The Alpha Phenomenon

Much has been written and said about the Alpha course since its publication and release in 1993 and anyone who has led an Alpha course will be aware that it has its strong advocates and equally strong critics. What this book does (excellently) is to give an in-depth analysis of the course, without trying to skirt around those issues which are at the heart of some people’s disquiet.

It starts with an overview of the church from which Alpha originated - Holy Trinity Brompton. This Anglican Church close to Harrods in Kensington is now world-renowned. The evangelical heritage of the church, along with the charismatic influence especially through close contacts with ministry of the late John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Churches, are clearly set out in order to explain the thinking behind the course itself. It will therefore come as no surprise that Alpha inherits an evangelical and charismatic flavour, and that frequent reference is made in the videos to people like John Wimber, John Stott and CS Lewis.

What I like about this book is its impartiality. It looks in great depth at each section of the Alpha course and focuses at some length upon one of the most contentious topics, the atonement. Alpha’s teaching in this area is broadly along the lines of traditional ‘penal substitution’ but does not press the supremacy of this interpretation of the cross as far as some critics would like. The author reflects on the arguments currently brewing in evangelical circles and relates these to the material in Alpha.

There is a great deal of focus upon statistics, where the main contributors are Charles Freebury, who also contributes a chapter on ‘Alpha in Methodism’, and Peter Brierley of the Christian Research Association. These statistics clearly show the success or otherwise of Alpha in reaching the unchurched and bringing people to a saving faith. Other contributors include Cliff College’s Phil Meadows, John Drane, Stuart Murray Williams and, of course, the one and only Nicky Gumbel who features on all of the Alpha videos.

It is easy now, in the light of running Alpha courses, to nod in agreement with much of what is written, but for those who have so far resisted the temptation and want to know more, this book is an excellent investment.

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