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Is This the Hottest Ticket to Heaven?

by Viv Goskrop

(This is the full transcript of our comments for the article on the Alpha Course
in the Mail On Sunday YOU magazine)

July 2005


Dear Elizabeth, 

To explain, I am writing a piece about the popularity of the Alpha course for You magazine, the women's magazine (aimed at women aged 20-40) at the Mail on Sunday. I have spoken to a lot of women who have done the course and loved it, others who are more sceptical. I would like to include a quote from you to give a sense of balance and get across the idea that the Alpha Course is not something that is sanctioned and supported by the entire Christian church - there are plenty of Christians who are sceptical about its value.

Dear Viv,

Many thanks for this explanation of your project.  May I just comment on one thing above, as it is quite important?  It’s not always that Alpha’s critics are “sceptical about its value”.  Many of Alpha’s critics are deeply grieved by its nature.  They believe it to be a dangerous deception; even a deliberate counterfeit of genuine Christianity.  

I would be really grateful if you could answer the following briefly:  

Viv, please forgive me that my responses below aren’t as brief as one would wish.  This topic is such a serious one, and not knowing how familiar you are with Alpha, or what the rest of the article will be covering, I needed to provide you with sufficient information to put my answers in context.  I don’t think it should take very long to read.  

Obviously you will know which bits will be relevant for your specific article, but it seemed better to assist you with too much info rather than not enough, as you can determine far better than I what you’ll want to include and what can be left out.  I really hope that’s OK.  

-- Why do you think the Alpha Course has become so popular in the last ten years?  

The sudden popularity of the Alpha Course in the UK ’s churches, was, without question, due to the ‘Toronto Blessing’ of the mid-1990s.  Nicky Gumbel himself has been quoted as saying that the two “go together” [source: ‘The Spirit and Evangelism’, Renewal, May 1995, p15].  

Having said that, it is the case that Alpha hasn’t actually become nearly so popular as Holy Trinity Brompton claims!  According to the sociologist (and long-time Alpha researcher) Dr. Stephen Hunt, HTB “over-exaggerates” the figures regarding Alpha’s popularity [source: Stephen Hunt, The Alpha Enterprise, (Ashgate, 2004), pp93,95,150].  

Staying on the question of numbers for a moment: If we look at the UK , which is probably of most interest to YOU readers, the number of Alpha courses being run now is roughly the same today as it was eight years ago.  Indeed, it has fallen significantly from an apparent high of 10,500 courses in 1998 down to 7,200 [source: Ibid, p11].  

Worldwide, the number of people taking Alpha has plateaued. In other words, the net growth in attendance is zero despite Alpha being present in 153 countries now.  It seems that groups are giving up on Alpha almost as quickly as new groups are trying it.  

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Alpha has grown in popularity in the last ten years.  Alpha is one of the newer ‘fads’ to come into the Christian Church, and many stagnating churches want to feel part of a big, exciting, new thing.  Additionally, church ministers seem to know their Bible less and less well as the years go by, and they therefore simply do not recognise many of Alpha’s errors.  (I firmly believe that this ignorance of the Bible is the key reason for their churches’ stagnation in the first place.)  This decrease in faithfulness to Holy Scripture is prophesied in the Bible itself in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 as well as other Scripture references.  

One of the reasons for the popularity of the Alpha Course amongst many non-church-goers, according to a number of the published testimonies of their experiences while on the Course, would seem to be due to the need for something spiritual in their lives.  The majority of Alpha participants fall within the 20-40 age bracket; they have become tired of the materialism and secularism so prevalent in the West, but often they have not grown up with a Christian background, thus they know very little of even the basic teachings of Christianity, and so are more open to looking for spiritual fulfillment in a wide variety of belief systems which may include the Judeo-Christian one, but is certainly not limited to it.  

They may pursue the spirituality of the Eastern religions – or perhaps just some aspects of Eastern beliefs and practices such as yoga, reincarnation, homeopathy and holistic health, etc.  Or they may look for inner peace through varying kinds of therapy and self-help movements.  There is even the resurgence now of ‘pagan’ or earth-centred religions such as Wicca to which increasing numbers are turning.  

All these things and others are believed to be equally valid spiritual paths to God - or, at the least, to inner spiritual satisfaction, and the Alpha Course is seen by many people who are searching for spiritual meaning in their lives, as one of those many and varied options.  Indeed, one advertisement for Alpha reads “whatever you are searching for, [Alpha] would be a good place to start” [source: The Good News, Advertisement on file comprising an insert for the Aberdeen Evening Express, Summer 1998, p5].  

-- For people outside the Christian faith, what are the pros and cons to attending?  

PROS: Spiritually speaking, there are simply NO ‘pros’.  I realise that must seem a harsh thing to say, and if I thought there WERE any pros I would certainly cite them, but I honestly believe, and all my research over the last ten years has confirmed, that there is none.  I would dearly love to say that Alpha is inspired, or at least is setting people on a spiritually helpful path, but it isn’t.  The whole point of Christian evangelism, which the Alpha Course claims to be doing, is to preach the Christian gospel such that souls will be saved from hell, but this is NOT what is happening on Alpha.  It is true that many participants are having profound spiritual experiences – and they may indeed believe they have found the spiritual element previously missing in their lives – but these experiences have NOTHING to do with Christianity, and the Bible makes clear they are, in fact, spiritually very DEADLY.  

CONS: Though attendees may well have an enjoyable eleven or so weeks while actually attending the Course, make some new friends, feel better about themselves and others than they did previously, even read their Bibles and/or pray, and believe they now have a relationship with Jesus, an Alpha participant will complete the Course deceived about the most crucial subject of all – i.e. who God is and what life is really all about.  These vital questions, which all the glossy posters claim Alpha will answer, are some of the very questions about which the Course seriously MISLEADS people.  

I hope to expand a bit more on this fundamental aspect of the Christian faith in one of my answers below, but for now, one example is that the Course communicates to people that, after making some vague commitment to God, their lives will practically become trouble-free.  This is a very easy message to preach, and to hear, which is another reason for Alpha’s popularity, but it is not what Jesus taught, and attendees soon find that everything is NOT easy after Alpha.  The consequences of this disillusionment can be that such folks lose what little faith they did get from the Course and actually end up hardened against the true gospel, because they “tried” it and it failed them.    

-- As someone outside the Alpha movement, what should people know about the course and its aims before becoming involved?  

A key point is this:  Don’t attend Alpha if you are feeling emotionally vulnerable.  Those people who are suffering socially or emotionally at the time they take Alpha are much more prone to missing Alpha’s irrational message and to being taken in by its soothing but deceptive atmosphere.  

Regardless of whether readers heed the above point, and even if they ignore everything else I say, I beseech them with every fibre of my being NOT (whatever else they do) to attend the ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ nor the ‘healing’ meeting.  People who attend these sessions are NOT being introduced to the true Holy Spirit of God, despite HTB’s claims (please see Part Five of our book Alpha: the Unofficial Guide - Church which discusses this terribly dangerous aspect of the Course).

I would sincerely urge people to read the books I have co-authored on the subject: Alpha – the Unofficial Guide: World, Alpha - the Unofficial Guide: Church, and Alpha - the Unofficial Guide: Overview. This is not for the sake of royalties as we do not accept any for the book, but because it explains in much more detail than I have space to do here the grave problems with the Alpha Course, and why it should ideally be avoided altogether.  

You wisely ask about the “aims” of Alpha.  Whatever its stated aims, Alpha is actually (a) spreading the false spirit behind the ‘Toronto Blessing’ to those churches which rejected it in the 1990s or which didn’t receive it at the time for some other reason; (b) filling churches with unsaved people; (c) bringing about ever more compromise and error within Christian churches than already exists (please see Appendix B of our “Overview” volume for irrefutable evidence of all this.)  

-- Why does the Alpha course not have universal support and approval across the Christian church?  

An immediate concern among those Christians who know their Bible is that the early Church didn’t need a fifteen-week ‘Introduction to the Christian Faith’ in order to change the world, so why do we need one now?  Why didn’t God give us Alpha, or its equivalent, a very long time ago if it is really what it claims to be (especially given the extent to which Christianity has declined in the UK in the last sixty years)?   

However, beyond that concern, there are a great number of profound problems with the Alpha Course, which make it impossible for much of the Church to support or approve it.  The most serious of all is that Alpha fatally misrepresents Jesus Christ and His gospel.  In particular, the very core of the gospel message is lost; i.e. the absolute and terrifying purity and holiness of God.  A purity which is SO total that God has had to separate Himself from this fallen world – hence both the suffering we see around us, and the need for His own Son, Who had NEVER sinned, to die to pay the necessary price for our restoration to God if we will recognise our sinful state, repent of it, and live for Him.  

Alpha does not tell its participants much at all about God except that He is “love”.  God certainly IS love, but He is also mankind’s Creator and Judge, and it is only if we accept His gospel of salvation, that we will KNOW His love - and He will then also become our Father.  

Following on from these fundamental omissions, neither does Alpha speak much about the true sinful state of man, as given in the Bible.  Rather, it just tenders the vague impression that our sin is merely a case of our committing a handful of peccadillos or mistakes during our lives.  At most Alpha will stretch to admitting that some us have “messed up our lives”, but it signally fails to get across to Alpha attendees that we are sinners by our very NATURE, i.e. that we COMMIT SINS because we ARE SINNERS.  And it makes only a fleeting reference to the unspeakably awful eternal consequences of our sinful state – i.e. that we are headed for torment in hell.  

Hence the sessions on the Lord Jesus Christ and the reasons for the death He had to die for us are not understood by participants in their true Biblical context, and so this pivotal doctrine subsequently passes many attendees by.  

The focus of Alpha is instead the Holy Spirit.  But even here, it is not the true HOLY Spirit of Scripture Who is “introduced” on Alpha.  The key work of the Holy Spirit is to enable people to understand the facts of the gospel message when it is preached to us, convict us of our rebellion towards the Holy God, and soften our hearts so we can repent, and be saved.  Once a person is saved, the work of the Holy Spirit in a new believer’s life is to sanctify us and guide us daily in the ways of the Lord.  

But Alpha’s spirit is ANOTHER spirit that does none of the above.  It simply rains down all manner of unbiblical ‘spiritual experiences’ on Alpha attendees.  Their experiences convince many participants that they have now become a Christian.  But they have not!  It is so desperately sad!  These spiritual experiences have NOTHING to do with Christianity, but are from demons.  This is the reason for my very strong urging that people NOT attend the Holy Spirit weekend (please see Part Five of our Church volume for biblical proof and further explanation of this awful aspect of Alpha.)  But because most of these people lack the Christian framework of previous generations, they have no plumbline by which to compare their experiences on Alpha, and so quite naturally assume it must be authentic Christianity.   

The Christian gospel perhaps seems an unacceptably exclusive one to those who are not Christians.  Well, yes, it is exclusive in the sense that God states very clearly in the book – the Bible - He has given His creation, that there is only ONE way to Him, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ, who Himself said there is no other way to the Father (please see John 14:6).  NO other way is acceptable to God.  Men have devised many, many methods of working their own way to God through the millennia, but they are tragically wasted efforts, as they are not the way God has told us to come to Him (please see Part One of our World volume for more on this.)  

But the Christian gospel is wonderfully inclusive too - because the gospel is for every single person who has ever lived.  The Bible says “For God so loved the WORLD (i.e. every person who has ever been born), that He gave His only begotten Son (i.e. Jesus Christ to die on the cross and be raised from the dead), that WHOSOEVER (i.e. anyone, in any period of history, in any country) believeth in Him (i.e. trusts in and clings to Jesus) should not perish (i.e. spend eternity in hell paying for their sins because they refused to accept God’s payment on their behalf), but have everlasting life (i.e. be forgiven their sins, and be saved)” (please see John 3:16).   (Please see chapter 13 in our World volume, for more on all the above.  Also, the leaflet titled Alpha: The Last Word in Evangelism and the booklet Ultimate Questions, for what Alpha should be telling its participants but isn’t.)  

-- Have you attended Alpha yourself? What were your impressions?  

I have been researching the Alpha Course since 1995, and my co-author, Dusty Peterson has worked full-time on Alpha with me for the last six years.  Dusty has attended every part of every session of a full, official Alpha Course.  He comes originally from a PRO-Alpha church and we felt he would be the most appropriate one of us to attend a Course.  

He found that the people who actually run the Courses are, generally, extremely sincere.  But they are also ignorant of the teachings of Jesus.  They are very trusting of Nicky Gumbel, whereas the apostle Paul told us to be wary and vigilant, to test everything we are taught, and to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing who would come into the Church and pass themselves off as teachers of the Christian faith when in reality they were not (please see Acts 20:26-31).   

We also own copies of each of the Course videos (and their transcripts), as well as other Alpha video and audio tapes, for example the Alpha Training Tapes, all of which we have watched and listened to multiple times.  We have also studied in depth the vast majority of Alpha’s books and other publications such as Alpha News and HTB in Focus.  

Very sadly, we have not found the Alpha Course to be a true representation of Biblical Christianity.  Instead, our research shows that it preaches a counterfeit gospel which, tragically, is deceiving many 1000s of sincere attendees of the Course into thinking they have become Christians when they haven’t.  

Hope this makes sense. Do email back if you would like me to clarify questions further. I am happy to mention your books and anything else you are working on.  

Thank you very much for your willingness to mention our books.  The only item I definitely need you to mention is the World volume of our book Alpha – the Unofficial Guide.  By all means explain that outlet details for it are available on our website (  We continue to research and write on all aspects of Alpha because there is simply so much wrong with it.  

I very much hope you will be able to make use of some of the information I’ve given above.  I wish you every success for the article.

God bless you,