A Protestant marriage counsellor whom I know says that the Alpha Course can make people overly hopeful about situations in their lives which cannot be overcome.  One of these is Alpha’s tendency to say that much can be healed through prayer.  He knows of a couple where the wife attended Alpha and kept praying for her troubled marriage to be healed.  ‘It didn’t work’, my friend said. ‘In the end, we had some time convincing her that there would be no chance of reconciliation.  Her husband had been clinically diagnosed as being mentally ill, and prayer was not going to heal him or their marriage. What prayer can do, however, is help her to cope with divorce and to start over again.’ 

We saw yesterday that Alpha relies upon charismatic techniques such as speaking in tongues.  It also relies on healing through prayer.  Recall that this course started out as one for enquirers into Christianity. Now it appears to attempt to heal the broken. There’s nothing wrong with peace of mind through prayer, which is one of the purposes of petitioning God for His help, but when people have the impression that, if they only prayed more or ‘better’, their problems would be solved, well, there’s another story altogether.  That’s not necessarily Alpha’s fault, but the lady above is probably not the only one with unrealistic expectations of life as a result of taking the course.  And therein lies the danger in presenting the Bible whilst discarding truth for the experiential.

Alpha publicity lists questions that its courses will answer.  They are all good and include:

Is there more to life than this?

Who is Jesus?

Why did Jesus die?

How can I have faith?

A Summer 1996 issue of Mainstream describes where these questions lead with Alpha:

Alpha certainly starts by preaching the gospel; the first three talks on Video One focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the three talks on video Two which cover fundamental steps for new Christians … But as the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into lengthy accounts of HTB’s experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, novel exegeses of various Biblical passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, calls for unity despite truth and an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit, all of which are less than helpful, to say the least, to potential Christians.

All this progresses towards the Holy Spirit Weekend:

Alpha participants are being taught all this as part of an evangelistic/Christian Living course as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made of the need to test the spirits (1 John 4:3), and at the end of this talk are prayed for, corporately, to receive it. Thus, they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without a whimper of protest amongst them.

Also part of the Toronto Experience is its Power Evangelism.  Now, it’s great bringing all kinds of Christians together in fellowship and encouragement. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when Christians from a variety of denominations comment on Churchmouse Campanologist posts. However, as we saw with last year’s Manhattan Declaration, there are limits to unity based on doctrine and Biblical teachings.  Many Christians did not sign the Manhattan Doctrine because they believed it affirmed too great a commingling of beliefs, some of which they believe are erroneous or, even worse, heretical. 

Yesterday’s post mentioned that Alpha can be tailored for all denominations, including the Catholic Church.  In 2000, the Revd Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London — the man who took Alpha international and interdenominational — met with Father Ranerio Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household.  This was part of an initiative to bring Alpha to the Catholic Church and to foster a dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.  Mainstream notes this coming together of seemingly disparate beliefs and asks:

So where will this lead in the future? Will the Alpha evangelization program that is embraced by Rome bring people to a true understanding of the simple gospel? The facts seem to indicate there may be some confusion. A Christianity that focuses on Mary, the saints, or the sacraments and not on Jesus, is foreign to the Bible.

And, conversely, Catholics are concerned that Alpha will be too Protestant.  Charismatic Heresy, a site which exposes teachings contrary to those of the Catholic Church, says:

Dissent is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church. What the ALPHA convert will do is bring the ALPHA heresies into the Church. Who will correct him? Would it not be simpler for people to start out the right way without having to unlearn errors? … What is the use of introducing complex spiritual topics to people who wrestle with basic concepts about God? There are some glowing reports by some bishops how great ALPHA has been as an evangelizing tool. What do these bishops really want, filling the churches with Catholics in name only or having smaller churches with real converts? If we cannot get them without the ALPHA program, common sense would dictate to leave them where they are. That would be better for all concerned.

Which brings me to my next point: how are God, Jesus, the Cross and the Resurrection presented in Alpha?  Many have criticised the course for favouring the Holy Spirit over God and Jesus Christ. 

– Mainstream says of the Toronto Power Evangelism: ‘it tends to shift the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism favoured by Alpha.’ 

Charismatic Heresy says: ‘The balance of topics covered in Alpha aptly reveals what Alpha really is. A program that spends two pages on the “Communion Meal”, eight pages on “speaking in tongues”, and sixteen pages on “healing” cannot make claims about introducing people to basic Christianity. Alpha does not teach basic Christianity; Alpha promotes Charismatic Protestantism.’

Cephas Ministry notes: ‘CRN Journal said that “The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible.” It is true that Questions of Life presents no real doctrine of God nor does it seek to teach about His person, character or attributes … failure to present even the basics about the person of God (in evangelism) may leave the person being witnessed to, in various forms of mental idolatry or a new age mentality, which is a faulty foundation for any supposed conversion. Alpha passes over the person of God. Evangelization without some proper understanding of God is suspect and deficient.’

In the documentaries on Alpha over the years, none of the attendees can explain God’s nature, the power of the Cross, the true gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Most of them talk about themselves and how Alpha helped them ‘sort things out’ or ‘get a perspective’. From what I have seen and heard, Alpha appeals to people seeking some sort of healing in their lives.  I know Alpha devotees who take the same course over and over again.  Some of them still seem as broken as before.  Many rely on emotion to guide their lives rather than on reason or common sense.  An Alpha leader I know panders to that.  He invited me along recently.  I said, ‘I’m not a touchy-feely person.  And I would be coming along to learn Biblical truths.’  ‘Oh, then,’ he replied, ‘you’re probably not for us.  We like emotion — lots of it. And, no, we don’t talk about the truth of the Bible.’ 

Alpha also ties together two popular tendencies in today’s churches: New Age and Prosperity Gospel, which in Alpha, is known as Kingdom Now theology. Kingdom Now theology is sometimes called Dominionism or Triumphalism. Essentially, it says that we can have all of the physical and health benefits of God’s perfect Kingdom here and now. Nicky Gumbel explains:

The Kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ … We live between the times, when the age to come has broken into history. The old age goes on, but the powers of the new era have erupted into this age. … healing is one of the signs of the Kingdom which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ and continues to this day. Hence we should expect God to continue to heal miraculously today as part of His Kingdom activity.  

The combination of Kingdom Now with New Age experiences is a powerful and seductive one, particularly for the vulnerable.  Gumbel says:

In the Enlightenment reason ruled supreme and explanation led to experience. In the present transitional culture, with its ‘pick-and-mix’ worldview in which the New Age movement is a potent strand, experiences lead to explanation. 

Hence, Alpha’s focus on the Holy Spirit over the Word of God, charismatic over teaching, emotion over truth.  Alpha does not discuss sin or salvation.  Mainstream notes:

… more compassion/understanding at work, more patience, tolerance, confidence and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute salvation. The attempt by Nicky Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by asking exactly what had made these differences, was met with a blank look and the response: ‘Just the relationship that I’ve developed with God. Simple as that.’

These testimonies seemed to … be … only evidence of conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the ‘Christian lifestyle’ is an endless round of ‘blessings’, supernatural ‘experiences’, spiritual ‘parties’ [see video talk 14] and ‘play’-times (iv), then the transition from the counterfeit spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. In which case I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked: ‘What is it they are converted to?’

Don’t be confused.  Alpha is not a Bible study course.  It will not answer your questions on the Triune God, how the books of the Bible fit together, the difference between the Old and the New Testament covenants.  Nor is Alpha a study of Christianity.  You will learn nothing of the early Church, the Reformation or the state of the Church today.

If you are required to take Alpha prior to Confirmation and do not wish to, seek another church in which to be confirmed.  If you are enquiring about Christianity or want to become part of church life after a long absence, look for a good church which delivers sound teaching not sensory experiences.    

As Cephas Ministry says:

Alpha’s deficiencies outweigh any merit. The acrostic ALF can be used to remember the deficiencies. Advocating Kingdom Now theories. Locked into fickle emotions. Faulty biblical understanding …

 

The idea of a fatal attraction has come to mean a relationship that was thought to be wonderful, finally turning out to destroy a person. The Alpha Course may very well fit that description as it claims to take people through Bible terrain but in reality turns them inward to their emotions and experiences. It locks them into a detour and cycle of fickle emotions, carnal feelings and self-focus and away from the true lover of their souls. It will be another fad that will leave people dazed, confused, and worse off in the long run. So-called Holy Ghost weekends cannot compare to a sane and balanced daily walk with Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.

You can read more here:

Cephas Ministry

Deception in the Church

Mainstream Archive

Charismatic Heresy

Understand the Times