07 October 2009

Alpha Exposed: Part 2b

This is by no means the next full installment of the Alpha Exposed series. But since it will lead nicely into the next installment, which will discuss the people Nicky Gumbel has aligned himself with, I thought it would be appropriate to share.

Yesterday, Northland Church tweeted an advertisement to visit their website and see what Alpha is doing in their church. Conveniently, the "tweet" has now been removed, so I cannot reproduce it here. A little background: Northland Church, A Church Distributed (yes, that is their name) is a mega-church located in Florida and is where the next National Alpha Conference is scheduled to be held. The senior pastor of Northland is Joel Hunter. In February of 2009, Hunter "was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which will advise Mr. Obama on substantive policy issues." Well I must say, "Pastor" Hunter, you're certainly doing a stand-up job with the advice thus far! Not only is this president pushing for taxpayer-funded abortion, he also is strongly seeking to demolish the God-given definition of marriage! But I digress. The point I want to briefly make is that "Pastor" Hunter is another typical social justice "religious" leader with his priorities--and his theology--out of joint. And he is a big proponent of Alpha. Hm. Below is the content you will find on the Northland Church website regarding Alpha. With a few choice comments tossed in by yours truly in red. You'll notice that there is contact information provided within this advertisement. I have chosen not to remove it since it is already posted freely and openly on the Northland Church website for anyone to access.

From crusades to couples nights: How God is using the Alpha course at Northland.
So it’s official ... “Man vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls is going to prison. No, Grylls hasn’t been arrested. He’s bringing a message of hope to inmates when he comes to Northland for the 2009 National Alpha Conference, Oct. 20-21 in Longwood.

While Bear (is that his real name?) has braved some of the world’s toughest terrains, including his famed climb of Mount Everest in 1998, the Discovery Channel mainstay says his greatest adventure has been as a believer in Christ.

“I have learned over the years from numerous expeditions, close calls and hairy moments, that it takes a proud man to say that he never needs any help. And I have yet to meet an atheist in the Death Zone on Everest or in a lifeboat,” Bear says.

He adds, “Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether you are going to include a spiritual dimension (a spiritual dimension? That seems like an odd way to define your Christian faith. Funny, I don't remember Paul or Peter or John referring to belief in Christ as including a "spiritual dimension to your life." But I suppose we shouldn't get hung up on that silly old Bible now, should we?) to your life. But for what it is worth, life becomes a lot wilder and a lot more fun if you do.” (So being a Christian, I'm sorry, adding a "spiritual dimension" to your life makes it wilder and more fun? Hm. So much for all those trials and persecutions Christ and Peter and Paul spoke of. Jesus must have forgotten to mention that when he told us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.")

In the weeks leading up to his visit to the prison, episodes of “Man vs. Wild” are being played in the prison chapel on DVD to help introduce inmates to Grylls who, in turn, will introduce them to The Alpha Course.

What Is Alpha?

If you have a passion for winning people to Christ (oh, I didn't realize that we were the ones doing the winning! All this time I thought that was the Holy Spirit who was changing hearts for Christ. Is there a prize for "winning" the most people "to Christ"?), then you’ll want to check out Alpha. Started in London in 1979 as a brush-up course for rusty churchgoers, The Alpha Course has become a worldwide phenomenon.

More than 13 million people in 163 countries have attended an Alpha course, with more than 2 million people in the U.S. participating. (Numbers, numbers, it's all about numbers!) A recent study showed that in New England alone, 28 percent of all new converts were reached through Alpha.

The way it works is a lot like the early church. During a 10-week period, people are invited to relaxed dinners, which are followed by discussions about the Christian faith. No question is out of bounds, and participants are free to say as much or as little as they wish as they make up their own minds about the teachings of Jesus. (Emphasis mine. WHAT? We make up our own minds about Jesus? So...does it not matter what the Bible, God's Word, tells us about Jesus? Call me crazy, but I highly doubt that the early church operated in this manner. The stories I know consist of the apostles standing and preaching and teaching the Gospel of repentance and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. And there is no "making up your own mind about the teachings." The teachings of Christ are not open to interpretation.) Spirited discussions often ensue on topics ranging from “Who is God?” and “Why am I here?” to “Why is there suffering?” and “Is God a delusion?”

What excites me most is how the course attracts people from so many different backgrounds: atheists, those revisiting their own faith, even people from different religions. It’s a great opportunity to invite people you may not otherwise even talk to! (Really? I would think the most exciting thing would be seeing God draw more people unto Himself and knowing that those people are no longer condemned to an eternity in Hell. But I guess if it's all about socializing and showing people how "cool" Christianity can be...)

More than half those who attend the course make decisions for Christ. (They make decisions for Christ? So now we're teaching decision-ism. Interesting. My Bible tells me that I am saved by no action of my own. It tells me that I am saved by the grace of God! For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph. 2:8-9) Bear says Alpha’s pressure-free approach is a key to its success: “I have seen so many people find a personal relationship with God and a quiet strength in their lives after doing the course—myself included.”

Take the Plunge

Alpha recently released a cool, three-minute commercial starring Grylls to help promote the course. (Well I'm glad the commercial is cool. I wouldn't want to watch it if it wasn't cool. Wait, but what do we do when Jesus isn't "cool"? Oh, I know! We find a way to make Him more popular by just talking about the good things He taught and conveniently ignoring the Truth of sin and eternal damnation.) In the action-packed ad, Grylls is stranded on a desert island and is desperately trying to catch the attention of a helicopter passing overhead. “When you get a chance to be saved, you gotta grab it,” declares Grylls before dashing off into the jungle.

Fighting his way through the brush, he dives headfirst off a cliff into the ocean, eventually landing on a beach where he struggles to start a fire with his survival knife and a piece of flint. Finally, in desperation, he begins spelling giant words in the sand to catch the attention of the copter whirring overhead ... resulting in a surprise ending. You can check out the commercial at www.northlandchurch.net/event/bear/. (I can barely contain my excitement)

Not only is this a great way to introduce your friends and family to Christ, it’s a great way to help grow our congregation. (Ah, there it is! Numbers, let's get those numbers up!) Many churches offering The Alpha Course report that their attendance has exploded as a result. (Who wants to tell Northland that there will be an awful lot of full churches after the Rapture?) Pastor Rick Warren, author of the worldwide bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life, calls The Alpha Course “one of the most effective evangelism tools for the 21st century.” (Oh, well if Rick Warren endorses it, sign me up! It must be a money-maker!)

Alpha’s Beginnings at Northland

Many in our congregation, including our own Pastor Gus Davies, have been involved with Alpha for years (great, now I feel better). At the National Conference, you can learn how to use The Alpha Course in a variety of settings—at church, at work, in prisons, on college campuses and many other places. Learn more by clicking on the “Events” tab on Northland’s website.

You can hear Bear both at the National Conference and during “Bear Grylls LIVE!”, a citywide crusade the evening of October 21. This will be a great, non-threatening ("Non-threatening?" In other words, "unoffensive" right? Well, then that must not be the same Gospel I know! The Jesus I've learned about offended people every place He went because He spoke the Truth!) way to share the Gospel with the people in your life who aren’t yet included in God’s family.

By the way ... if you want to see for yourself how the Alpha course works, Pastor Gus has scheduled an “Alpha Preview” night, Sunday, November 1, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Longwood, room 4213. Whether you just want to learn more about the course or are interested in hosting or facilitating a course, this preview course is for you. For more information, contact Laura Young (407-949-7165 or laura.young@northlandchurch.net).

Want a Date Night?

In addition to the conference and the crusade, Alpha also offers The Marriage Course, which is held at Northland throughout the year. This class gives married couples tools to build a strong and healthy marriage that lasts a lifetime. Each evening begins with a candlelit meal, brought by the couple attending the class, followed by a video and discussion. Topics covered in this class range from resolving conflict and healing past hurt, to knowing how to make each other feel loved and having fun together.

Did I mention that childcare is available for what amounts to be an intimate date night with your spouse? ("For what amounts to be an intimate date night?" Did they just demean the Gospel down to a date? Ugh. No comment.) Details, questions, and registration: Barb Olsen (407-949-7183 or barbara.olsen@northlandchurch.net)

Robert Andrescik is director of public relations for Northland. Contact him at 407-949-7147 or robert.andrescik@northlandchurch.net.

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