What About the Alpha Course?
Rev. Ron Hanko
There is no doubt that the Alpha Course
is very popular. Almost every one has heard of it or knows someone who
has been to it. It is estimated that 500,000 persons took the course in
1997, and there are people still taking it today.
Few, however, seem to be asking whether the course is
biblical and teaches biblical truth. This must be done, especially in
light of its origins and popularity. We must not believe every spirit,
but try them whether they are of God (I John 4:1).
When the Alpha Course is brought to the test
of Scripture, it falls far short—so far short that rather than
recommending it, we must warn against it. It is our hope and prayer,
therefore, that this pamphlet will be given to those who are taking the
course or considering it, in order that they may not be mislead by it.
There are, we believe, especially four reasons why
the Alpha Course needs to be rejected and avoided by God’s
people. They are: (1) its ecumenical emphasis; (2) its Charismatic
origins and teachings; (3) its other unbiblical doctrines; and (4) its
lack of clear biblical teaching on many key points. The latter is, in
fact, its worst feature.
What is Alpha Course?
For those who are not acquainted with Alpha
some background is necessary. The course was developed and is
distributed by the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Brompton, west London.
It was originally produced in 1979, but has since been completely
It is meant to be an evangelistic and "discipling"
tool and there are different versions of the course, including one for
young people. The basis course, however, consists of 15 lessons or Bible
studies to be presented either by a leader or by videos over a period of
approximately 12 weeks.
The lessons are quite short and are supposed to be
taught in an informal fashion. In harmony with this, it is suggested
that four of the lessons (8-11), considered to be the high point of the
course, be taught as part of a "Weekend Away."
The sponsors themselves say of the course, "We
believe it is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have a lot
of fun at the same time" (according to the author, "the church is meant
to be a party"). To make the course "fun," the fundamental doctrines of
Scripture are distorted or passed over.
That Alpha is designed to be ecumenical is very
evident. The author of the course himself tells us, "In one sense it is
not so important what denomination we are—Roman Catholic or Protestant;
Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican or House Church.
What is more important is whether or not we have the Spirit of God."
This ecumenical spirit is evident also in those who
have endorsed the course. Some of them are: George Carey (Archbishop of
Canterbury), Alistair McGrath (an influential Anglican scholar), Dr. J.
I. Packer (of "Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together" notoriety),
John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard Churches), R. T. Kendall of
Westminster Chapel (associated with the Toronto blessing and other
heresies), John James (President of the Baptist Union), Steve Chalke and
Gerald Coates (leading Charismatics).
Alpha’s broad appeal is possible due to a lack of
clear biblical teaching. Thus, a Roman Catholic bishop has said of the
course: "It doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic
doctrine. What’s more, it provides in wonderful form the basis of
Christian belief which many Catholics have never cottoned on to." In
harmony with this endorsement, many Romish churches and parishes are
using the course. This alone ought to frighten all Bible-believing
Christians away from the course.
Closely connected with its ecumenism is a strong
Charismatic emphasis. The key question for the "Weekend Away" is "How
can I be filled with the Spirit?" In answer, among other things,
directions are given for receiving the gift of "tongues."
Along the same lines the course teaches that God
speaks to us through prophecy, dreams and visions. It promotes faith
healing (a la John Wimber, whose books are recommended), and
speaks of physical manifestations such as shaking, breathing "in the
Spirit," and warmth or heat in different parts of the body.
This Charismatic influence is due to the fact that
Holy Trinity is a church which promotes the "Toronto Blessing." In fact,
the main purpose of the course seems to be to advocate the Charismatic
movement and teachings.
Lack of Biblical Teaching
Perhaps the worst feature of Alpha, though, is
that is teaches so very little. This is the reason, we suppose, that the
Roman bishop mentioned above could say that he found nothing in it
contrary to Catholic doctrine. Many key doctrines of the faith are
passed over completely or touched on only very lightly.
This is in harmony with Alpha’s stated
purpose, i.e., to present the "gospel" in a "non-threatening" way, and
to allow people to have fun while learning the "truth." If the gospel is
presented from Scripture in all its purity and truth it will never be
fun for anyone.
The lack of sound teaching also fits in well with its
strong charismatic emphasis—an emphasis that exalts feeling and
experience over truth. Feeling and experience have their place.
Nevertheless, we ought never to forget that it is the truth that makes
us free, not feelings (John 8:32).
As far as specific doctrines are concerned,
therefore, the course says nothing or next to nothing about such
fundamental Bible teachings as justification by faith alone, election,
the holiness and justice of God, the coming judgement and the wrath of
God, the law, depravity, repentance, and the new birth.
This, of course, explains not only its broad
ecumenical appeal but also its "success," for the true gospel in
teaching these things is both a savour of life unto life and of death
unto death (II Cor. 2:15-16).
Perhaps the most notable omission, though, is any
serious teaching regarding God Himself. That knowledge of God which is
life eternal (John 17:3) is hardly to be found in the course. For
example, the justice of God, fundamental to an understanding of sin, the
cross, salvation and the coming of judgement is never ever mentioned in
the course. The only thing taught is the love of God and that is
distorted beyond recognition. It is possible, therefore, to take the
whole course and remain almost entirely ignorant of the God of
What the course does teach is more often than not
misleading or downright error. Though the Trinity is mentioned, far more
time and teaching is devoted to the Holy Spirit than to God the Father
or even to Christ, in spite of what Christ says in John 16:13-14.
In its teaching concerning salvation, Alpha is
thoroughly Arminian and free-willist, teaching that God loves everyone,
that Christ died for all without exception, that faith is man’s
Thus, too, sin is presented primarily in terms of
"messed up lives," of unhappiness and other problems, but never clearly
in terms of offending God and breaking His law. Really only the evil
consequence, not the guilt of sin, is emphasised.
The authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture are
undermined by the teaching that God speaks still today "through
prophecy, dreams, visions and other people." Tongues and miracles are
promoted as the evidences of the Spirit along with physical heat and
other such phenomena, instead of the true "fruit of the Spirit"
mentioned in Galatians 5.
The "gospel" presented in the Alpha Course
is another gospel, not the "good news" of salvation through Jesus
Christ, by the sovereign grace of God and through faith, the gift of
God. May God preserve His church from such teaching.