HTB’s Reply to our Second
Dear Dusty Peterson and Elizabeth McDonald
Thank you for your letter to Nicky Gumbel but I can only think that the
whole basis is misconceived. Anyone who has read the Alpha material as presented
in Nicky Gumbel’s book Questions of Life or seen the videos of the course
would be mystified at the bizarre catalogue of suppositions and suggestions
which form the basis of your letter (as well as all the other material involved
– the Alpha videos, Searching Issues, Challenging Lifestyle, Heart of Revival,
A Life Worth Living).
All we can do in response is to encourage your readers to investigate the
Alpha material for themselves, by reading Nicky Gumbel’s booklet Why Jesus?,
which is given to people attending Alpha suppers and guest events and his book
Questions of Life, which is the Alpha course material in book form.
I trust they will then understand that Alpha is an introduction to
Christianity which has the support of senior church leaders of different
denominations and traditions all over the world, including theologians like
Professor J.I. Packer. Our vision is simply to present the gospel of Jesus
Christ to a needy world – and why there is cause to rejoice that more than six
million people have now done an Alpha course and many have found faith in Jesus
Christ for the first time.
We were tempted to allow HTB’s remarkable reply to stand on its own. It speaks for itself, and it reveals the true spirit behind Toronto more vividly than the most eloquent response from us ever could. However, since the reply includes a substantial advert for the Alpha Course we feel it would be unwise to allow it to go unanswered. We have split our thoughts into two parts:
Uncaring: From the letter, HTB simply doesn’t appear to care about those folks who received the ‘TE’ and who are now confused about it or are not able to fellowship with those who refused to receive it. (By extension, neither does HTB appear to care whether Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ is of God or not.) By not bothering to take any of our points seriously, HTB has given the strong impression that they have no interest whatsoever in the myriad souls who submitted to HTB’s insistent support for ‘Toronto’ but who now feel deceived about the accompanying teachings and promises.
Confusing: Our letter consisted almost entirely of quotes from the Bible and from HTB’s own staff - or their very close colleagues - plus reasoned deductions from these sources. (Indeed, a book edited by Sharon’s own boss at HTB was cited nine times.) Therefore, if our open letter is “bizarre” it can only be because the quotes we gave from the pro-TE camp were bizarre. Thanks to the spirit behind Toronto, HTB is apparently unable to follow logical arguments. HTB’s reply certainly bears virtually no relation to the letter which spawned it.
Disrespectful Towards The Bible: It is noticeable that HTB’s letter exhibited no concern about John Arnott’s blatant misrepresentation of Scripture. It is also very noticeable that Sharon did not feel led to cite a single verse of the Bible (perhaps because she knows that Toronto is biblically indefensible). In contrast, our letter cited over 30 passages from God’s Word. Not only did the reply not acknowledge this, but HTB apparently did not check a single reference we gave - else it would have seen the truth of our concerns.
Hypocritical: HTB calls the “whole” basis of our letter “misconceived”. As we have demonstrated above, it is HTB’s reply which was truly misconceived. (Our open letter hopefully showed that HTB’s basis for ‘Toronto’ was misconceived too.) Sharon calls our letter “bizarre” yet it is hers which is irrelevant and peculiar. Frankly, it is her letter which will “mystify” people.
Graceless: Not only could Sharon not bring herself to admit that there was any possibility that HTB was ever wrong about anything, but neither did she give the Lord any of the glory as she boasted of Alpha’s ‘success’. There was a veil of civility present, but it proved superficial at the end of the letter where the customary closing pleasantry was completely dispensed with. The phrase “bizarre catalogue of suppositions” does not seem to exude much grace either.
Closed to correction: Although apparently unable to refute a single one of the 21 points that appeared in our open letter, HTB chose not to accept that any comment we made was valid. We didn’t require a point-by-point analysis at this stage (although HTB did have more than two and a half weeks to reply), but, although HTB was not prepared to admit that they have erred in any way regarding Toronto, they seemingly could not name a single book on the subject which would deal with our concerns. This is very telling regarding the TE, but it also reveals the hardness at the heart of HTB. As other observers have found, HTB is simply not open to correction.
Fearless Towards God: While apparently fearful of facing up to the points we raised, HTB’s reply displays no obvious fear of God. The primary topic of our letter (as was surely made clear by its title: Your Understanding of ‘Toronto’) was the ‘Toronto Blessing’, yet this was thoroughly misrepresented in HTB’s reply. While charging us with “bizarre suppositions”, not a single example was supplied - suggesting a distinct lack of the integrity that is engendered by fearing God. Far from renouncing ‘Toronto’, HTB continues to stand up for it.
Manipulative: HTB’s letter cannot have taken more than half an hour to write, yet it was sent on the afternoon of the deadline day for publication – thus giving us the minimal possible time to write a response. (We had identified the deadline day to HTB when we sent our open letter.) Furthermore, knowing that we had promised to include HTB’s full response in Vanguard and on our website, HTB took up most of their letter with a lengthy advert for Alpha instead of answering our questions. Both acts seem to us to represent rather cynical behaviour.
Post-millennial: HTB’s apparent fixation with numbers (both of ‘converts’ from Alpha, and of denominations supporting the Course) is a very post-millennial attitude which sweeps under the carpet most (if not all) problems in the Church because of the erroneous belief that everything will inevitably get better and better in the lead-up to the return of the Lord. (Quite how HTB marries its post-millennial ideas with its admission that Toronto “splits churches” [Ronson, op. cit.] is anyone’s guess.) It is absolutely true that Alpha is accepted by practically every denomination the world over, but, as our Lord said in Luke 6:26, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!”
The Alpha publications cited by Sharon regularly promote Toronto-esque doctrines, practices and personalities (although, confusingly, she lists the Alpha videos twice but omits Gumbel’s other central Alpha resource 30 Days). For example, the current issue of Heart of Revival says: “John Arnott, [is] the pastor in charge of the Toronto Airport church which has been at the centre of a remarkable move of God’s Spirit” [p182]. Sharon must have known this, if only because we gave this reference in our original letter! Our entire series of ‘Powers Behind the Alpha Course’ articles on our website already reveals the very intimate relationship between Alpha and Toronto. (We will need to write at least one further such article to mop up all our remaining evidence.) But, as Nicky Gumbel himself has acknowledged, the very reason for the mid-nineties explosion in the take up of Alpha was its compatibility with Toronto.
We do not deny that people are “finding faith” through Alpha. The question is, in what are they finding faith? (Note HTB’s choice of terminology. Are words like “salvation” no longer in its vocabulary?) While Alpha guests are certainly enjoying (misplaced) faith in the drug-like experiences they receive on the Alpha weekend - as we showed in our article in Vanguard 17 - official testimonies prove that guests are certainly not “finding faith” in the Jesus of the Bible. (Our book establishes this.) Just as HTB has obscured the truth about our open letter (and the true relationship between Alpha and Toronto), so Alpha obscures the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Please see our three web articles entitled ‘Chapter and Verse on Alpha’s Jesus’ for details.)
Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ was created by the same people who promoted ‘Toronto’ the loudest in this country, yet we are supposed to believe that this weekend is likely to be ‘of God’. It comes from a church which cannot defend its understanding, or handling, of the TE. Surely only someone who was suffering from the Toronto spirit would have problems drawing the inevitable conclusion.
D.P. & E. McD