southend about Rev – I said that I thought it was clear that the show was written by someone who didn’t really believe, because I didn’t feel like God was really working. The Archdeacon very much disagreed. His view was that Adam being there at the end, still pressing on as a vicar, meant that God was working: I think the Archdeacon saw a lot of churches like those in Rev, and basically Rev was much more of a documentary than a comedy! I’ve been reflecting on this over the past week, and I think my thoughts are now a little bit more clear.
I’m not entirely sure I can put into words exactly what I feel, but I think it boils down to the fact that neither Adam’s life or his ministry are characterised by the gospel. Let me try to explain what I mean by that.
Firstly, Adam’s life: I think the writer took so much trouble to paint a picture of Adam as an ordinary person that he just comes across as someone who is no different at all from ‘the world’, in Biblical language. The Bible often makes a distinction between those who follow Christ and ‘the world’ – see, for example, John 17 (e.g. v14 ‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.’)
Adam, on the other hand, smokes, drinks, and has outbursts like the one he has at church in the Christmas episode. I just feel a bit uncomfortable with that – although vicars are Christians like everyone else, sinners like everyone else, I would have just liked to see his life a bit more characterised by the gospel. As Paul puts it ‘… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received’ (Ephesians 4:1). I’m not entirely sure I saw the holiness in Adam which I would like to see in any Christian, and particularly a minister of religion.
I do recognise, by the way, that vicars are people and have flaws, a characteristic of being human. I suppose the problem is at no point does he really seem to acknowledge that and confess that it is only by God’s grace that he can continue.
Any kind of Christian ministry is hard, and being a vicar especially can be tough, but his life just doesn’t seem to be characterised by the joy that comes of knowing God’s grace.
Which brings me to the second point – the fact that his ministry is not characterised by the gospel. He seems to have very little idea of what he is actually there for – what his role is all about. He says in Episode 5 “What is charity? … that’s giving alms, but I feel like I’m called upon to do more.” The thing is, I believe the ‘more’ he is called upon to do is to bring people into contact with the living God.
He just seems to have a very vague, generalised picture of his ministry as doing things which are basically Christian – such as visiting the sick, conducting church services, helping people practically – without anything which would give those things some weight. For example, in Episode 3 his friend Joan – an elderly lady – asks him if God will forgive her for some of the bad things she’s done. All he says is, “I think God will forgive you.” Sure, but on what basis? Why does God forgive? Is there anything that Joan needs to do?! I want him to answer those questions too!
In Episode 4 he is asked the question by one of the school children, “Do Muslims go to heaven?” And he says, “Yes, if they follow the five pillars of Islam.” Now I don’t want to get into the question of what happens to people who are from other religions, but I don’t know whether that would be an acceptable answer. If he honestly believes that people from other religions all go to their heaven, what is he doing there as a vicar? What is his role? It just seems that being a vicar in a Christian church demands we take the claims of Christ’s uniqueness seriously (e.g. John 14:6, “no one comes to the Father except through me”). If anyone goes to heaven it is because of God’s grace displayed in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Essentially Adam’s work becomes reduced to going around trying to be a helpful person and offering a few platitudes here and there to do with God when people are feeling down. But they’re OK really – everyone will be saved in the end, except for perhaps a few really nasty people who don’t deserve it. I wouldn’t say that Adam was a universalist (i.e. believes that everyone will be saved) but practically speaking he seems to have no real motivation for evangelism.
Now the problem with all this is that I do realise there are different ways of looking at ‘Rev’ (see, for example, Grace and Truth in Rev – thanks @simonlucas). And, of course, it is ‘only a sitcom’… but it is apparently more based on real life than I imagined – viz my conversation with the Archdeacon.
The key thing is that when I look round the world and see people like those portrayed in Rev – ordinary people, ordinary lives – it seems to me (from my reading of Scripture) that their greatest needs are not physical but spiritual: they need to be brought into the Kingdom of God, and have their lives touched by the gospel. This is what I will strive for in any future ministry I will be involved with. And I just don’t see that happening in Rev: Adam Smallbone doesn’t have any good news.