There is no doubt about it…the Alpha Course has proven to be immensely popular over time. In recent times the course has been updated, the most recent versions of Alpha I have seen (presented by two twenty something Canadian brothers in Christ) are very well put together. The production is of high standard, the two guys come off very natural and not cheesy at all. But having said that I would not use Alpha and here are the reasons:
Alpha is weak on sin and on the atonement –
Episode Why did Jesus Die – quotes
“The Bible says that deep down in our core we are broken and this brokenness leads us to act in a way that hurts us and hurt others and the Bible calls this sin”.
The bad things we are do are evidence that we are broken.
Sin can make us feel like we are chained up and not free to live life to the fullest.
There is a cost to sin, it can lead to spiritual death, destroy our relationship with God.
Sin has broken our friendship with God
Sin builds a wall between us and God.
Alpha does not define sin Biblically but defines sin as being broken. However this is a consequence of sin, not its substance and presents sin in anthropocentric terms. The consequences of sin that Alpha mentions are true, but does not present sin from a Theocentric position. It does not say anything about God’s wrath or holiness, or that sin is rebellion against God, and that we have offended him. Humanity without God is the subject of God’s wrath. We are not slightly displeasing to Him, with the occasional doing the wrong thing, rather by nature ‘we are objects of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3) because we have offended against God and broken His holy law. The root cause of sin is not a ‘broken relationship with God’; the root cause of sin is that mankind has universally rebelled against God’s holy laws and therefore offended God himself. I find this to be very concerning, as a deficient and unbiblical definition of sin will lead to a misunderstanding of the cross. If the diagnosis is inaccurate then the cure will be ineffective.
Alpha is light on the Cross
Again in this episode sin is defined as being ‘the things we do wrong’ – (which is the effect of sin)
“Jesus on the cross was carrying your sin and my sin and therefore he was cut off from God, not because of what he’d done wrong but because of what we’d done. Do you see where this leaves us? Free to have relationship with God”.
There is no mention of Jesus being the propitiation for our sins – the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement is given very little weight – that Christ died not simply in our place but took upon himself the wrath of God against sin. Sin again is defined in a human centered way, sin = the things we do wrong (to whom?, In the course the answer given is not ‘God’. What is said is incomplete – Alpha presents the cross as dealing with the wrongs we have done, our brokenness and disconnectedness, but it does not present the cross as dealing with the sin being what it is – rebellion against a Holy God who will punish sin.
God is a loving heavenly Father who wants us to be close to him. Sin has left us disconnected. Many of us live our lives without any sense of his love and uncertain about where we stand with him. No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from, God wants you to know his love. God welcomes us with open arms. He’s inviting all of us to turn to him and Jesus’ death made a way for us to know God. You can be forgiven of all the wrong you’ve done and be given a fresh start.
I think there is a danger when any sermon, book, or teaching presents an attribute of God as being the only attribute of God. The attribute of God that is the focus in Alpha is love. And of course this is Biblical, but it is not God’s only attribute. There is nothing in Alpha about God’s holiness (in my view this is a big omission on the part of Alpha) and this omission contributes to the reason why the death of Jesus is presented as an act of love but without any connection with the reality of God’s holy anger. We are left thinking that Christ sacrificed Himself to rescue us from the consequences of sin and that is all.
When Alpha is viewed as a whole the cross is not central to the course. Compared side by side with Christianity Explored this is quickly apparent:
Christianity Explored (CE)
Alpha: Who is Jesus?
Alpha: Why did Jesus die?
CE: Jesus who was he?
Alpha: How can I be sure of my faith?
CE: Jesus why did he come?
Alpha: Why & how should I read the Bible?
CE: Jesus his death
Alpha: Why & how do I pray?
CE: What is grace?
Alpha: How does God guide us?
CE: Jesus his resurrection
Who is the Holy Spirit?
CE: The Church
Alpha: What does the Holy Spirit do?
CE: The Holy Spirit
Alpha: How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Alpha: How can I make the most of the rest of my life?
CE: The Bible
Alpha: How can I resist evil?
CE: What is a Christian?
Why and how should I tell others?
CE: Continuing as a Christian
Alpha: Does God heal today?
CE: Choices – Herod
Alpha: What about the Church?
CE: Choices – James & John
Alpha’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit is Charismatic – and teaches clearly that the “fullness of the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) is a subsequent experience to conversion.In the session How can I be filled with the Spirit? – in all intents and purposes it could be entitled How can I be baptised with the Holy Spirit? In the latest Alpha video one of the Canadian guys (who are very good presenters) says:
Every Christians has the Spirit, but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit”.
This is the charismatic doctrine of subsequence, yet it is presented as if this doctrine is orthodox. The results of this teaching are divisive in that the application of this teaching is that there is a two-tiered Christianity. Instead of being two types of people, the unbeliever and the believer, there are three; (1) the unbeliever, (2) the believer who is not filled with the Holy Spirit, (3) the believer who is filled with the Spirit. This teaching comes from a misreading of Acts, where the book of Acts is primarily interpreted through a hermeneutic grid that deems Acts to be prescriptive rather than descriptive. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest anything other than that the believer receives all of the Holy Spirit at the point when he or she puts their trust in Jesus and are justified.
Alpha has greater emphasis on the third person of the Holy Trinity than on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in the gospels, particularly the farewell discourse in John 14 – 17 is ignored. These chapters teach us that there is an unbreakable connection between the Word of God and the Spirit of God, a connection which runs right through Scripture. That connection is that they both point to Christ. For the Spirit, another ‘Counsellor’ (John 14:16-17) ‘will guide you (the disciples) into all truth’ and He (the Spirit) will bring glory to me (Jesus) by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:13-14). Given what Jesus teaches about His Holy Spirit we should expect Him to point towards Jesus and His words and not to himself and use the Scriptures to do this. Yet in Alpha, the Lord Jesus Christ is not central, he has been moved aside for the Holy Spirit.
Alpha’s teaching on Conversion is different –
We live in a unique time in history: the age of the Holy Spirit. He’s at work in the world today in a way that was never known before the day of Pentecost (then a quotation from Gal 3:14 but ignores the context of the verse). Men and women from every country and culture and economic background are invited to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The mandate of the Gospel message is that people are to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, Then, and only then, will the regenerate person be justified before a Holy God, be filled with all of the Holy Spirit, and have absolute assurance of anger propitiated, sins forgiven and of heaven ahead. Alpha seems to invite people to have an experience of God’s love and of the power of the Spirit (and the examples given are healing, words of knowledge, the gifts of speaking in Tongues) rather than calling for obedience to the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
While Alpha has its strengths, such as the videos that have come out, the presentation, the quality is very good, the two Canadian guys are very good at what they do, and no doubt God has used Alpha to bring people to himself. But the fact that God uses crooked sticks to make a straight line is due to his grace not due to the Alpha Course in my view. For Evangelicals the lack of emphasis on the Holiness of God, its deficient view of Sin, of the Cross, and the Charismatic pneumatology and take on conversion should give us serious pause when it comes to using this course with unbelievers, especially in light of the fact that there are so many better alternatives such as Christianity Explored.