04 October 2008

Alpha Course Primer

Before I get into the meat of what went on in the Alpha Course Tuesday night, I’m going to introduce what Alpha is and how it works for those of you not familiar with it (feel free to click on the “alpha course” tag at the bottom of this post to read my previous stuff feelings on it).

The Alpha Course is an introductory course into the basics of Christianity aimed at interested potential converts, new Christians, and Christians who haven’t really thought about their faith that much. Its aims are to reinforce the Gospel message and teach people how to be Christian in regards to what their faith means, how to pray, and other religious fluff. Since 1990, it has been run by Nicky Gumbel, a reverend in the Church of England. It’s a popular course that is taught in churches all over the world.

Through bribes of free dinner, it draws its participants in once a week. After eating, participants watch a video lecture (I’ll often call it a sermon; that’s basically what it is) by Gumbel about a particular introductory Christian topic. Afterwards, participants break into small groups of about a half-a-dozen to discuss the message in the sermon. From the website, the topics are:

• Is there more to life than this? (previously Christianity: Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant? – which is the video we got.)
• Who is Jesus?
• Why did Jesus die?
• How can I be sure of my faith?
• Why and how should I read the Bible?
• Why and how should I pray?
• How does God guide us?
• How can I resist evil?
• Why and how should I tell others?
• Does God heal today?
• What about the church?
• Who is the Holy Spirit? [*]
• What does the Holy Spirit do? [*]
• How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? [*]
• How can I make the most of the rest of my Life? [*]
* denotes topics discussed at a weekend retreat

Nicky Gumbel is an interesting person to watch and listen to. He looks kind of like a Wallace and Grommit version of Richard Gere, except Gumbel has a buck-toothed Napoleon Dynamite look to him. A bit annoying, but he actually comes across as a happy, friendly, “genuine” guy (genuine in quotations because, while he’s genuinely friendly and happy, you’ll see that a lot of what he says is anything but genuine).

As Theo Bromine noted in the previous post’s comments, reasons given to believe are factually superficial and highly emotional. The overriding theme in the introductory sermon was actually the “God-shaped hole in everyone’s hearts” (I guess Nicky doesn’t believe in content atheists). Other than the overwhelming “God’s love” stuff, there’s not much in the program to convince people who are investigating Christianity to actually accept it. Most of the program takes God and Jesus as a given, and instead focuses on prayer guidance and other such things you’d have to worry about assuming you’d just become a Christian.

Other early thoughts are that Alpha works frequently through name dropping and quotations that may or may not be taken out of context. Names dropped during the introductory sermon included: Freddy Mercury, CS Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, some British barrister which would be a lot more impressive if I lived in England (note: turns out his name is Frank Morison; he’s not important enough to have a wikipedia article), Leo Tolstoy, and a bunch of scientists you’ll see in the next post. Some of these guys weren’t even Christian, but they’ve been quoted as saying they had a void in their lives for whatever reason, so Gumbel just inserted God into that void on their behalves. Another key thing about all this name dropping: the vast majority of the famous people being name-dropped are long dead.

Another thing is that my Church Peeve #5 is alive and well (if you don’t remember, that’s Stretched Tie-ins to Pop Culture). He talked about football (soccer) quite a lot. He’s a bit more skilled than your average preacher at working these references in, but they are still pretty superfluous.

If you read my first post on going to Alpha, you’d remember that I was worried about two of my wife’s friends who had been bribed by food to attend. I was worried that their skepticism was insufficient and that they’d be won-over by Alpha. I’m not 100% sure yet, but it seems my fears were unfounded. They looked even less interested than I did. They did not crack one smile at any of the amusing stories Nicky Gumbel told. Afterwards, they said not one word to us about what we’d seen in the video. My general impression was that they were very unimpressed and will not being going back.

What about me? My wife wants me to go back, and I feel like there is some unfinished business because, as you’ll see in the next post, we didn’t get a chance to go into the small groups this week. Still, looking at the list of topics, I doubt I’ll be able to tolerate all the religious mumbo jumbo that’ll come fast and furious each week. I’m really not interested in how to pray or why I should be telling people about Christ. That said, I guess I’ll probably continue going as long as I can stand it just so I’ll have something to blog about.

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At October 04, 2008 11:24 a.m., Blogger C. L. Hanson said...

Re: That said, I guess I’ll probably continue going as long as I can stand it just so I’ll have something to blog about.

Exactly, do it for us (like with my mishie invitation). :D

I'm sure I'm not the only one of your readers who finds this intriguing. ;^)

At October 04, 2008 11:31 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Aww, I remember that. I don't think I've got the patience/masochistic nature you have.

At October 04, 2008 1:15 p.m., Blogger Yodood said...

Hi, I just linked to your blog for the worst reason — it reminds me of mine so far.

I'd like to say one thing about your attending religious functions for material for your blog. Whether you are or not, you will come across as closed minded as the faithful unless you bend over backward to show empathy for their reasons if you want to get across to more than your choir. I am interested in what you have to say too, I'm just sayin'.

At October 05, 2008 8:29 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

yodood, I'm well aware of how difficult that will be, and frankly, I'm not that good at bending over backward and showing empathy. I'll give it a go, but no guarantees that I won't be closed-minded. Thanks for dropping by, though.

(then again, no one's reading this blog except the choir anyway =P)

At October 05, 2008 11:07 a.m., Blogger Yodood said...

I suppose it has to do with whether you want to expand the choir. Goring sacred oxen is idle self indulgence unless it changes peoples' diets and this species is eating up the world

At October 09, 2008 11:00 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

True, yodood, but I'm mainly in this for cheap laughs. I'd refer people to Daylight Atheism or something if I want to convince people. Much smarter and more eloquent than me.


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