Did “Erasing the Bible-study Aspect” of the Alpha Course Contribute to Its Success?
June 26, 2014
The Alpha Course has been a frequent topic of discussion at Do Not Be Surprised, as we have examined such things as Alpha’s doctrine, its ecumenical leanings, and its mystical roots and teaching. Yet Alpha continues to grow in popularity and its leader, Nicky Gumbel, continues to reveal just why it is that Christians should be concerned about Alpha and the influence it wields.
A 28 May 2014 article in the British GQ magazine highlights the influence Alpha has had in the prisons, and the subsequent effects on the inmates. The lengthy article, entitled “Alpha Males,” features several conversion stories about criminals who participated in an Alpha Course while behind bars. Ultimately, however, it is not these personal stories that are of interest. It is what is said by some of the Alpha leadership in this article, particularly Gumbel himself, that reminds and reaffirms just how dangerous the Alpha Course truly is.
The article begins with a detailed account of one man’s arrest and imprisonment, and then launches into a general description of the Alpha Course. Explaining how Nicky Gumbel “transformed” the course from its original design, the article states:
Alpha was created at HTB in 1977 as a refresher course in Christianity for lacklustre churchgoers. It was small-scale, and its members were elderly. Thirteen years later, Nicky Gumbel, a Cambridge-educated priest, took charge of Alpha and it transformed. Most importantly, it was re-nosed to appeal particularly to agnostics. Gumbel erased the Bible-study aspect (if you don’t believe in the Bible, what good is that?), and the introductory talk on “How can I be sure of my faith?” went the same way. He made its 15 sessions livelier, with guest speakers and music, and he was at pains to ensure it never felt preachy. Greater attention was paid to marketing: it downplayed references to religion, talking instead about “the meaning of life”. His instincts were vindicated – and then some. HTB started converting hardened nonbelievers into committed Christians by their thousands.
It seems that the key word in these paragraphs may be “marketing.” In other words, appeal to what the people want, even if what they want is for their itching ears to be scratched (2 Tim 4:3). Do they loathe preaching but love catchy music? Check. Religion talk too scary? Drop it. Bible study too boring? Who needs it anyway? After all, a program’s success depends on the happiness of its customers, right?
This may be how the world views success, but Christians define it very differently. For the Christian, a thing is successful when the Lord Jesus Christ is honored. And it is difficult to see how He is honored or glorified when His Word is downplayed and ignored.
The quote above says that Gumbel eliminated “the Bible-study aspect” of Alpha and that now “hardened nonbelievers” have been converted “into committed Christians by the thousands.” How can this be? If the “Bible-study aspect” is erased, and yet it is through the Bible that one comes to know Christ, then these so-called conversions must be approached with caution.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)
It is clear from the testimony of Scripture that conversion happens when a man hears the Word, is convicted of his sin, repents before the Lord, and trusts in Christ and His work alone for salvation. All of these things are gifts from God, but they are nevertheless objective realities. Yet this article subtly offers another definition of conversion. It seems to be conversion to Alpha’s Christianity, and it is one that appears to be based primarily upon feelings and emotions. The deceptive potential of this definition ought to make the true believer cringe.
In this writer’s opinion, the following quote from Nicky Gumbel as captured in this GQ article is perhaps the most frightening:
Its crucial feature is an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, which is explored on a weekend away that typically falls between session seven and eight, when guests are encouraged to speak in tongues. In short, they have religious experiences. “I think that’s why it works,” says Gumbel. “We used to be a bit embarrassed about the Holy Spirit because it sounded weird. Now we live in a world that’s much more open: the part young people find hard is the Bible and authority, but if they can have an experience of God that’s fantastic.”
(Source, emphasis added)
These words are enough to render the Bible-believing Christian speechless. Experience never trumps the objective truth of God’s Word. Faith and conversion do not begin or end with a mere “experience of God” unless that experience is true salvation as evidenced by repentance, faith and ultimately a transformed life, all of which are, of course, granted by the grace and power of God and are not defined by a momentary, fleeting feeling of watery eyes, a shivery spine, or ecstatic utterance. But again, the truth that God uses to execute these things is found in the Bible. The call to a life of holiness is found in the Bible (see 1 Pet 1:14–16). And if the Bible is not seen as God’s Word and thus as the final authority, then the so-called converted Christian who has had an “experience” is merely experiencing a God of his own imagination.
But what does God say about His Word?
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16–17)
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11)
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD; Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. (Psalm 119:9–16)
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thess 2:13)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Pet 1:24–25)
And what did the Apostle Peter, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, say about his very real experience on the Mount of Transfiguration?
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”– and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet 1:16–21)
Anyone who disregards this Word and its authority is, quite simply, not a Christian.
It was striking, too, to realize that the name of Jesus Christ was painfully absent throughout this article, even though it was detailing several “conversions” of men to faith in Christ. Can one have a true conversion story that neglects to mention and exalt the name of the Savior? No.
There were several more concerning aspects of this article, but these quotes from the lips of Gumbel himself do enough to condemn the Alpha empire. One cannot shun the Word of God and yet expect the Holy Spirit to come and deliver an “experience.” Participants may speak in tongues, they may weep and laugh, or shake and shiver, but this writer is not too shy to surmise aloud that such chaotic behavior is not a work of the Holy Spirit. May the leaders of Alpha be brought to repentance for their promotion of such potentially damning deception. And may God open the eyes of many who have been deceived by the angel of light known as the Alpha Course.
The Ecumenical Compromise of the Alpha Course
Nicky Gumbel to Alpha Attendees: “Go Back to Your Catholic Parish”
The Influence of Christian Mystics Morton Kelsey and John Wimber on the Alpha Course