Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 29 Jul 2014, and is filled under Uncategorized.

The Alpha Course

If you’re wondering where I stand on the Alpha Course, wonder no longer, because I’ll tell you. I don’t like it. At all. And before you tell me that the reason is that I’ve never done it, I have done. Twice. Each time was in a slightly different context and for a different denomination. If you like the Alpha Course and have reason to defend it, look away now. Things is about to get dirty.

Nicky Gumbel, who invented the Alpha Course, wants you to think that he is a close personal friend of God. Perhaps he plays tennis with him at weekends and they occasionally have a barbecue at each other’s houses. Either way, if Jesus is the only route to the Father, Nicky Gumbel is the only route to Jesus, which is why he has a lot of money and a nice house.

This is the distinct impression I emerged from the Course with when I did it at a Church of England church around the corner. We were told, variously, that people who don’t follow Christ are going to hell, even if they’re in a remote tribe in the Amazon who never heard of him, that God doesn’t like gayness and that if you have gay sex… yes, you’re also going to hell.

We were encouraged to go to a church service, which I did. We watched a video presentation on two huge screens about heaven, which looked a lot like Surrey. The woman giving the presentation said she couldn’t wait to get there. Another woman gave a presentation on demonic possession in which it was strongly hinted that depression is just a form of possession and people could be prayed for and cured. I left. And never went back.

This ministry was bad ministry for a few reasons. Firstly, if the woman bent on getting to heaven wants to go the oncology ward, she’ll find a bunch of people who will be there a lot quicker, many of whom would be pleased to change places, which is why this is just so much patronising crap. And if the woman who was talking about demonic possession wants to know just how and why I got ill, I’ll tell her. And it has bugger all to do with demons.

Fast forward ten years and I did the Alpha Course again, this time at an evangelical church and, to give them credit, they made a much better job of it. I had two table hosts who were altogether more liberal, tolerant and open-minded than anything I’d been exposed to before. They were a couple, in which one was a Palestinian and another an Austrian, and they were honest enough to say when they didn’t have the answers, but often made a decent fist of explaining how they saw things from a faith perspective.

I liked them both hugely and continue to keep in touch with them and, more than anyone else, they’re the reason why I’m a Christian, so they both occupy a big part in my narrative. Their church had sensibly adapted the Alpha Course so that, while the name and some of the structure were the same, Nicky Gumbel seemed to have been removed from it as if with a suction device that left no trace of him behind. I found that I liked it, got on with it and found the narrative not only convincing, but that it spoke to the inner me. I was sold.

However. It took me a while to realise that what got me was not their church, but Christianity in its rawest, purest form. In fact, the more time I spent there, the more I came to realise that we weren’t on the same page in certain, key areas.

I don’t think, as they do, that the Bible is inerrant. I work with text every day of my working life and see what happens to raw copy before it goes on the page. And I don’t think, returning to a well-worn trope, that being gay is a sin. Some people are gay like I’m straight. And some are somewhere in the middle. Everyone deserves to be with someone they love and anything else, no matter how well-intended, is hard faced bastardry.

So in its purest form, the Alpha Course is a load of noxious bum that is taught by people who don’t, perhaps, have much insight into human nature or its complexity. And in its other forms, it’s a great intro, provided you’re lucky enough to get beautiful, beautiful table hosts, but you really need to find out more about the theology that lies behind how that church sees the Bible and its teaching.

If you don’t like it, chances are, it’s for a reason.


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