Thursday, April 17, 2014

The gospel according to Rev: vulnerable or just ineffectual?

If Yes Minister had a political agenda, Rev (which is also a wonderful comedy) appears to have its own theological axes to grind.  Smallbone stands in a long line of comically ineffectual Anglican clergy.  It’s not a coincidence that one of the most memorable villains of the first series was a clergyman with a thriving congregation. In fact, there are barely any positive mentions of anyone with the gifts or inclination to help the church to grow.
All too often, the debates within the Church of England polarise into either an unthinking focus on numerical growth or a curious glorification in decline and impotence (of the kind we see in Rev).  It is all too obvious what is wrong with an uncritical theology of success – as if “bums on seats” were more important than faithfulness and sacrifice.  In some parishes, changing demography may well make numerical growth unrealistic – and yet churches may be “present and engaged” in ways that bear a powerful witness to the Kingdom of God. Numerical growth and Kingdom growth are not always the same thing.
However, we must be equally wary of an uncritical theology of failure – which uses the language of “vulnerability” and “powerlessness” to justify structures and practices which have outlived their usefulness.  We must not confuse Christ-like vulnerability with plain, old-fashioned ineffectiveness.  And we need to remember, whenever “bums on seats” or “the numbers game” are criticised, that behind every number (or, indeed, above every “bum”…) is a life which is hopefully being transformed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
read more here. In the light of Good Friday we have to look very hard at any theology which claims that success and strength are fundamental to being an authentic church. And in the light of Easter Sunday we have to look very hard at any theology which suggests that ineffectually doing a few small but nice things in a corner is what constitutes faithful and authentic ministry. 
there are one or two other analyses of Rev. doing the rounds, which are worth putting alongside the programme itself, for example:
Giles Fraser, wants the 'kindly but inert' vicar to show more backbone
Ian Paul wonders about the missing ingredient, if you can call God an ingredient.
Malcolm Stewart at Cultbox "the Church of England is a group of people united in the knowledge that there is always something to apologise for"
Tim Stanley "Self-laceration is the stock-in-trade of the 1960s liberal Christian tradition, and Rev is its fifth gospel"

1 comment:

  1. David, I found Stephen Cherry's blog on "How to Read Rev" quite helpful, too.
    Find it at