Rev: so good it’s dangerous

James Mumford on the BBC comedy Rev:

But when asked why Rev is so good, the usual answer cites “an insider viewpoint” on an inner-city vicar. Which is precisely what it’s not. Rev is an outsider’s imaginative construction of an insider viewpoint – a secular take on the sacred…

Which is all well and good. Yet it remains an outsider’s perspective. An insider view of the church would, by contrast, revolve around the reality of shared faith. From the outset, Rev’s operating assumption is that faith is individual. The Rev Smallbone’s prayer monologues are purely personal. Faith is not something held in common. Nor is it transformative. Which is, rightly or wrongly, what people of faith think it is. Perhaps the show’s most wonderful character, the drug addict Colin, is a parishioner Adam is genuinely friends with. But there’s never a question of faith freeing him from addiction.

I’ve really enjoyed this series of Rev. It is, at times, profound and touches on brilliance, and at others is deeply disappointing. Somehow Adam Smallbone struggles through temptation and personal doubt to do the right thing. Yet James’ points are right on. Its take on the church is deeply undermining, of corporate faith that is shared between believers skin deep. The supernatural is entirely absent.

Denying the insider view denies the rich diversity of the church in England. This is both a lack of creativity and a failure of representation.

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The Ad Man’s Gospel

Alastair Roberts on Rob Bell:

The ad man doesn’t persuade his customer by making a carefully reasoned and developed argument, but by subtly deflecting objections, evoking feelings and impressions, and directing those feelings and harnessing those impressions in a way that serves his interests. Where the lawyer argues, the ad man massages.

Rob Bell’s theology seldom approaches you head on. It typically comes at you couched in a question, insinuated in an anecdote, embedded in a quotation from one of his friends, or smuggled in a metaphor. Its non-confrontational and conversational tone invites ready agreement. Even if you don’t agree, Bell hasn’t pinned himself down. He’s only asked a question, quoted an acquaintance, or related an anecdote, and could easily distance himself from any of them.

This seems like a fair assessment to me. Much of the criticism of Bell I’ve seen – leaving the theology aside – fails to take account of the highly creative and persuasive elements of his style, that are so often missed or grate with linear thinkers.