I wonder if you can help me. People have been introducing the alpha course, whose speaker is Nicky Gumbel? And is the alpha course any good?


I have not seen any of the alpha course materials directly, so anything I say should be taken with a big grain of salt. This material has been around for more than thirty years, but has become more popular in the last ten years or so. It seems that its principle purpose is to help churches which have little if any evangelistic work going–giving them a way to reach out to the unchurched. Apparently the courses are designed to be fairly generic–stressing the most basic of Christian teaching. There are many critics of these courses, but it seems this might be partially out of a knee-jerk reaction to critique anything which is successful. Criticisms include that three of the sections are on the work of the Holy Spirit, emphasizing charismatic gifts. Those who use the alpha course are able to simply skip these classes if they like, but this may be a legitimate criticism. Another criticism is that the classes are not hard-hitting enough about sin and discipleship, which is not surprising, since the classes are really generic. Also, the teaching on conversion is obviously wrong, as repentance and baptism are completely missing. This is obviously a significant problem with these classes.

Personally, I cannot see people from a church like the one I am part of using these classes, as we have a rather active evangelistic thrust going already, and have Bible studies which are probably better suited to helping a person to become a Christian anyway. Also, although the false doctrine content has been perhaps overblown by some, clearly, there is content which a Bible-based Christian would have trouble with. The Alpha course people respond to this by saying that people are encouraged to supplement the studies, which I believe is actually a pretty good response.

So, I cannot see using this material or endorse using the alpha courses, but think that the amount of un- or re-teaching required if we meet someone who has been through these studies is fairly minor and we would do well to not take a hard stance against the alpha courses.  Who knows? God could use these classes as a stepping-stone toward someone becoming a Christian, so we would do well to reserve our strong criticisms for something more dangerous than the alpha courses.

John Oakes

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