The Alpha Course Analysis
A Critical Evaluation (Based on 'Questions of Life' Chapters 1-3)
By: K. B. Napier
In the early 1990's one of the most devastating movements of all time hit churches throughout the world. It was the ‘Toronto Blessing’. We have already argued elsewhere that the Toronto Blessing did not simply fade out. Nor was it just another fad. The Toronto Blessing was a major missile aimed by the charismatic movement. It had a specific work to do - the dividing of churches and the bringing-down of professing Christians (i.e. those who claim faith with their mouths, but who have no power) - and when that work was accomplished, Satan eased his hand on the controls (hence it appeared to 'fade away').
It was no fad. It was a deliberate ploy, a deception sent to destroy true faith and to replace it with a lie. Satan has had thousands of years to build up to this most remarkable of plans. And he has succeeded in his objectives! But, Satan was not the real cause of what happened - it was God Who brought the churches down by this notorious falsity, just as He brought down His chosen people in the days of Isaiah. Then He used surrounding nations and the king of Assyria (also a pseudonym for Satan, by the way). He warned the people to turn back to His paths, or they would earn His wrath. They did not listen, so the lesson was swift and overwhelming.
The Toronto Blessing was brewed for many years before it finally hit the churches. It tried to arise in various forms before, but had failed. The fact that the 'Blessing' was successful this time, was a sure indication of the appalling state of the churches and their pastors! They had no excuse, for watchmen have been warning them for many years. I have personally done so for over 30 years.
Well, the Toronto movement has now finished its task. It has sifted the churches like wheat and has brought down hundreds if not thousands of pastors, preachers and teachers. Of these, many were once faithful men of God. But in believing a lie, they are now cast down and crushed by Almighty God. Their only way back is to publicly renounce what they have done and to try and put right the damage they have perpetrated. However, virtually no one will ever do this, such is the nature of human pride.
Very few true and faithful Believers, and very few true and faithful pastors, remain. Sadly, even many of these find it hard to stand and be counted! Almost none of them will publicly denounce the Toronto movement, or its foundational charismaticism. Nor will they publicly ally themselves with those of us who fight. There are a number of possible reasons for this silence (related to me by their own members). One reason is that they refuse to be linked with those of us who speak out publicly - they fear the frowns of other pastors and the effect on their 'good standing' in the community. Others are scared that they might upset their own members. Some think the whole problem will just pass away, like a fad. Whatever the reason for silence, it is inglorious and is a sign of spiritual and moral weakness.
Now, the Alpha Course is taking the UK by storm, and looks set to spread overseas*. Will our silent minority remain silent through this scourge also? I do not condemn these men, but I urge them to be firm and to stand up and be counted, for God's sake and for the sake of their own spiritual integrity. To be silent in the face of such devastation is a shame on the churches and on those who know the Truth.
If this minority of true pastors think the Alpha Course is another 'fad', or that it is a reasonable way of spreading the Gospel, or of teaching others doctrine - then let them think again! In 1994, I warned that charismatics would soon start to 'theologise' their errors, in order to consolidate the position won by the Toronto Blessing, and to provide a 'theological' base on which to build future waves of error. Little did I realise that the 'theologising' had already begun! The Alpha Course is the medium being used at the moment - but there are many others. (* Alpha is now available overseas!! May, 1999).
Where Does it Come From?
It has been said that the writer of the Course founded his work on what someone else had already prepared. This is irrelevant, for we are now interested in who the course is formally attributed to. That person is Nicky Gumbel, curate of Holy Trinity, Brompton. For those who have been asleep during the 1990's, he was one of the leading lights in the early days of the Toronto Blessing, and he helped it to spread in the UK. So his charismatic pedigree is impeccable!
Gumbel is an intelligent man. He is no fool. Yet, he threw himself into the Toronto experience and encouraged others to do likewise. Charismatic error is no respecter of persons. It possesses and drives everyone, from garbage collector to professor! This is because it is of Satan, whose task it is to deceive.
The main text behind the course is the book 'Questions of Life' (published by Kingsway), 269 pages (which is why we criticise the Course via the book). Whilst we must be aware of error, we must also praise what is 'good'. The problem with this book, and with the Alpha Course, is that most of it is perfectly sound! Indeed, I would estimate that about 90% of the book is very good material. But, it is the remaining 10% that should alarm all true teachers of doctrine. Even though this 10% is so obviously wrong, readers will be - and are - duped, because the larger 90% is good. As Spurgeon said, "Beware! Error often rides to its deadly work on the back of truth!". This was repeated by Evan Roberts, leader of the 1904 Welsh Revival, who said that Satan is quite willing to repeat 99% truth in order to pass-off just 1% lies. In my opinion, based on my analysis of charismaticism, that is why we ought to approach the Alpha Course as though it were a poison chalice. Casual caution will not suffice. On this point I would repeat Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 5:6:
"Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?"
We should ask ourselves two simple questions: "How much deception is enough?" The answer is also simple - the smallest amount is enough! "How much deception must we tolerate?" None at all! How far should we go down the road of error before we say enough is enough? Human beings are prone to allow lies to flourish up to a point, and then they begin to act with caution. But God says that even the most minuscule amount of evil is sufficient to ruin the whole Church! Therefore, says Paul, we must purge that evil so that the Church begins afresh as a newborn entity (verse 7). We must purge our thoughts and churches of charismaticism, and begin afresh.
Let it be impressed upon our hearts - what we consider to be a minor sin is, in God's eyes, enough to ruin our spiritual standing and life! The answer to the question of toleration of sin is this - as soon as we know something is sin, we must purge ourselves of it. We must never 'tolerate' it or allow it free passage. That is how I view the Alpha Course - I see who wrote it and who promotes it; I see the error in vital sections of its teaching, and so I denounce it as evil. In this matter we are not referring to mistakes, but to actual error put forward as Truth.
To show the thinking behind this, I will give my review notes on the book mentioned above. It will be seen why I oppose the Course and why I urge all pastors and Believers to also oppose it Remember - by 1996 this course will have been undertaken by at least 250,000 people in the UK alone! These deluded folk are the fodder for future charismatic heresies. Do not be patient with sin - throw it out and make a stand for Truth. (Note: You do not need to read the actual book to understand this critique).
Date of Book
The book (which underpins the Alpha Course) has undergone several reprints, but it was first published in 1993. This is important, for it pre-dates the Toronto Blessing movement as we have come to know it. The first recorded Toronto-style meeting in the UK occurred early in 1993 and it is likely that the book was on the shelves after that. However, this kind of book would take at least one to two years to write (unless it was already prepared in the form of, say, Bible study notes. But even a re-write takes some time), considering the fact that Nicky Gumbel is a curate working full-time. Then, on average, it takes a further one year to proof-read, amend and finally be put into print. Thus the actual beginning of this book would have been about 1990, or earlier - well before the onset of the Toronto Blessing itself.
However, the Study Guide by David Stone which now ends the book, was added in 1995, soon after the Toronto Blessing obtained a firm footing in the UK. That was also when the other accompanying guides and books were published. So, we can say with some degree of certainty that the various additions which now make up the course, were prepared and issued after the coming of the Toronto movement, but the book itself preceded it.
What does this tell us? The book itself is not overtly 'Toronto Blessing' in style. If anything it is written in quite a restrained 'ordinary', pre-Toronto, charismatic style. It is far better than most Anglican books of its kind, yet it is unmistakably charismatic. Most of its charismaticism is confined to nuances and vague indications (as we shall see in the review below), but Gumbel's logical faculty appears to have evaporated when he deals with such matters as tongues. Before these parts, the majority of his book is very good. Whilst written before the invasion of the Toronto Blessing, and its style is restrained, the section dealing with the Holy Spirit is the danger-point and is the very section that is wildly and badly expanded-upon by Toronto-style leaders.
The Hidden Dangers
Overall, we can say that the book itself is not recognisable as a 'Toronto' book - because it was written before 'Toronto' appeared. But, since the inception of 'Toronto', charismatics have added to the book's 'flavour' and amended it in such a way as to make the course heretical. In a very real way, then, the book has (possibly inadvertently) been used to promote Toronto-style ideology. But, as Gumbel has done nothing to stop the process, we may safely say that he approves and condones it. (This is inevitable, because he was one of the first to promote the Toronto movement in the UK). On its own, the book would have been just another charismatic publication - albeit one of the better offerings.
It must be repeated, though, that what makes the book dangerous is the excellence of its earlier chapters! To some, this might seem to be an odd thing to say. Surely we can disregard the 'bad bits' in favour of the general excellence? No, we cannot. This is to misunderstand human dynamics and spiritual deception. Those who publish and/or teach, are in a very powerful position. As an ex-school teacher and college lecturer, I know that in such a position I had great power. Even as a pastor, if I wanted to, I could exert inordinate power over those in my care - something that happens all the time in many churches. Such dictatorship need not be obvious - indeed, mostly it is very subtle.
Part of this power-base is simply the trust that folk place in the teacher. Once a man is trusted, he can, literally, get away with murder! So, although Gumbel's book is itself not so bad overall, what it has been used to promote, and the ensuing teachings, make it part of a highly dangerous process of deception. Because people trust his work, they then trust charismatic error (which is already contained in the book), and then Toronto-style heresy. Once they have completed the course, they are then ripe candidates for whatever follows the Toronto Blessing, which will be even worse.
Am I sensationalising this, or blowing it out of all proportion? Well, it all depends on what you consider to be 'evil'. It depends on what you think is 'enough'. It depends on what you think of the holiness of Almighty God. It depends on what you think about the nature of the Christian life and of the Truth it is founded on. But if you have witnessed the horrors wrought by the Toronto Blessing, you will understand that 'Toronto' churches are at the mercy of a tyrannical power, a power of evil worked by Satan. That is why I advise Believers who are young in the faith not to read certain books - they could easily be shipwrecked otherwise. One small error leads to another, until all the 'small errors' combine to form one massive heresy, and before one knows it, Truth has been lost. Thousands of people have thus been left stranded on a desert island by 'Toronto', without spiritual sustenance!
Spurgeon left the Baptist Union because he foresaw greater heresies and backsliding than at first appeared to be the case. He said that it was rotting at the edges and would finally fall apart in utter departure from God. This has already come about. He also warned against the inroads of error, saying (and I repeat): "Beware! Error often rides to its deadly work on the back of truth!" Evan Roberts, who was used mightily in the Revival of 1904, said (and I repeat his words, also) something similar - that Satan will use 99% truth if he knows he can slip in only 1% deception! That is why I shout so loudly about the Toronto Blessing and anything connected with it! Like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill a small error picks up many more errors and strength, smashing everything in its path. Treat a small error gently, and you foster a beast! Later we shall look at various problems with the leadership of the Course in local churches. But first, let us review the central book.
Review Notes: 'Questions of Life', by Nicky Gumbel
On the front cover, there are two brief quotes recommending the book. Michael Green says "A superb book" and Clive Calver says "A real goldmine". But what credence can we give to these quotes, by two pro-charismatics whose work often opposes truth? Charismatics tend to go overboard about everything they do! Everything is 'spirit-led' or 'inspirational'. Also on the front, it says 'A practical introduction to the Christian faith.' I am always wary of that kind of talk - it is really theological nonsense. Christian 'faith' is basically trust in God; a trust rooted in one's salvation. This is spiritual. Yet, the book claims to 'introduce' people to this 'faith'. God tells us that He ordains people who will be saved, and that the Holy Spirit gives them faith. But this kind of book provides a formula for salvation. That is why thousands take the course and then say they are saved. Yet, given the leaders who teach the course (see final Article) and the 'Toronto' background of most, such salvation is highly suspect if not improbable. Am I 'putting God in a box' and trying to stifle His work? No, just being Biblical!
This 'practical' approach has led many to think that by reading through the book and by intellectually accepting its contents, salvation is assured. I have no problem with folk being saved outside of the deadness of formal churches. But I have a very real problem with accepting that such salvation is found within circles that have become so unbiblical as to be unrecognisable as Christian - charismatic churches and ministries. We are being led to believe that God is now working through heresy and delusion! One of the best ways to do this is to provide only a smattering of lies, because virtually every Christian is willing to allow 'small' errors to pass by without judgement! Thus, this book, with its 'minor' twist in its tail, is allowed free passage through our lives.
To further promote the hidden dangers of this book, a 'strap-line' on the back cover tells us that the book was voted 'Book of the Year' for 1994-95. This should not surprise us given the hype by the Evangelical Alliance leader and charismatic journals in general! At least on the back cover the 'blurb' says that Gumbel is only 'pointing the way' to 'authentic Christianity'. But, a quote from Gumbel's vicar, Sandy Millar (another 'Toronto' leader of note), contains a short but 'loaded' reference to charismatic thinking - that we may 'search' and then 'find' Jesus Christ. The implication, then, is that by reading the book, the 'search' concludes with Truth, or salvation. This is opposite to what scripture tells us. God says that no man searches for Him, because they are incapable of doing so! They are dead in their sins and because they are evil they cannot and do not search for God's truth. So, whatever men search for, it is not God's truth - only something to agree with their own ideas.
Inside the book on the 'technical' page (copyrights etc.), Gumbel is acknowledged to be the author of the work - some reject this idea and say the book is based on someone else's work. Well, copyright is in Gumbel, and that's official!
Unless a person has background knowledge of the theology of this or that movement, it is likely that many clues will never be noticed. One such clue is found in the very first paragraph of the Foreword; to quote: "...the church in England has been losing members at the rate of a thousand a week over the last ten years...80% of these have been under the age of twenty.... the overall picture...is still one of perceived dullness, decay...on the other hand there is, beyond question, a very considerable new interest in spiritual things, together with a hunger and growing hope that somewhere, somehow, there may be found a contemporary answer to the age-old question, 'What is truth'?"
That was written by Sandy Millar - an Anglican charismatic. The statement sums up much that is behind charismatic thinking today and it pervades the book - though the unwary reader will not understand its nuances and real meaning, unless he or she knows something about charismatic thought.
The quote contains a number of errors. For example, the idea that the 'church' (here it mainly refers to the wrongly-titled 'Church of England'. Note that the figures quoted are now out of date - since the Toronto Blessing and the success of the Alpha Course, numbers have increased greatly) can 'lose' its 'members'. This is not possible according to scripture: Firstly, every born-again person is automatically a 'member' of the universal, eternal, Church of Jesus Christ. Secondly, because salvation cannot ever be lost, it is not possible to become a 'non-member'. Thirdly, the reason there are so many young people in most churches is a simple one - teenagers tend to be actors! Also, they love to see everything in terms of black and white and love to fight causes. Anglicanism tries its best to be trendy, but young people see through it, and eventually discover how empty it all is. So they leave to find another 'cause'! Some have now found charismaticism, but it could just as easily be environmentalism, occultism, or any other dynamic 'ism'.
The 'dullness' etc., perceived in churches can be viewed in a number of ways. For example, it is the result of forced pseudo-faith; or, it is the result of filling churches with the unsaved; or, those who attend church services are unsaved and only want emotional uplifts, etc. If a saved man belongs to a saved local church, pastored by a saved pastor who teaches true doctrine - there is no way that it can be 'dull'! The only thing that makes a church 'dull' is its falsity and its refusal to allow the Holy Spirit to rule the hearts and minds of its Believers! It can also be caused by the sin of the observer.
As for the growing 'new interest' in spiritual things, etc., this can be very misleading. There is indeed a growth in interest - but not in the truth of scripture. Bear in mind that unless God Himself quickens the soul, no man has an interest in God or in what He says. But, there is plenty of interest in the occult, pseudo-Christian movements (such as Toronto, and charismaticism itself), cults, the New Age (note the growth in New Age teaching in the Greenbelt Festival!), and so on. Charismatics such as Gumbel and Millar think they can simply 'tap in' to this new tide of false spiritual searching. In this they are no better informed that those Roman Catholic leaders who thought it a great idea to 'Christianise' pagan festivals and re-name pagan gods, centuries ago!
Typically, this is founded on the charismatic idea (shared with Anglicanism and Romanism) that people 'join the Church' and can be 'drawn to the Church', and that we must enlighten people so that it excites their 'interest in the Church'. Thus, they see the 'Church' as something external to the individuals who are its members. They speak of the 'authority' of 'the Church', as though it were a corporate entity, like a business. In law, a corporation is said to have a life of its own. Therefore, 'it' can be sued, and 'it' can be taken to court, whilst those who work within that company (and who make up the company in reality) are untouched. In the same way, charismatics see 'the Church' as an 'it' - which is consistent with their idea of the Holy Spirit, Who they also refer to as 'it'. (At times they say 'Him', but they usually fall back to 'it'). In New Testament terms, the Church is comprised ONLY of those who have been saved in the past, present, and in the future. The 'Church', then, is not an ethereal corporate entity, but is a living Body of saved people. The 'Church' does not exist outside of these people. Nor does it have its own 'legal system' (i.e. its 'authority'). The 'authority' of 'the Church' exists ONLY in its saved individuals - and the authority of each of these is found ONLY in Christ, the Head of the Body.
What happens when we think of 'the Church' as being external to its individual 'members', is that we tend to 'draw people in to the Church', mixing the unsaved with the saved. When we have them in services, we say they are 'in the church'. And so the error is self-perpetuating and lends itself to all sorts of further errors of doctrine, thought and practice. This is what we see today in Anglican and charismatic circles especially. And the same errors are found in Gumbel's book. After all, this is almost inevitable, for he is a curate and part of the apostate Anglican system. His book reflects and teaches the same errors - it was written to 'get people interested in the Church' and not just in 'Jesus Christ'. From his writing and as far as I can humanly tell, Gumbel is a saved man...but, on the other hand, I hear many unsaved men who are articulate when it comes to the word of God. I cannot judge his heart - but I can judge what he says in his book! If he is saved, as I suspect he is, then he is making the usual charismatic/Anglican mistake of separating 'the Church' from the individuals who are the Body.
Thus it is that in the Preface, Gumbel says there is "a new interest in the Christian faith, and more specifically in the person of Jesus." We have clearly shown in other BTM literature what this means. Any 'interest' at this time in the 'Christian faith' is purely human, not God-driven. He saves, or He does not. That is the only proof of 'interest'. A man will NOT be 'interested' in either the Christian 'faith' or in 'Jesus' unless the Holy Spirit first incites him to such desire...and it will ALWAYS end in salvation! The 'interest' we are seeing today is the result of years of interest in spiritual things in general. Thus, the 'Christian faith' is viewed alongside, and as equal to, any other spiritual 'offering'. Note that Gumbel refers to the 'Christian faith', here and elsewhere, as though it is also external to Christians themselves, like a set of rules we may buy over a counter, read and then use, as we wish (or not)!
The Alpha Course was devised to teach this external idea. That is why most Anglican clergy who teach the course think that students who agree to its contents become, at the end, 'Christians'!! Whilst this is not entirely the direct result of Gumbel's book alone, his book does contain the seeds of the same error. Which is why Gumbel says this new upsurge of interest in found in 'non-churchgoers'. We have already shown (and scripture quite plainly repeats the message) that unbelievers DO NOT and CANNOT by reason of their deadness of spirit and their sin, take any true interest in Jesus Christ or in 'the Church'. Any declared interest is merely in externals, rites, ceremonies, and in perceived 'benefits' as opposed to the 'benefits' offered by other spiritual movements. Today, the current 'fad' is to 'join a church'! This has been documented in the USA, too. Christianity, then, is the current trend amongst trendies. Throughout scripture the true Church is called a 'remnant' - and a very small one at that. In the end times the number will decrease, not increase. Yet, charismatics are claiming a massive growth in 'Christians'! Numbers are extremely important to them.
In the second paragraph, page 9, Gumbel says that the course was written to cater for this 'interest' shown by 'non-churchgoers'. Too many people today think they can 'teach' others to 'become' Christians! The Alpha Course is one charismatic attempt amongst many to 'interest' people toward salvation. In a real way, then, it replaces genuine preaching (the ordained way of spreading the Gospel), which tells folk they are sinners going to hell, and who need salvation. The approach used by Gumbel et al, is faulty because it assumes that acceptance of the contents is itself a proof of salvation. The assumption is that if we explain 'the faith', step by step, then those who remain to the end MUST become Christians. That is why he says that many 'found God'. But, all they do, is to accept a set of phased teachings - if they are not elect by God, then they remain unsaved. NO amount of mind-grabbing classes will overcome this basic fact. Men and women CANNOT 'find God' at all, because they are not looking for Him in the first place! God Himself tells us this. So, whatever they find, it is not the true 'God' of scripture, but is a mere symbol of spirituality. As we have said before, the actual name of this symbol does not really matter, 'so long as it works'.
No doubt some are saved during such courses. But these must be very, very few in number, for God will not bless courses that deny scripture or the true Path of salvation. If some are saved, then it is in spite of such courses, and not because of them. It is better to be cynical than to accept claims wholesale; better to later admit a mistake than to embrace wickedness.
The idea that we can 'get people interested in the faith', is, in essence, Arminian. Gumbel continues the Arminian error on page 11, where he says that many were not saved in his early days because "...it was partly my fault as I never really listened..." This is another, very common, error. It says that the preacher is the one at fault if people are not saved. If a man is called of God, and he preaches as he is led by the Holy Spirit, then he knows that it is the Holy Spirit, and not he, Who does the saving. If the Spirit saves a man or woman after the preaching of a faithful servant, it is because that man or woman was elected by God to be saved at that time. Even if the preacher makes genuine mistakes, nothing will stop that salvation taking place. Conversely, if a man preaches, but he is not saved, or, he has not been called to preach, his actions will not and cannot hinder the salvation of another. If a person has been elected, then his or her salvation is assured! So, Gumbel has a fundamental mistaken view of his own ability and place. That is why he now think that if he creates interest and keeps everything lively, then he can save by his own actions. He does not actually say that, and would probably even deny it - but his words and aims, etc., are unmistakable in their Arminianism. On the one hand he says it is all of the Holy Spirit - and on the other hand, he says we must create interest ourselves.
Gumbel presses on with his analysis of the human condition, showing his flawed logic. At the bottom of page 12 he speaks of the "hunger, an emptiness, a feeling that something is missing" if we do not have a relationship with God. The ONLY time such a condition is linked with the God of scripture is when the Holy Spirit quickens the spirit of a man or woman, and this leads to salvation. Otherwise, the hunger, etc., will be satisfied by any means that comes to hand - and men are not too fussy as to what it is. Right now, charismatics have the upper hand, by using excellent marketing techniques! Next decade it could be Hinduism, or growing your own potatoes.
Sadly, a number of Gumbel's illustrative stories are most inappropriate. For example, on page 15 he quotes Freddie Mercury, singer of the rock-group, Queen. Mercury speaks of not having a 'loving, ongoing relationship' and so Gumbel uses this quote as a springboard to speak of our relationship with God. Perhaps the link has escaped readers? Freddie Mercury was not just a singer -he was an active and blatant homosexual. He used sexual imagery in his act and lived an outrageously perverted life, eventually dying of homosexually-contracted AIDS in 1991. The 'loving relationship' he always wanted had nothing to do with God, or even with a normal person - but he wanted a permanent homosexual relationship. He flaunted the fact that he enjoyed promiscuity of the worst kind. In an attempt to seem 'relevant', then, Gumbel uses a depraved pop-idol as an example of a man supposedly sincerely searching for God (but who did not realise it, of course)!!
On page 16, we are told that all we need to do to put everything right in our lives is to have an 'outside aerial', otherwise we would always view God in a 'fuzzy' way. This strongly implies that unbelief and salvation are merely part of one continuum - unbelief on one end and salvation on the other end. All we need to do is to tune in properly and add the aerial! Then everything is okay. That is Arminianism again. It speaks of reaching and gaining God by our own efforts...what we need to do, before we can be saved. That is, we are saved by works. On the same page, Gumbel repeats the same heresy when he refers to a man who does not accept Christ...." 'It's great for you, but it is not for me.' This is not a logical position..." Nothing about salvation is 'logical' to human minds! But Gumbel implies, again, that it is simply a matter of having the right teaching and the right response.
Page 20 and 21 gives a tear-jerker story of a Roman Catholic priest who died for someone else in a concentration camp. (The man's human heroism is not in question). The pope later commended the priest and said that he won a victory "by our Lord Jesus Christ." Time and again, 'Christianity' is linked with Romanism - in films, books, magazines, news items, etc. This is another inappropriate illustration by Gumbel. Charismatics are ecumenical and Romanist, either openly or potentially. They simply accept such words from popes, as though popes knew the Gospel and preached it! Can you see how the argument against Gumbel's thoughts, book and course are building up? There is a pattern and a theology behind his book - and the closer one looks, the farther from scripture the book travels.
The theology is typically Arminian (or humanistic) and this carries through to who Jesus died for. On page 21, we have "Jesus' death was...for every single individual in the world." This statement is accepted by many, many Christians, especially those who hold to a premillennial and/or dispensational viewpoint. It is an error, but it is at least consistent with charismatic theology. It is partly behind the almost frenzied charismatic approach to 'evangelism', where wave upon wave of new ideas emanate from charismatic churches and leaders. The logic is simple - if everyone 'has the chance' to be saved, because Jesus died for everyone, then all we need to do is to give the 'offer' of salvation. People can then either take it or leave it, as they choose. That all this is error does not occur to charismatics. The same thinking now pervades many other churches - many of which do not have formal ties with charismaticism. Yet, if they preach and teach this universalism, they are already infused with charismaticism!
It must be repeated that I am picking out relevant points from the book - the rest of it is fairly good, if not excellent. However, the points I raise are important, and when taken to their conclusions, combine to form charismatic error of great magnitude.
In this chapter, entitled 'Who is Jesus?', Gumbel makes the extraordinary claim (page 26) that F J A Hort was "one of the greatest textual critics ever..."! As many of you probably are aware, Hort was one of the people behind the RV Bible. He is on record as hating the AV Bible (i.e. the true Gospel of Jesus Christ) and he wanted more than anything to get rid of the AV text! Hort and his team based their translations on corrupt source texts and rejected the texts behind the trusted AV. Sadly, all charismatics appear to use the newer translations which are mostly all based on these corrupt texts and on Hort's methodology. This all adds to the total error of charismaticism. So, Gumbel not only has an Arminian theology, but he finds his support from popes, priests, homosexual singers and heretical translators. These are major background reasons why we ought to treat his book, and the subsequent Alpha Course, with at least great caution. Personally, I reject the whole thing, referring the reader back to Paul's warning in Corinthians (above).
Again, page 27, Gumbel insists that "There is a hunger deep within the human heart." He thus implies, as he has said before, that all men have a hunger for God and His word. This is a lie and it opposes what God Himself says about the human heart and our true sinful nature. Obviously, if charismatics think all men have this hunger, then this explains their idea that all we need to do is to provide them with spiritual food! Men then pick this up and eat it, and that's all there is to it. I must repeat - God chooses (elects; pre-ordains) those who will be saved. Only those whose spirits are quickened by the Holy Spirit will ever know this true hunger after God. All others? There is no hunger after God at all - only a vague hunger after the idea of God, or after some spiritual palliative. This carries through into charismatic claims to 'love Jesus more', etc. (prevalent in the Toronto Blessing). What they mean is, they love the idea of Jesus more, not Jesus Himself. That this is so, is found in the fact that very few charismatics have changed their lives, in Biblical fashion, as a result of their 'love'. Very few of them, if any, have evidenced a true change in the form of overall lifestyle, beliefs, activities, etc. Rather, like their Roman Catholic counterparts, they delve further into error and heresy!
Page 28, we have "Many people are walking in darkness, depression, disillusionment and despair. They are looking for direction." Once more, this is contrary to the scriptural definition of Man and his sinful desires! No man seeks direction from God, for He demands repentance, turning from sin and submission of self. Yes, they walk in darkness...not just 'many' but ALL people who are not saved. This idea that people are seeking direction from God is often seen on church notice-boards: posters wrongly offer 'answers' to disillusionment, depression, etc., as though the Gospel is a 'fixer' of ills and available to anyone who wants it. This is entirely the wrong approach to evangelism and to personal witness. We must inform people of their sin, and of their need to repent. The failure to repent and obey results in hell. But to tell them they can alleviate their various (and repetitive) problems with a visit to a church is both wrong and a lie. What this does is to suggest that the Gospel is a 'quick-fix' to problems, and it is available if people just take it. That is why so many church notice boards display utter rubbish....posters that say things like 'Had your spiritual food today? Come in for a quick meal!' I do not know what you think - but, to me, these are repulsive statements to make and are a travesty of scripture.
There is no doubt that salvation leads to peace, which leads to a lifting of depression, and so on. But these are the result of salvation - it is wrong to offer alleviation of these sinful states without firstly declaring the Gospel! The Gospel is not a shopping list, from which people may choose.
The Arminian idea continues, page 30: "What happens to us on the Day of Judgement depends on how we respond to Jesus in this life..." If this book were not charismatic, I would not refer to this statement by the author. But in the light of charismaticism, the statement as it stands is incomplete. It only refers to our response (i.e. our choice), and not to God's prior election and to His grace alone in our salvation. Lest some complain - yes, we must respond to God when He quickens our spirits. But make no mistake about it - we cannot respond unless we are firstly quickened by God Himself! We cannot choose to be quickened any more than we may choose to be saved. So, any true response we make is rooted firmly in the prompting of God to do so.
Ironically, Gumbel says we must test the spirits when people make claims. Quite right, too - but this was written before the Toronto Blessing blasted the churches to pieces! When this curse struck, charismatics made quite different statements, and rejected the need to discern the spirits or to test the claims of mere men! Gumbel says something that readers of the book should apply to themselves - "If somebody makes claims (i.e. concerning the Gospel and God's word) they need to be tested. There are all sorts of people who make all kinds of claims. The mere fact that somebody claims to be someone does not mean that they are right. There are many people, some in psychiatric hospitals, who are deluded. They think they are Napoleon or the pope, but they are not." You are right, Nicky - and your words were prophetic, for leaders (both international and local) of the Toronto Blessing made many claims that were unscriptural. A few decades ago, it is possible that they would have been placed in psychiatric hospitals themselves! They made many false claims, about their own selves as well as about the Holy Spirit - and not one of them has been repudiated!
Page 35, quoting Lord Hailsham, we are told that "What they crucified was a young man....the Lord of laughter, someone so utterly attractive that people followed him for the sheer fun of it..." Gumbel uses this statement as though it were scripture, in support of charismatic antics. Yet, according to scripture there was nothing attractive about Jesus when He died! The crowds turned on Him. They called for His blood and got it. But, charismatics see Jesus as the 'lord of laughter'. Thus they follow Him for the 'sheer fun of it'. That is why we have 'clowns for Jesus' or 'holy fools'. That is why we have Marches for Jesus where people dress up in gaudy clothes, have their faces painted, carry balloons and do stupid things in public. That is why they collapse in mirth when preachers talk of sin and the Cross! These are all abuses of freedom in Christ - or the derision of devils. And where there is no abuse as such, there is unbelief.
Page 39, quoting yet another charismatic, Michael Green: "...they (those who listened to Peter on the Day of Pentecost) (listened) and joined the church..." Another seemingly innocuous statement, but loaded with meaning in the charismatic context - when a man is saved, he automatically becomes a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. He becomes a part of the Body. But charismatics (like Romanists and Anglicans, etc.) talk about people 'joining the church', as though 'the church' was separate from those who constitute it! One of the strongest forms of this kind of thinking is the Roman Catholic 'church', where its clergy speak of the 'authority of the church' over Christians. Clearly, they think 'the church' is separate from Believers. What they - and charismatics - mean by 'the church', is an institution made up of laws, rules, and officers, who govern Believers. Like any other institution, then, we may 'join' it or 'leave' it, or even be thrown out of it. But 'the Church' is not an 'it'...the Church is a living Body, consisting of the saved, who can never be lost.
Page 43: "The central service of the church, the Communion service..." Another error. Communion is not a 'service' (administered only by priests or ministers). Communion is not the 'central' or focus point of church life! It is a simple remembrance of the Lord. Being an Anglican, Gumbel will see this 'service' in the Romanist sense - as a rite conferring benefits and rewards on those who take part. But there are no 'benefits' given to those who take part in Communion, as though it were a magical rite! Communion is a command (and a very gentle one at that) of Jesus Christ, to remember Him until He returns again. That is all it is. God does not 'reward' us for observing Communion - He expects us to take it! As the New Testament says - why should we expect to be rewarded for doing what God demands, when it is only our proper obedience to do so? It is rather like those silly businesses who 'reward' employees for starting work on time! Thus they are being rewarded for doing what they ought to do in the first place. The only thing that is 'central' in our churches is the requirement to praise God and obey Him. To insist that Communion is the 'central service' (usually priest-led) is to place emphasis where it ought not to be. It legalises Christianity and obedience becomes located in and to 'the church' instead of in the heart and directly to the Lord.
Page 44 sees a slight twist on doctrine, too. We are told that "The root cause of sin is a broken relationship with God." This is not quite correct and it further adds problems to charismatic teaching, which basically (in practice if not in word) denies the existence of 'original Sin'. Let me put it this way, did Adam and Eve sin because they had a broken relationship with God? No, at the time, they had a perfect relationship with Him! This statement by Gumbel fails to differentiate the Sin that sends us to hell and which separates us from God, and those everyday 'sins' that cause us to stumble. Everyday 'sin' comes from a root of 'Sin'. This is the sin we are conceived in and born with. Even if we did not commit a single sin on this earth, we would still be sent to hell, because we are sinful by nature. I admit that the distinction I am making is very subtle - but no more subtle than the theology of charismaticism.
To show that I am not merely imagining this subtle difference - see a reinforcement of the idea on page 45: "...One driving offence stops it (i.e. a driving licence) from being a clean licence. So it is with us. One offence makes our lives unclean." Can you see what I am getting at? The logic is this - a driving licence is clean, until it is tarnished by a driving offence. Can you see the heresy in that? It implies that until we commit our first everyday 'sin', we are pure or clean. That is why Gumbel goes on to say that 'one offence makes our lives unclean'. Reverse that statement and he is saying that until that first offence, we are pure! A lot of folk think that we are 'clean' until about the age of seven. One implication of this thinking is the one I mentioned earlier - that sinfulness and purity are just on two ends of the same continuum. So, all we need to do to be saved is to stop sinning! After all, if a 'sin' can tarnish an otherwise clean record, if we cleanse ourselves of those sins, we revert back to the purity we once had! Yes, everyday sins make us unclean - but what sends men to hell is their inner root of Sin, the evil nature they are conceived in, simply as a result of being human. In typical charismatic fashion, Gumbel does refer to this basic Sin - but then he negates it with other statements! Many charismatics do not bother with this inborn Sin, and thus they spend little time on repentance, etc. That Gumbel is mixed-up on this point in seen further on the top of page 47: "The things we do wrong cause this barrier." Thus not only does Gumbel hold a typically charismatic, Arminian view of salvation (i.e. we get it ourselves by our own choice), but he also holds a typically charismatic view of what causes us to have a broken relationship with God - our everyday sins. This is another Arminian statement, for it centres on ourselves. If the barrier is put up by our own actions, then we may take-down that barrier by stopping what we do. Can you see the pattern of self in all this?
Page 47, Gumbel mixes the unregenerate with the saved, again in typical charismatic fashion. He says that we all have to deal with the sin in our lives (referring to everyday sins), and then says, "The greater our understanding of our need the more we will appreciate what God has done." At the risk of repeating myself - only God can give us this understanding after we have been quickened. Why repeat this? I repeat it because the book was written to give unbelievers an understanding of God and His Gospel. If men cannot understand the Gospel etc., unless they are first quickened, then no amount of 'teaching' will magically transform their minds and hearts. Yet this is at the centre of the Alpha Course - give them teaching or facts about who God is etc., and then they may 'choose' salvation based on the facts. Further to this, even if men express their 'appreciation' for what God has done and they come to know all the facts of scripture, this will not regenerate them and bestow salvation on them! Sadly, thousands who attend the Course think that mere acquiescence to the facts taught, is the way of salvation. And so huge numbers 'join the church' having fulfilled the charismatic/Arminian prerequisite of 'knowing' the facts of God.
No doubt, some readers will still think I am just 'picking', so let Gumbel say it himself in clear words (page 30): "In effect, he (i.e. God) gives us a cheque and says we have a choice: do we want him to pay it (i.e. the price of our salvation) for us, or are we going to face the judgement of God for our own wrong-doing?" (Emphasis mine). Note - we may choose salvation (and therefore God), if we want to! Bearing in mind that the book addresses the lost, Gumbel goes on to say that God "..loves us...". This is grossly misleading - God does NOT love all men equally, that is, in the same way. So, for Gumbel to tell unbelievers that God 'loves' them is misrepresentation of Truth. No doubt it is emotionally nicer to persuade men by telling them God loves all of them, but it is not true.
The heresy (not just a mistake) continues on page 52: "The result of the cross is the possibility of a restored relationship with God." Once more - charismatic error is cited. This time, it is the idea that salvation has only been 'made possible' by Christ's death! Let it be said loudly and clearly - when Christ died on the cross, He died for all the elect, and His fullest plan was accomplished. He did not die to give us the mere possibility of being saved! ALL who are saved are restored to a relationship with God. No one is missed out. No one fails to be saved. Am I picking again? No I am not, for linked with this idea is the notion that God failed in His initial plan! The modern charismatic church (which I say is separate from the true Church) teaches that because Christ only offers the possibility of salvation (because God failed), we have to help Him out in these last days, by casting out demons and proclaiming triumph over evil. They say that the 'possibility' becomes a reality only if we choose to be saved. That is, we make our own salvation a reality by making a good choice! Yet, Christ said "It is finished". There was no 'maybe' in His words!
Page 53 sees a quote from John Wimber, to whom the "cross became a personal reality...". Thus it (salvation) was NOT a 'personal reality' until he made a choice to be saved. Self-salvation. Wimber has been called a 'chameleon' because he changes his colours at will. Like Benny Hinn, he very easily admits to his errors and openly says he has 'changed' - yet he continues to teach gross errors. This is the mark of men who are not called to preach. If they were called to preach, they would not be 'making mistakes' (gross heresy is the better term!) all the time, because they would be preaching what God had given them. The Toronto Blessing began its speedy moves from within Wimber's group of churches. Yet, the book commends us to his words. What a commendation - listen to heretics and you will learn the truth!! When Wimber was 'saved' (we will assume he was for present purposes) he said "I hope this works, because I'm making a complete fool of myself." I query these words as coming from someone who has just been saved. I may be wrong, of course, so it is just my opinion. I am only suggesting they are very odd words for a man who has just been snatched from the jaws of hell.
The charismatic way of life is peculiar for many reasons. One of them is the weird and constant claim that they 'allow' God to do whatever He wishes in their lives and that their lives are free in Christ. Yet, at the same time, they have the most highly-structured organisation in the world, with heavy 'leadership' (meddling in lives!) and grindingly oppressive rules! In keeping with this odd mixture of opposites, Gumbel makes the usual offer of a 'prayer' to the reader, page 54-55: "...here is a prayer which you can pray as a way of starting the Christian life and receiving all the benefits which Christ died to make possible". Such prayers are commonplace and they are utterly mechanistic. Pray this prayer and you will start on the Christian life. Nothing could be more plain than that. And in this way many souls are persuaded they are saved - just put words into their mouths and everything is okay!
Note: The sincerity, or otherwise, of Holy Trinity church, Brompton, or of its personnel, including Nicky Gumbel, is not an issue in this critique. Throughout the ages sincere men and women have brought havoc to the churches! We are not even saying that all who offer Alpha are unsaved. It is possible to teach heresy and yet still be saved. But, heresy is heresy! It must be challenged whenever and wherever it arises. That is the main purpose of the critique.
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