The Alpha Course

Jim Allen

The Alpha Course has been sweeping the globe since its beginnings in 1991. A majority of denominations, ranging from Anglicans and Methodists to Baptists and Roman Catholics, have enthusiastically adopted the course and regularly use it as an outreach to communities.

Several years ago I attended the Alpha Course at a local church. Although not a member, I was curious to learn more about this course that was commanding rave reviews. Each week, for several weeks, we met in small groups that began with a time of fellowship followed by a meal. Afterwards, we went into the sanctuary to worship and then listen to the minister teach on that week's lesson. After listening to the minister and taking notes, we met in our small group to discuss our ...lesson notes' and ask questions.

During each small group session Alpha promotes the practice of "sharing what is on your heart." What is shared needs to be relevant to the lesson topic for the week, such as who is Jesus and why did He die, how and why should I read the Bible, why and how do I pray, and so on. During the first session, and thereafter for most all of the following sessions, members in my small group used the time as a launching pad for their personal problems. While all of us were gracious and listened, the lesson topic often fell by the wayside as people took turns talking about personal issues. After all, they were encouraged to share what was on their heart.

Rev. G. Richard Fisher (a pastor from another church in another state) who was not part of this group said: "The idea of a fatal attraction has come to mean a relationship that was thought to be wonderful, and then finally turning out to destroy the person who embraced it. Alpha may very well fit that description. It promises to take people through Bible terrain but in reality turns them inward to their emotions and experiences. It locks them into a 'detour and cycle' of fickle emotions, carnal feelings and self-focus and away from the true lover of the soul."

Rev. Fisher's comment was spot-on. Many in my small group were enthusiastic about the weekly meetings and opportunity for fellowship. Although the prospect for rich fellowship in Alpha is good, the fellowship can become a substitute for developing a personal relationship with Jesus. People in the church (where I attended briefly) talked more about Alpha than about Jesus, which surprised me. One group leader said, "Night and day, all I think about is Alpha." Another person said, "I really need this fellowship! I wish it could go on forever." Even more astounding was the pastoral staff would often said, "You need to get Alpha."

Alpha, instead of becoming the modest platform for delivering the Gospel, became the gospel. Is Alpha really what people need? Are new converts really new converts? Tricia Tillin from the UK, in her analysis of Alpha, wondered how these new converts could be so excited about the Alpha Course to exclude the mere mention of Jesus in their testimony. [1]

Alpha in the wrong hands works in favor of those promoting "easy believeism" to the detriment of precious souls. Jesus is not easy nor is He available to the proud and impenitent. Jesus is easy and available to the humble and penitent who recognize their sinfulness and need for Him (Luke 18:13). A person who does not see their depravity will never see their need for the Savior. Alpha does not recognize human depravity in the same way the Bible does, and in my opinion its biggest omission.

Why do churches need a course like Alpha to preach the Gospel? And why is Alpha so well accepted among the mainline churches?

The Alpha program has achieved this ecumenical acceptance because it is doctrinally weak. It refers to salvation, the cross, the death of Christ, etc., in such a general way that false doctrine is not refuted. It says salvation is by grace...but it does not say that salvation is by grace alone by faith alone through the blood of Christ alone without works or sacraments. It refers to the Bible as God's Word in a general sense, but it does not explain that the Bible is truly God's inerrant, infallible, supernatural Word that must be revered and obeyed in every detail; that the Bible alone is the authority for faith and practice. It refers to Christ's death on the cross, but does not plainly explain the vicarious atonement that was required for man's salvation. It refers to man's need, but it does not describe man as a totally depraved natural sinner. If Alpha were that specific, it is certain it would not be ecumenically popular in this hour of apostasy. [2]

Alpha lays the central doctrines of the true Gospel aside in favor of the all positive, watered-down salvation message. Why? Churches no longer want to offend the seeker-friendly crowd, which was so obvious in the church I attended. This maneuver by wayward church leaders explains why the Alpha Course glosses over sin as nothing more than a bad cold that will go away with the Alpha treatment. Repentance has been redefined as nothing more than a change in attitude followed by learning how to avoid making bad decisions and poor choices.

Got Questions says, "The problem is that the Alpha Course can be very different depending on the church/organization that is using it. In the hands of a solidly evangelical teacher, the Alpha Course can be excellent. In the hands of someone trying to push beliefs and practices that are biblically questionable, the Alpha Course can be used to indoctrinate and mislead." [3] A church lacking discernment, like the one I attended, can use the Alpha Course to promote its unbiblical beliefs and practices without any benefit to the participants.

Charles Darwin never intended for the Theory of Evolution to replace the Bible; but, when the seeds of his theory took root in the minds of ungodly men, it took on a life of its own. Although Alpha may have been started with good intentions, it too has taken on a life of its own. Alpha is here for the duration of this age and will sweep millions of unsuspecting souls into questionable doctrine with eternal consequences.

In closing, the problem with the Alpha Course is not the truth it presents but the truth it fails to include, or generalizes and misrepresents. While it is true that a pastor or teacher grounded in the Gospel may compensate for its errors, Alpha in the hands of wrong leadership (and there are many) will preach a Jesus that does not exist and cannot save. The result will be false conversions that give people a false sense of salvation without any power to change. They will flow easily into new church movements that have similarly gutted the Gospel to increase its appeal.

You are invited to share your Alpha experience on Blogos. I would love to discuss the various views of this movement for the benefit of those who are undecided about attending or recommending the Alpha Course to friends and family.

1. Looking at the Alpha Course - by Tricia Tillin...Apologetics - Paraphrased
2. DiscernIt - Dangers of the Alpha Course...Kim Olson
3. Got Questions...Alpha Course

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Published 7-2-13