Monday, 6 July 2009

Agnostics and Alpha

Revelations: How to find God, Channel 4, 28 June 2009, presented by Jon Ronson

The first in an intriguing series on religion, but by no means the first Alpha documentary. Moreover, Jewish-born Ronson has trod this course before, almost a decade ago, both taking Alpha and publishing an interview with Gumbel in 2000 entitled 'The Saviour of Christianity?' (Unfortunately, I can't unearth this article, but I refer to it in a summary of Alpha I wrote that same year.) So why is Ronson still critiquing Alpha decade on? It doesn't seem to have worked for him. But it seems God is doing something with him. Pray for him!

The links between Alpha's mushrooming growth and the Toronto Blessing of 1994 are perhaps fading, but Ronson included clips of that extraordinary time. He also gave full weight to the massive emphasis put on the Holy Spirit weekend, and the creation of the 'right environment' for people to break out in tongues. Charlie Cleverly, vicar of St Aldates, compared the Holy Spirit to a dove, who flies away at the slightest hand clap, and likened tongues to the baby talk of his granddaughter. The mood was punctured by the revving of powerful cars outside, and Cleverly was the only one to speak in tongues.

From the very beginning, I have struggled with Alpha's tendency to 'bypass the mind to reach the heart', bouncing people into the Christian faith via speaking on tongues. Three sessions on the Holy Spirit, two on Jesus, and none on the Father seems lopsided to say the least.

We contrast Alpha with, say, Peter's sermon in Acts 2, where after extolling the life, death and resurrection of Christ, he calls upon his hearers to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins, and then to receive the gift to the Holy Spirit. I have very, very rarely heard any kind of mention of repentance from sin and faith in Christ crucified. In fact, in the entire documentary, these central planks of the gospel are not mentioned at all.

Christianity Explored is a much better bet.

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