Before I go any further in my discussion of Nicky Gumbel, I want to pause and examine the content of the Alpha Course. Is this course wholly, completely, and correctly presenting the full Gospel of repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ? As an “introduction to the Christian faith” one would hope that it is doing this rather boldly. However, as I mentioned in Alpha Exposed: Part 1, the Alpha course is readily accepted and endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. Hm. A works-based religion is endorsing Alpha? It seems to me that, if anything is proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, Roman Catholicism would be nearly the last group to support it, second only maybe to Islam and atheists. So what about Alpha is so terribly non-threatening? The Gospel that I believe and share is actually quite offensive. I’ve lost “friends” for speaking the Truth of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible promises such a response, I’m confused how Alpha can be so friendly with the world and with false religions.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:12-14
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:18-19
For your reference, below is a list of the titles of the 15 talks of the Alpha Course. You’ll note that there are only two which discuss Jesus, while several others discuss the Holy Spirit or present an obvious charismatic approach to the “good news.”
• Christianity: Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant?
• Who Is Jesus?
• Why Did Jesus Die?
• How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?
• Why and How Should I Read the Bible?
• Why and How Do I Pray?
• How Does God Guide Us?
• Who Is the Holy Spirit?
• What Does the Holy Spirit Do?
• How Can I Be Filled With the Spirit?
• How Can I Resist Evil?
• Why and How Should We Tell Others?
• Does God Heal Today?
• What About the Church?
• How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life?
Chris Hand of The Christian Research Network Journal (CRN) offers six major criticisms of the Alpha Course:
- “The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible. …it does not present us with the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. … It simply fails to tell us anything we need to know about God.
- The plight of man in Alpha is not as serious as in the Bible. … Alpha does not use strong terms and leaves us rather unclear about where we stand. As one follows its argument, sin is more to be seen in the way we have ‘messed up our lives.’ … For all the gravity of sin, Alpha never allows us to feel too bad about ourselves. It never permits us to see ourselves in God’s sight. That is a big omission. (Just a personal note here: I have watched one of Gumbel’s “teachings” and was astounded to hear him refer to sin not as sin, but as “mistakes” that we may make. The depravity of man is downplayed terribly. I can only assume that this is one of the “non-threatening” tactics of Alpha. But without a full realization of man’s absolute and utter disgusting sinfulness, one can never come to full repentance before the throne of God.)
- The Jesus Christ of Alpha is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible. … despite having part of the course titled ‘Why did Jesus die?’, it is unable in the final analysis to answer this question.
- The love of God in Alpha is not the love of God of the Bible. … The God of the Bible is love but it is love that is seen in His willingness to save sinners. … without the context of God’s holiness and absolute perfection, the meaning of love is lost to us.
- The Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Holy Spirit of the Bible. … Alpha’s “Spirit” appears to work in ways that lie outside the confines of Scripture. Whoever it is that people are ‘introduced’ to at the Alpha Weekend, it is not the Holy Spirit. But whoever this mysterious guest is, he is equally at home with the ecstatic gatherings of New Age enthusiasts and non-Christian religions alike.
- Conversions in Alpha are not like the conversions in the Bible. … More often than not it is an emotional experience about the love of God but without any understanding of holiness or the need to be saved from our sins. … For all its efforts, Alpha does not help us to know God. It does not describe the true and living God for us. It does not diagnose man’s condition accurately enough. … it is unable to supply us with the ‘good news.”
In this post, I am only going to tackle a few of the issues above and, as is noted by several of my sources, the list above is in no way an exhaustive list of the discrepancies and errors of the Alpha Course.
I want to first briefly examine the Jesus of the Alpha Course. Dusty Peterson and Elizabeth McDonald of Bayith Ministries have done extensive research into the Alpha Course and Nicky Gumbel, and they will be my main resource for this particular point. First, let’s look at ‘Was Jesus Sinless?’ Well, the Bible clearly states that Jesus was “without sin” (Heb 4:15, 1 John 3:5b). Obviously, this is a foundational belief of the gospel because, were Jesus not without blemish, He could not have been the perfect sacrifice that was required for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind. However, in the Alpha videos, Gumbel fails to properly explain Jesus’ sinless nature. What he actually says is “Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. Jesus had evil thoughts.” Now, earlier in this discussion, Gumbel has explained to the course participant that ‘evil thoughts’ come “from within, out of your hearts.” Doesn’t this present just a bit of a problem? An innocent listener of this teaching would walk away assuming that Christ had evil thoughts which came from out of his heart! Perish the thought! As Peterson and McDonald clarify, “Jesus was offered temptations, He was offered evil thoughts by the enemy, but He rejected them all instantly.” How sad it is that Gumbel fails to make this distinction. In fact, throughout his talks and teachings, Gumbel consistently fails to use the term “sinless” choosing instead less blunt phrases such as “Jesus never did anything wrong.”
Without going into detail (although, if you would like to see my references, please feel free to contact me), let me briefly list some other areas where Peterson and McDonald feel Gumbel and Alpha are lacking in their teaching and presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Gumbel seems to inappropriately present Jesus’ infallibility. In Talk 13, he almost seems to indicate that it was Jesus’ lack of faith that required a second try for him to heal the blind man in Mark 8.
- Was Jesus righteous and holy? “Although Alpha does employ the word ‘righteous’ in several places, it is never categorically applied to the Lord Jesus except to say that he shared the ‘human’ emotion of ‘righteous anger’” Throughout the only two Alpha talks that are devoted to our Savior, Gumbel fails to refer to Jesus as being “holy.”
- Was Jesus perfect? Gumbel tells us that “Jesus himself set us a great example.” Where am I, the land of “Jesus was a great guy, but…”? Why dance around it, Gumbel? Didn’t Jesus set the perfect example?
Most critics of Alpha concede that Gumbel’s presentation of Christ, sin, and God the Father are not necessarily incorrect in their entirety. However, the same critics reveal that Gumbel’s presentation of these truths seems to be lacking, especially in comparison to the attention given to the Holy Spirit. As noted earlier, the Alpha Course contains more “teachings” dedicated to the Holy Spirit than to Jesus Christ! While I certainly recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the bottom line is that without Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection, Christians have nothing, our faith is in vain!
The Personal Freedom Outreach (PFO) article “The Alpha Course—Final Answer or Fatal Attraction?” states, “The Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Comforter who assists us in the development of the fruit of the Spirit and practical Christian living but is a capricious being who makes us do all kinds of weird and crazy things. His [Gumbel’s] theme song could well be “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” If one could speak of heresies in sanctification, it would be here. If there are converts, they are now thrown into the briars and thickets of pure speculation, human imagination and emotional excess.” The article continues, “The ‘believer is inundated with teaching about tongues-speaking and burning body parts. […] We are instructed to seek guidance in visions, voices and dreams.”
Alpha resources also see Gumbel claiming that “The Church is meant to be a party…” He uses the well-known parable of the prodigal son to explain that our Sunday worship services should be like a “party.” “Jesus was saying that…the Church is like…a feast and a celebration, and at a party everyone has a good time. There’s fun, there’s laughter…Why shouldn’t there be laughter at the biggest party of all? And that’s what we’re seeing today, laughter and fun, and people getting drunk—not with wine, Paul says ‘don’t get drunk with wine—be filled with the Spirit, Come to a party where you can get drunk on God…”
Does anyone else feel blasphemous just reading that? Yes, the Church will celebrate at the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb upon Christ’s return, but when I wrote “Partying for Jesus?” I was remiss to find any Scripture references that feature the Christian life as one big party. And I have even more difficulty finding any Biblical reference for getting “drunk” with the Holy Spirit. I fear that this explanation is another attempt of Gumbel’s to be relevant and attractive to today’s culture, as well as a method to help justify those “holy laughter” incidents.
Perhaps by taking the emphasis off of Jesus Christ and onto other, more mystical practices and elements, Alpha is able to reach across those pesky denomination barriers. It is obvious from the many “visions” of the virgin Mary across the world that the Catholic Church is rooted in mysticism, not to mention idol worship and false teaching. However, Alpha claims to be “adaptable across tradition and denominations.” Really? How is that? If Alpha is presenting the true historical and theological facts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then how could it possibly be adaptable to the Catholic Church? Gumbel tells Alpha participants in Talk 8 that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are “totally insignificant compared to the things that unite us.” Really? Really? I tend to find A LOT of differences that make it impossible for a true Christian to unite in any way with the Catholic Church! Worship of idols and a failure to acknowledge the believer’s direct access to God through our only High Priest, Jesus Christ, would be two with which to start.
What I see in the Alpha course is a desire to include Catholics, not convert them. But if we as Christians are aware that someone is involved in, to be blunt, the largest cult in the world today, shouldn’t we seek to share the true Gospel with them rather than water it down, removing a few potentially “offensive” thoughts in efforts to merely “include” them in our little social gathering? I can only conclude that this is not the goal of Alpha but that it is instead all about numbers for Gumbel. How many Alpha offices can we have? We can have a dedicated Catholic office? Great! How many people can we get to come this weekend? And, most dangerously, with Gumbel’s practice of the “Toronto Blessing,” and his belief in “holy laughter” and being “drunk in the Spirit” his goal may not be to see people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, but to instead expose as many unaware souls as possible to whatever spirits are controlling him.
In the Alpha resource Telling Others Gumbel says “we make it a rule on Alpha never to criticize another denomination, another Christian church or a Christian leader.” Great. Apparently Gumbel lives in that imaginary land where we’re never supposed to rebuke false teachers because it might make someone mad or sad. The article “The Dangers of the Alpha Course” from the website Deception in the Church responds to Gumbel’s statement, “[…] there are times when failure to criticize—or rather rebuke and correct (2 Tim 3:16; 4:2-5)—is actually to be disobedient to the Word of God. […] [W]e are to test all teachings, prophesies and practices against Scripture and judge whether they are true or false (1 Cor. 2:15, 16; 1 John 4:1).”
Having not attended the full course myself, it is only through research that I can conclude that Alpha offers a muddy view of the Gospel at best. And if someone who has been a Christian for quite some time is confused by Gumbel’s presentation, how much more confused must an unbeliever be! The acceptance of Alpha by such a false religion as the Roman Catholic Church leads me to the logical conclusion that the Alpha Course is not adequately presenting the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it did, the Catholic Church in its works-based righteousness would be offended and would denounce Alpha’s teaching rather than embrace it. Finally, I cannot comprehend a course that spends more time on the Holy Spirit (outside the realm of the Biblical definition of the Holy Spirit, no less) than it does on Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Lord, He is our Savior! His perfect sacrifice is the very core of the Gospel that Gumbel claims to believe! So how can Gumbel dedicate such little time and such poor, incomplete teaching to our Lord? I daresay, (and please forgive the understatement) that Gumbel has his priorities a bit skewed.