Friday, July 17, 2009


I've just finished watching a documentary on Alpha on Channel 4 (limited time online; not sure if non-UK viewers would be able to access it). This was of special interest to me since the church previewed is literally just down the road from me, and I have friends who've gone there. It's quite interesting. On the surface at least, pretty even-handed; going for a more descriptive approach. Although there were a few throw-away lines that insinuated that this was a bit of a slick marketing operation. For example, saying that there were pretty girls on hand to serve you food seemed to me deeply unfair in what it implied. Plus the Nicky Gumbel/Tony Blair comparison, which btw, for those of you not in Britain, shouldn't necessarily be taken as a compliment.

Still, it's always interesting to see how Christians are perceived, and always just as interesting to see what sort of questions non-Christians have. There was the line about religion being all about inclusivity, whether Christianity was really more of a psychological experience, and the person who found Jesus off-putting. Disappointingly, the show actually didn't dwell that much on the small group time, preferring, somewhat understandably, to dwell on the various agnostics and their backgrounds instead.

The narrator concluded that Alpha, in the end, was "organised niceness", run by decent people, with just that weird element of trying to get people to speak in tongues on the weekend (I'm afraid I'm not sold on this idea, looking at 1 Corinthians 14?) What the programme does show is that people do have real questions, and that not everyone is a New Atheist™. I was slightly disappointed by the way in which some of the answers seem to have been answered. But the programme only provided a few glimpses of such moments, so it's unfair to judge them on such scant evidence.

There have recently been some questions about whether things like Alpha or Christianity Explored are out of step with the times, and more importantly, whether they come across as being too much like a "package". My own thinking at the moment is that, like most things, they have their place. What we must work hard at is getting our bearings right. So, it isn't a short-cut, nor is it a synonym for evangelism, or indeed, the power and source of salvation.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith".
Romans 1:16-17

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