King's Evangelical Divinity School

27 February 2012

That Alpha Video


In the church I spoke at yesterday they showed this Alpha video which went viral. Now I know it's really quite old now, and I'm showing I don't really keep up with these things, but it's actually the first time I've seen it and I thought it was great. My in-laws were not too impressed with the censorship bit, but I thought the video was pretty slick, especially the end where it all comes to rather swift and depressing end. A classic example of good advertising that makes you think.

Over the years Alpha has been both praised and criticised. Critics feel it is overly pneumacentric (Spirit-centred) at the expense of a clear focus on Christ (Christocentric). I've heard several proponents respond by pointing out how, as originally an Anglican initiative, the course originally sought to take unchurched Anglicans who think considered themselves Christians already (i.e. baptised as children, confirmed, married in church, not in regular attendance yet still considering themselves Christian) to show how Christian faith requires more than this, that it must be lived out through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Others criticise its links with Holy Trinity Brompton, where the Toronto Blessing phenomenon was apparently evident under then-vicar Sandy Miller. Others point to the fruit of the course, with many new people coming to Christ and finding a church.

What do you think? Are these criticisms justified or not? Does that Anglican unchurched argument adequately explain its pneumacentric aspect, or indeed is it more Christocentric than some critics believe? And to what extent is it reasonable for Alpha to be judged on what happened at HTB years ago? I visited the church some years ago, since Nickie Gumbel took over, and my distinct impression was how completely un-Charismatic it was. I'd be interested in hearing people's views, both for and against.

8 comments:

Nev said...

I decided to participate in one recently to see for myself after hearing lots (mostly negative) about them.
I went through from start to finish and was thoroughly impressed. The material is excellent, Nicky Gumbel is a gifted communicator and he pitches it just right, I think.
However, when in came to the Holy Spirit weekend module I must confess that while I found most of what was said, again, very well presented, I was somewhat baffled and disoriented as to why the course is arranged to finish the way it does.
Overall I think it is a BRILLIANT tool and should be pushed enthusiastically but I would definitely change it around a bit.
You know, I don't even mind it ending with the Holy Spirit, but I think the emphasis on inviting tongues etc needs to be toned down a bit.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Very interesting to hear from a theology student who has decided to explore it first-hand, Nev. Apart from the emphasis at the end, do you feel the gospel was adequately presented throughout? And as far as you know did the church/venue stick to the set programme or deviate from it considerably?

Steve said...

My understanding of the central argument against (at least in reformed circles) was less to do with content so much as the structure of the course. Effectively, so the argument goes, the course post week 1 assumes there has been some significant response to the gospel. For this reason, those of a reformed persuasion tend toward one or both of the Christianity Explored/Explained courses.

I'm not sure how well founded that criticism is. I wonder what your thoughts on that are?

junglemissionary said...

This is interesting as we are about to implement Alpha in Ecuador. I have reviewed the material and it seems to be considerably balanced. In the training books for leaders, Nicky points out that those of the traditional high church persuasion tend to think that the material is to pneumacentric and yet those from charismatic/pentecostal background complain that there is not enough emphasis.

Upon my personal review, I think it is very balanced when viewed as an introduction and not a end all program.

Nev said...

Yes, Cal, I thought the gospel came through quite clearly but certainly not in the way it would come over from a street preacher.

I joined a Church of Ireland group and it was all fairly mild-mannered and pleasant, very engaging and all the participants were very open and inquisitive but when the hard questions surfaced they weren't shirked.

The Curate did try to rework Nicky's material to make it his own but, because the videos are so good, I think it's better to just use these, unless the leader is very charismatic him/herself.

David Foster said...

Hi Calvin,

We’ve been here before of course! One thing I would dispute is that Nicky Gumbel was totally passive in the promotion of the Toronto Experience at HTB. In fact according to http://www.christian-witness.org/archives/van1998/alpha2_98.html it was he who actually introduced it to HTB having “got it” from Eleanor Mumford of Vineyard. I would also put Gumbel with the major promoters of the TE in the UK. I personally would need very strong evidence to show me that Alpha and the TE are not inextricably linked (e.g. what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit weekend?). Certainly those of the reformed persuasion object to Alpha but those with the biggest axe to grind are the Pentecostals and Charismatics (I am not either of these) who have had to leave Churches because they believe the TE to be unbiblical and deviant. I know it’s not a scholarly argument but I find the events of nearly 20 years ago quite stomach churning and I would not want to attend a Church that has no problem with the TE or Alpha. Suffice it to say that I think to criticise the course as overly pneumacentric is way understating the case. But I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said on the KEDS Blog http://blog.kingsdivinity.org/2008/12/nicky-gumbel-and-culture/#comment-1331 but I don’t think that the many criticisms of Alpha can and should be easily glossed over.

That apart, it has to be said that Alpha has attracted great numbers and one reason is because it makes people feel good about themselves and no doubt the presentation is slick and I heard said that Gumbel comes across as very sincere. We should be able though to look through such things because none of this proves truth, particularly in view of easy-believeism. I do wonder though, can a presentation which makes people feel good adequately present the Gospel? I’m absolutely sure it can’t! Let’s not forget that NG is a trained barrister. There’s no doubt he can make a very compelling argument for Christianity by presenting the good bits but leaving out the bad bits; he’s skilled at that! But unless it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I don’t believe God can honour it. Let’s not forget that it’s His work and not man’s when all is said and done.

David Foster said...

Hi Calvin,

We’ve been here before of course! One thing I would dispute is that Nicky Gumbel was totally passive in the promotion of the Toronto Experience at HTB. In fact according to http://www.christian-witness.org/archives/van1998/alpha2_98.html it was he who actually introduced it to HTB having “got it” from Eleanor Mumford of Vineyard. I would also put Gumbel with the major promoters of the TE in the UK. I personally would need very strong evidence to show me that Alpha and the TE are not inextricably linked (e.g. what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit weekend?). Certainly those of the reformed persuasion object to Alpha but those with the biggest axe to grind are the Pentecostals and Charismatics (I am not either of these) who have had to leave Churches because they believe the TE to be unbiblical and deviant. I know it’s not a scholarly argument but I find the events of nearly 20 years ago quite stomach churning and I would not want to attend a Church that has no problem with the TE or Alpha. Suffice it to say that I think to criticise the course as overly pneumacentric is way understating the case. But I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said on the KEDS Blog http://blog.kingsdivinity.org/2008/12/nicky-gumbel-and-culture/#comment-1331 but I don’t think that the many criticisms of Alpha can and should be easily glossed over.

That apart, it has to be said that Alpha has attracted great numbers and one reason is because it makes people feel good about themselves and no doubt the presentation is slick and I heard said that Gumbel comes across as very sincere. We should be able though to look through such things because none of this proves truth, particularly in view of easy-believeism. I do wonder though, can a presentation which makes people feel good adequately present the Gospel? I’m absolutely sure it can’t! Let’s not forget that NG is a trained barrister. There’s no doubt he can make a very compelling argument for Christianity by presenting the good bits but leaving out the bad bits; he’s skilled at that! But unless it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I don’t believe God can honour it. Let’s not forget that it’s His work and not man’s when all is said and done.

Nev said...

In reply to the above I would say that I too reject the extremes of TE and its associated theology but that, in my own experience, this was never an issue at any point during the Alpha group I participated in.
Second, I must say that Alpha does make people feel valued, which is definitely a good thing. I'm not so sure it makes them feel good about themselves in the way the previous poster states.
The beauty of Alpha is that it's a tool which can be used by church groups and the onus is on the Church to use it responsibly, as long as it's kept in mind that it is an introduction to issues of faith then I think this is one of the best approaches out there. I mean, we barely appreciate how unwelcome the unchurched feel in or buildings, and it requires huge mental efforts even to step over the threshold, so we must make it as friendly and welcoming as possible for them. Thats my tuppence anyway.