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The Alpha Course
Chapter and Verse on Alpha's
Part 1: The Character of Alpha's Jesus
Part Two: The Nature of Alpha's Jesus | Part Three: The Divinity of Alpha's Jesus
by Dusty Peterson
number of assessments have been published about Alpha since the early
nineties when Nicky Gumbel took over responsibility for the Course, and
many of these critiques claim that Alpha’s teachings about the Lord
Jesus are worrisome. Jesus is
obviously the very centre of the gospel and we have felt led to
investigate these claims carefully from official sources.
In this article we will focus on the Lord’s character.
the ‘name’ of someone is a reference to their character.
In fact, “the name is used for everything
which the name covers”,
including the commands, deeds, qualities etc of the person.
So where the Bible refers to the ‘name
of Jesus’ or the ‘name of
Christ’ (1 Pet.
), or the ‘name of the Lord’ (Acts
) it encompasses the Lord’s
whole character. When Paul
writes “[W]e pray … That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified
in you…” (2 Thess. 1:11-12) and when the Lord teaches that our
prayers have to be in line with His character if they are going to be
), it becomes evident that we must
obtain a good idea of the Lord’s character.
should have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor.
; Php. 2:5).
This is naturally going to be harder if we have an inaccurate idea
of His mind! Beyond this,
God’s Word even says that a correct grasp of the Lord’s character is
fundamental to salvation (Rom.
The Church plainly needs to be fastidious in this regard.
As we check the pros and cons of Alpha’s treatment in detail,
there will inevitably be moments where we have to be quite exacting, and
some individual points may seem not to carry much weight on their own.
The question we need to ask is: what is their effect when
taken together? If we
really love and care about our wonderful Husband-to-be then we will want
the world to be taught only the truth regarding Him.
(Important Note: When we believers hear a gospel talk, we will usually have the prior knowledge required to ‘fill in’ any gaps or to rightly interpret any ambiguities in the talk. We will often do this automatically and we thus do not consciously notice the flaws in the talk. However, many unbelievers today are almost completely ignorant about the Messiah and the Bible, and will not be able to do this. It is vital to read the following with this in mind.)
Bible openly states that the Lord Jesus was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15;
1 John 3:5b; see also Deut. 32:4). This
issue is foundational to the gospel, for if the Lord was not a spotless
‘Lamb’ (1 Pet.
) then His sacrifice on the cross
cannot have paid the price for us. Such
a belief might lead some people to try to ‘make up the difference’
through ‘good works’. Observers
feel that Alpha could be clearer over this.
the Alpha video talks
the actual word ‘sinless’ does not occur, and when Nicky quotes his
Bible saying (in Hebrews
) that “Jesus was tempted in
every way”, the suffix “yet without sin” is strangely omitted [Talk
11]. Some commentators argue
that what Nicky then says makes
this absence particularly unfortunate:
was tempted in every way, just as we are. Jesus had evil
thoughts”. Earlier in the
talks Nicky explains where ‘evil thoughts’ come from: “‘…from within, out of your hearts,
come evil thoughts … they
make you unclean’” [Talk
3]. It would be reasonable for
hearers to assume that the Lord’s “evil thoughts” came out of His
heart, and that the Lord harboured
evil thoughts. Jesus was offered
temptations, He was offered evil
thoughts by the enemy, but He rejected
them all instantly. Sadly
Nicky chooses not to mention this point.
teaches that the Lord’s “friends
said about him, ‘He’s without sin’” [Talk 2], but unsaved
hearers may feel that friends
saying something about you does not necessarily make it true. Having said that,
Nicky does refer to 2 Corinthians 5:21… “
another vital occasion, Nicky again neglects to clarify Jesus’
sinlessness. He says that
Jesus on the cross was “Godforsaken … not because of his
own sin but because of our
sin” [Talk 3]. Some
detractors point out the potential ambiguity here and that it would only
have taken a moment for Nicky to confirm that Jesus had
no sin. He apparently decides
against clearing up any doubt here.
prefers to say that “Jesus never did
anything wrong” [Talks 3 & 4], and to refer to “Jesus Christ, who
never did anything wrong” [Talk 4].
On the face of it, this seems to settle the issue, but Nicky
elsewhere reminds us that it is not just a matter of what we “do”, but
also what we say (“‘…good
deeds’, that’s everything we do and
say” [Talk 12]) and also what we think
(“it’s not just our actions it’s our words and also
our thoughts” [Talk 3]).
Logically, this leaves the door open again for Jesus to have sinned
in thought or word.
there is more to being sinless than avoiding sinful behaviour. One also
needs to be free of the sinful nature
that Adam passed down to all his generations (1 Cor.
Jesus needed to have been born of a virgin
in order to avoid being tainted by ‘original sin’.
Nicky does not mention the virgin birth in the talks and instead
likens Jesus to a building that is “totally the work of human beings” [Talk 5].
But if Jesus’ conception was “totally
the work of human beings” then He inherited man’s sinful nature and
was not sinless.
also says: “There is a big difference between the things that we do
wrong and the mistakes that
we make” [Talk 1]. This
allows for the Lord to have erred, which brings us to our next question.
Bible says of Jesus “the Word was made flesh, … full
of … truth” (John
) and that the Lord “faileth not”
(Zeph. 3:5; see also Deut. 31:8). But
does Alpha leave participants believing for certain that Jesus was
infallible? (Again, and just
for the record, neither of the actual words ‘fallible’ or
‘infallible’ appears in the talks themselves.)
John 1:3 we know that “All
things were made by” Jesus,
yet Alpha sometimes suggests that the Creator did not do a perfect job.
For instance, Nicky talks about “the created order that had gone
wrong” [Talk 11]. To
some observers this wording suggests an error on the Creator’s part. Nothing
‘went wrong’ with the Lord’s perfect handiwork.
Creation fell through sin
but this is not what Nicky says. Likewise,
it was apparently left to the Holy Spirit, in the early days of the
Universe, to bring “order out of chaos”.
Since “God is not the author of confusion”, the word
‘chaos’ here implies unfortunate things about our Lord.
concern for some folk is this. Towards
the start of Talk 6, Nicky says “Jesus promises
that our prayers will be
answered”, but later in this talk he teaches that “[S]ome
of our prayers may not be
answered” and that “[S]ome of our prayers don’t
get answered”. If Jesus
wasn’t a liar, then the message appears to be that he was definitely mistaken.
Jesus have infallible faith?
Consider this quote: “Jesus never said to anybody, ‘It was your
lack of faith that stopped you being healed’. He sometimes said to the disciples,
‘You lacked faith’, but not
to the person who was sick” [Talk 13].
Yet just moments earlier Nicky had said: “even
with Jesus, on one occasion, he
laid hands on a blind man and he said, after he had laid hands on them
[the man’s eyes], ‘Do you see anything?’ and the man said, ‘I see
people but they look like trees walking around’. So Jesus laid hands on
unavoidable conclusion from Nicky’s combined statements is that it was Jesus’
lack of faith that required Him to pray for a second time.
(In fact if there is a ‘lack of faith’ on the part of the ‘person who is sick’
it most certainly does get in the way of prayers for healing, as Mark
6:5-6 makes clear.)
both Talks 1 and 7 Nicky says “we all
make mistakes”, but he doesn’t exclude Jesus on either occasion.
Indeed, Jesus is the last person to be mentioned in both of these
discussions on ‘mistakes’. Take
Talk 7: “In conclusion, …
the whole issue of guidance was
not easy for Abraham. It wasn’t easy for Jesus.
… Secondly, we all make mistakes”. A Christian
may not pick up the wrong message from this, but what about someone who
has never heard about Jesus before?
we are on the subject of unbelievers and how they interpret things,
consider this comment: “Jesus … was the most fully human
person who’s ever lived, the most normal
person” [Talk 15]. Without
proper clarification, this is sure to be misunderstood by some hearers
simply because of the definitions they attach to the highlighted words
above. Phrases like “we’re
only human” and “it’s only normal” are common secular ways of
expressing failings and imperfections. Even so, Nicky still doesn’t say the
Lord was “fully normal” –
just that He was the most normal person to ever live.
These two are not the same.
his defence, Nicky does write the following in one of his books: “Only
in Jesus Christ do we find infallible
But some of the more demanding detractors point out that this is
not saying Christ’s behaviour
was always infallible. Nicky’s
phraseology could also be read as focusing on us. In other words it is
rather like the time he writes “Only in Jesus Christ do we find eternal
or only in Christ can it [forgiveness] be found”.
the same page, Nicky writes “God’s
revelation in Jesus Christ is infallible”.
But critics understandably ask why he must add the emboldened
words. They believe the extra
words just serve to make some people wonder if only a part
of Jesus contained “God’s revelation”, and thus if only this part is
infallible. Why not simply put
“Jesus Christ is infallible”?
What indeed could be the problem with stating categorically and repeatedly that Jesus was totally sinless and totally infallible at all times? In fifteen long talks and many associated publications there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why not.
HE ‘GENTLE, GRACEFUL, MEEK AND LOWLY’?
described the Lord as “gentle” (2 Cor. 10:1) and, in Matthew
, the Lord Himself said “I am
meek and lowly in heart”. His
meekness and lowliness was also prophesied before His Incarnation (Zech.
9:9; Matt. 21:5). John
calls Him “full of grace”.
is never called ‘gentle’ or ‘graceful’ in the Alpha talks.
Neither is He described as ‘lowly’ in the talks, although Nicky
uses the term of himself [Talk
1]. The word ‘meek’ (often
translated ‘gentle’ in Nicky’s Bible) doesn’t occur in the
on Alpha, our incarnated Lord is actually portrayed as very ungentle
and ‘unmeek’. For example,
at the top of Nicky’s list of
emotions that Jesus had is “anger”,
and Nicky sometimes uses militaristic
language to describe the Lord’s manner, even when it seems quite out of
place: “Jesus fought against
suffering wherever he came across it”.
And what led Nicky to say the following?
that Jesus went he removed evil
[he expelled devils, but Nicky
widens the scope dramatically]. He destroyed
evil wherever he found it [he exposed
it, but that is not the same thing at all]. And that’s what we are
called to be. That’s the
exciting thing” [Talk 11]. (Is
it not ‘exciting’ just to walk with our glorious Bridegroom and
Creator and to learn of Him?)
note: Some readers will feel we are being excessively ‘picky’ in these
sections, but it should be remembered that Nicky has had more than a
decade to get his material correct, and that it is vital to reflect the
true character of Jesus consistently and precisely.
The exact words Nicky uses will determine exactly what is
communicated to hearers, many of whom today know virtually nothing of the
individual strands in this article are inevitably going to be minor on
their own, but let us look for the resulting tapestry as a whole – is it
a clear and accurate representation of the Saviour?
As a Cambridge-educated barrister, Nicky is a master with words and
with public speaking so he should be well able to get his statements
right, yet consider the following items.
HE A “MAN OF SORROWS”?
to Scripture, the Lord was “rejected of men; a man
of sorrows, and acquainted
with grief: and we hid as it
were our faces from Him; He was despised,
and we esteemed Him not”
(Isaiah 53:3). Throughout His
ministry the Lord was mocked, accused, cursed and rejected – all without
cause. Most of His followers
left Him (John 6:66); even His closest friends deserted Him after
being with Jesus! What fun it
would have been!” says Nicky in Talk 2.
The Lord’s life in this unworthy world was actually characterized
by sacrifice and suffering. No,
it was not a lot of fun to watch it if you loved Him.
In the previous video edition, Nicky insisted that Jesus
“laughed” [Talk 2], but the Bible does not say this and there was
certainly not much for Him to laugh about as He saw the dreadful apostasy into which the deceitful
shepherds of His People had brought them.
Indeed, the Lord cried “Woe
unto you that laugh now!” (Luke 6:25) and He blessed those that mourn
over this fallen world (Matt. 5:4).
has now replaced that extrabiblical statement with the words “He was the
supreme example of … joy,
but never at another’s expense” [Talk 2].
Again, unregenerate listeners will not understand that joy in the
spirit does not equate to laughter. The
Lord wept over
stated problem on Alpha, which makes it even harder for participants
rightly to interpret Nicky’s teachings about the Lord, has been
identified by a young theology student who notes: “When discussing
Jesus’ character, Biblical references
are conspicuous by their absence”.
HE RIGHTEOUS AND HOLY?
To be ‘righteous’ means to be upright, virtuous, just, and
obedient to God’s commands. The
Bible calls our Saviour “Jesus Christ the righteous”
(1 John 2:1). Although Alpha
does employ the word “righteous” in several places, it is never
categorically applied to the Lord Jesus except to say that he shared the
“human” emotion of “righteous anger”
[Talk 2]. (Strangely, the term
‘righteousness’ is redefined on Alpha as merely meaning “right
relationships”, so it would not tell hearers much even if Nicky did
call the Lord “righteous”.)
word ‘holy’ does not just mean righteous; it means ‘apart, sacred,
separate, set-apart’. The
Lord is called the ‘Holy One of Israel’ over 30 times in the Bible (e.g. in Isa.
43:14-15 and Isa. 47:4) and is described as ‘holy’ on very many other
occasions too (e.g. in Jer. 51:5; Rev. 4:8; and throughout Acts).
The words ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ occur a full 586 times in
Scripture and can be said to be the primary characteristic of the Lord -
and of those who are truly following Him.
whilst the Spirit of God is
called ‘holy’ on well over 100 occasions in the Alpha talks, and the church of God is frequently called ‘holy’ there too, Nicky only
manages to call the Son of God
‘holy’ twice in the entire
and apparently only then because the term is part of a Bible verse that
Nicky is quoting for other reasons.
(The Lord is not called ‘holy’ during either
of the two Alpha talks that are devoted to Him.)
Perhaps even worse is the fact that the word ‘holy’ is never
explained on Alpha. This is
all very incongruous, coming as it does from a church called Holy Trinity Brompton.
writes that “Jesus himself set us a great
but surely Jesus set us the perfect
‘example’? As we have
seen, Nicky also regularly says that Jesus was “the supreme
but it could be argued that ‘supreme’ still does not mean perfect or
pure; it simply means the best around.
There is a fundamental difference.
(Note that Nicky does not have a mental block about using the word
“perfect” to describe other
things. At one point he tells
us of a man called Earl, saying that “Earl was thrilled because the
paper in this Bible was very thin and it was perfect
for rolling joints!” [Talk 5]. He
also says that Christians are “perfectly
righteous in God’s sight” [Talk 4].
Ironically, Holy Trinity’s head man (Sandy Millar) has repeatedly
said of Alpha “I think the course is now about as perfect
as it can be”.)
HE FEAR HIS FATHER?
recorded prayer that Jesus uttered displayed godly fear towards the
Father, and every time He spoke of
His Father it was with deep reverence.
Indeed, the Bible says that His prayers were heard by the Father
because Jesus “feared” Him (Heb. 5:7).
does not say this at all.
Instead it says “Abba is an Aramaic word which means, well, the nearest translation
is ‘Daddy’” [Talk 6];
“It was distinctive of Jesus.
Jesus had this intimacy with
the Father … and he made it possible for us to address God as Abba … Prince Charles is the Heir Apparent to the Throne … But
to William and Harry, he’s ‘Daddy’”.
We believe that this dangerously misrepresents the correct attitude
towards God the Father that Jesus exemplified.
Jesus opened the way for our relationship with the Father as adopted sons,
we are to look upon our heavenly Father with reverence and fear.
As Jesus said, “I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them
that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after
He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear
Him” (Luke 12:4-5).
This implies more than ‘reverential awe’. It clearly menas that fear is a proper attitude in those who would please God with their lives. Nicky Gumbel fails to give the same warning Jesus gave, which was meant to keep us in line. That failure allows for a laissez-faire attitude in one’s spiritual walk.
DOES HIS “NAME” MEAN?
there something magical about the word ‘Jesus’?
In fact the word ‘Jesus’ itself is just that - a word.
It is merely an Anglicization of the Greek pronunciation of the
As we saw in the Introduction, the important thing is the Lord’s character.
This is what is in view in Scripture in the manifold references to
‘the name of Jesus’…
this is not what is communicated on Alpha.
It isn’t that Nicky Gumbel’s statements are erroneous, per
is that he fails to make it clear that merely using the name of Jesus, as
opposed to walking in obedience to the Father’s will, does not produce
truth or righteousness.
for example, Nicky’s discussion of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’:
“‘Hallowed be your name’. That literally means ‘May your name be honoured’ … People don’t respect the name of Jesus.
So often it is used as a swear word or
it’s just a laughing matter” [Talk 6].
The Lord’s ‘name’ is merely equated to the word ‘Jesus’
also teaches that “at the end of our prayers, we say, ‘In Jesus name’
... It’s an acknowledgement…”
But it is through emulating Jesus’ character
that we can abide in Him and can thus approach the Father in prayer.
(And if Alpha is not describing the Lord’s character correctly,
how can hearers properly emulate
light of the fact that the ‘name’ of the Lord is never explained in
the talks, one can easily guess the unfortunate (i.e. superstitious)
interpretation that many hearers will place on statements like the
following. “Jesus is the only
name that can save”;
“Origen in the third century, [wrote] that ‘the name of Jesus
can take away diseases’” [Talk 13];
“[T]here is such power
in the name of Jesus. That’s
why the apostles used to expel evil [again, not just devils]
in the name of Jesus” [Talk
and his demons are so frightened of the name of Jesus”.
heart-stopping peril of thinking you are serving God just because you use
the actual word ‘Jesus’ is made horrifyingly plain in Matthew 7:22-23:
“Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in
Thy name? and in Thy name
have cast out devils? and in Thy
name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I
never knew you: depart from Me,
ye that work iniquity.”
about Alpha’s position regarding the Lord’s character?
How much more are participants being muddled!
(Sadly, this article is not exhaustive in terms of the evidence we
could bring to bear regarding Alpha’s teachings on this topic.)
collective effect of these points is that hearers are coming away
from Alpha with a worryingly inaccurate impression of the Lord’s
And since the Bible places such huge emphasis on the ‘name’ –
the character – of Jesus, Alpha’s failure to describe it rightly is of
genuine concern and obliges us to ask what other problems may be present.
the next instalment of this short series of articles will look at the nature of Alpha’s Jesus.
We intend to ask: if He was pre-existent, if He was the Word made
flesh; if He had the Holy Spirit before
His baptism; if He was Christ – the Son of the living God; and if He was
(The findings were fascinating in each case.)
May God bless you.
 Alpha News (UK Edition), Jul – Oct 2002, p17.
 Strong’s, 3686.
 For yet more reasons to be precise about the Lord’s character see Matt. 18:5, 20; Mk. , ; Jn. 14:13-15, 26; Col. 3:17.
 In this article, phrases like ‘the talks’ or ‘the video talks’ always refer to the official Alpha video transcripts released in the Summer of 2000. Apart from Bible quotes taken from Alpha talks, all Bible quotes (and all statements about the Bible’s contents) relate to the King James Version. All emphases in quotes (whether from the Bible or not) are our own unless otherwise stated.
 Nicky’s Bible version DOES however say that Jesus may well have lied! In John 7:8 the Lord said He was ‘not yet going up’ to a particular Feast, but a footnote in the NIV says “Some early manuscripts do not have yet”. Since Jesus did go up, this would have been a lie. And since the NIV constantly extols manuscripts based purely on how ‘early’ they are, the inference is clear.
 As per Isa. & Matt. .
 Green Alpha Manual, (HTB Publications, 1995), p30.
 Without clarification, these words also suggest that Jesus did not actually know whether His prayer had been completely successful or not. (His question was surely just asked to encourage more faith in the blind man.)
 We are not supporting the (excessive) ‘Word-Faith’ line in saying this!
 Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues, (Kingsway, 2001), p30. But does not the Bible offer infallible truth too?
 Why Christmas? (HTB Publications, 1997), p10.
 Questions of Life (Kingsway, 2001), p19.
Immature Course participants are far more likely to come away
 Nicky does say at one point that Jesus “was the supreme example of … Of humility, [and] … kindness” [Talk 2], but in more than eleven hours of talks supposedly centred on Jesus this is just about all that participants get. Note too that, although the Lord certainly humbled Himself by becoming a man, there is a subtle (but significant) difference between Him always behaving ‘humbly’ on earth and being ‘meek and lowly’. Since He claimed to be God, some hearers may get the wrong idea about what being humble involves!
 Green Alpha Manual, p5.
 Searching Issues, p23.
 Nicky encourages Alpha churches to go to great lengths to keep the Course as ‘fun’ and relaxed as possible, and he always talks in an informal way – hence our decision to refer to him as ‘Nicky’ in this article.
David R. Coaker, A Critical
Evaluation of the Use and Influence of the Bible in the Alpha Course,
(Draft for Comment,
 Alpha claims that the Lord is all about love, but the Bible puts the emphasis squarely on His holiness. Only 22 verses in the whole Bible speak of “God” alongside His “love” for us.
 See Talks 8 & 12.
 Interestingly, both of these verses (Luke in Talk 8, and Acts in Talk 12) relate to Bible corruptions.
 Nicky Gumbel, 30 Days, (Alpha Publications, 2001), p8.
 Talk 2; see also Green Alpha Manual, p25.
 Introduction to video Talk 1. N.B. Millar said these words about the Alpha talks three full years before the release of the problematic transcripts used in the article you are currently reading. Nicky does quote a famous name who said: “‘I believe there is no one … more perfect than Jesus’” [Why Jesus?, (HTB Publications, 1997), p7], but critics counter that this still does not mean Jesus was perfect, just that no-one has bettered Him.
 The Bible says God is “greatly to be feared” (Psa. 89:7) but Alpha does not portray a God that is remotely to be feared. Nicky even insinuates that fear of the Lord is of Satanic origin: Adam was “‘afraid’ [of God]. That was the aim of the devil … And that’s not how it is meant to be” [Talk 11], despite many dozens of verses saying the opposite (e.g. Psa. 111:10; 147:11; Luke 12:5; Isa. ; Acts ). See our book for more.
 Talk 9. (Underlined emphasis in original HTB transcript.)
 The Lord’s earthly name was Y’shua - Hebrew for ‘salvation’.
 Nicky must mean the name ‘Jesus’ is treated as a laughing matter. (Whilst we are on the subject of the ‘name’ of the Lord, Nicky gives Him the New Age’s preferred title ‘the Teacher’ three times in Talk 12 for some reason.)
 Searching Issues, p26.