Christian Campus Movement... Alpha

There is a new campus Christian group @ Uni. They have been marketing the Alpha course all this week (Complete with Grim reaper costume). I've never been a big fan of the Alpha course but I thought I do some research.

I came across this interesting article on Alpha on Wikipedia*. I was surprised particularly at the the extent of Charismatic slant in the course...

"the most controversial element of the Alpha Course is its charismatic slant. Heavy emphasis is given to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and being filled with the Spirit; speaking in tongues and Faith healing, healing via prayer are introduced as practical gifts from God. Conversion stories in the book of Acts are seen as normative."
I was also disturbed by this ...
The Bible is described as "divinely breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16), although whether this view of scripture implies strict inerrancy is not made clear. While certain moral injunctions are deemed relevant and binding today, other controversial aspects of the Bible message are not subjected to a literalist interpretation.
Most unhelpful was the brushing over of differences between Catholics and Protestants. It's a pity the courses with widest appeal are often the ones with the unhelpful, vague and foggy theology.

*Yes I am aware of the limitations of Wikipedia articles.



aus_chick said... 3/04/2007 10:03 pm  

In the US, the Alpha course cops a bit of flack for being part of the Emerging Church. I don't remember a whole lot about the arguments, but from what I can gather, some of its theology is a bit weird. I guess, do your research first.

jess said... 3/05/2007 10:04 am  

Mike, have you done the Alpha course? I just want to check before I make a comment

mike said... 3/05/2007 11:24 am  

Cheers for your question.

The quick answer is no I haven't done it. BUT... My parents ran it at the church they were at, a number of years ago. I attended a couple of the sessions.

I have also read one of Nicky Gumbel's books (though I can't remember which one it was). I also did a bit of poking around the other day when I wrote this post.

Have you done it before?

jess said... 3/05/2007 12:20 pm  

Hey Mike

Yep, I've done the course several times. In the past few years, our church has run an alpha course one or twice a year. In terms of people becoming Christians, this has been one of our most effective outreach strategies. However, the success of the course depends on both how it is run as well as the content of what is presented in the videos.

In my opinion, Alpha is a helpful - but not perfect - course. In all reality, the process of a person becoming a Christian is reliant on God working - not a magic formula or course. I'm pretty skeptical about the wikipedia article you're quoting - in particular the idea of Alpha having a "charismatic slant" Apart from all of the semantics and arguments about what it means to be "charasmatic", I have found that Alpha is structured broadly enough to allow churches to discuss the idea of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in a way that is relevant and non threatening (in fact Nicky Gumbel gives some of the best teaching on the Holy Spirit that I've ever heard).

You will never find a course that suits every church or every Christian's perspective. Alpha isn't for everyone - but I'm certainly not concerned that what is presented in Alpha is unhelpful or dodgy in terms of doctrine. At the end of the day, the sincere and personal testimony of the leaders about how God has changed their lives was a big factor in them making a decision.

mike said... 3/05/2007 12:50 pm  

Interesting thoughts Jess. I don't doubt for a minute that something like Alpha can be effective in leading a person/s to Christ. Nor do I deny the fact that it is popular and helpful for some.

But I'm going to have to disagree with you. I have a problem with it's theology. I do believe it does has a Charismatic slant (especially if those wiki quotes are correct).

It does place an emphasis on the Holy Spirit that isn't helpful. At the very least the issues are foggy enough to appeal to a wide audience.

I'm very cautious of "broad categories" and "fogginess" that allow for mis-understandings of scripture where fundamental differences are shoved to one side. eg Catholicism. This is most unhelpful.

It was for these very reasons it appealed to my parents, their church and no doubt many Christians. We must be very very careful.

Can you address some of theological criticisms from the wiki article?

jess said... 3/05/2007 2:32 pm  

Hmm...a few big issues to address:...

1. Teaching on the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure what you mean by the teaching not being helpful. In my opinion, the teaching on the Holy Spirit is one aspect of the course - I disagree with the opinion that Alpha has a "charismatic slant". Alpha teaches straight from the Bible about the role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is no pressure or compulsion to respond or agree - remember it assumes that most of the people doing the course aren't Christians. In my opinion, the teaching is general - but not "foggy" In fact, I'm not really sure what you mean by "foggy" - do you have a specific example?

2. As far as the catholic issue goes - I agree with you that there are critical differences between my beliefs (as an evangelical Anglican) and the catholic church. I really don't know much about the way that the Catholic church runs Alpha, but it's never really come up as an issue when we've run the course. Will think about that one some more.

3. As far as the question about how Alpha treats the Bible...well, at my church the Bible is at the centre of our faith and beliefs. We consistently pray that God will help us understand it, and we don't claim to have all answers to how it can be interpreted and understood. With the leadership in our church coming from that position, the teaching that Alpha presents didn't present any probs. Alpha isn't the gospel - we would never assume that it was. However, it's what we worked with and God blessed us abundantly through it.

Interested to know your response Mike :)

mike said... 3/05/2007 2:53 pm  

By "foggy" I mean something which isn't explicitly clear. The teaching on the HS in Alpha course isn't clear. The fact that it can be used to justify a Charismatic position but also a evangelical one shows this. In Nickey Gumbel's book he talks about some Christians having the "pilot light" of the HS in their lives where as others seem to have their whole lives controlled by the spirit. (I can find you the quote if you'd like). This to me this sounds at the very least unhelpful (foggy) if not downright wrong. I'll have a more of a poke for info on Gumbel theology.

My criticism is of the course itself not in how a particular church (eg. yours) runs it. I'm sure that a good church can take such a course and make it work. My question would be why? Why not find something that can do the same task better and without the tweaking?

jess said... 3/05/2007 3:15 pm  

Hey Mike

Good point. A church should go with what works for them - if not Alpha there's certainly other courses that work really well (we're doing Quest with our youth at the moment which is going really well)

But one question?

What's your definition of charismatic? I'm assuming you see a charismatic Christian in a negative light...why specifically is this so?

In my opinion, the doctrine and theology of the Holy Spirit is one that a lot of people struggle with. My theory is that because some of the outworkings of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, laying on hands for healing) take many people out of their comfort zones in terms of being "in control" (I'm speaking from my own personal experience here) Lots of my friends feel uncomfortable when they visit churches that have extended times of upfront ministry (the sort of stuff we saw with the Toronto blessing).

This isn't to say that Gumble's teaching on the HS is infallible, but his "fogginess" in some areas could originate from a desire to make the theology of the Holy Spirit accessible, meaningful and non-threatening.

mike said... 3/05/2007 5:10 pm  

Thanks again for your thoughts

Charismatic is a difficult term. In some ways I'd call myself a charismatic but in many others I'm not. This is a difficult question to answer as I have no idea who you are or where you're from. So if you want to know more I'd ask that you email me (see my blogger profile).

Back to Nicky Gumbel... I have been doing more research and finding things about Gumbel's theology that (if true) I increasingly disagree with. Much of this has to do with his links to the Toronto Blessing etc. I found this article here particularly helpful in thinking it through.

jess said... 3/05/2007 6:16 pm  

See mike, if I emailed you, then you'd know who I am :)

Will give it some more thought and might chat to you about it sometime.

ps link doesn't work but will try to find it later

mike said... 3/05/2007 6:31 pm  

You can find it here and scroll down to the heading "Issue: 1998 112/4". The article is entitled 'A' is for Alpha, 'B' is for Berean. I spent most of this arvo reading it and while I'm not sure I agree with everything it is a most helpful critique.

I'd be more than happy to chat to you about it in person or via email. Cheers again.

Keziah said... 3/10/2007 10:21 pm  

A few years ago in my church, we looked at a few of these courses as we were wanting to start something for interested non-believers and new Christians. I had the same concerns about Alpha as Mike does. Sin is not adequately dealt with and there is a rather bigger emphasis on the charismatic gifts than I think there is in the Bible.

I appreciate that I will be biased a little coming from a fairly conservative presbyterian church, but I feel that these issues are not ones to be ignored or put aside to have a course with broad appeal.

We decided to use "Christianity Explored" by Rico Tice and have found that very helpful.

mike said... 3/11/2007 12:05 am  

Thanks for your thoughts keziah :)

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