Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 1a: “Christianity: Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant?”

I arrived at church early and was warmly welcomed by a fresh-faced gentleman sporting a beaming smile who introduced himself as the pastor of the church. After shaking my hand he led me into the room where the course would be held. In the room were three men and three women. The three women were all members of the church, and had been for some time. Two of the men were also members of the church, one a long-standing member and the other a relatively recent addition to the flock. The remaining gentleman was a neighbour of the long-standing male member but he was not a Christian. So of the bunch we were the only two non-believers in attendance, which, I must admit, came as somewhat of a surprise.

As we all exchanged pleasantries the three ladies served drinks and handed round slices of cheesecake and bowls of fruit salad. It was a very warm and pleasant atmosphere.

After we had eaten, the pastor asked us all to introduce ourselves in turn. After that he switched on the DVD player and inserted the first disc of the program, which would last approximately twenty minutes. As the introductory credits rolled, the pastor quickly assured us that any questions would be allowed. Each one of us would be free to air our views and he would do his best to assist. He then handed out a manual that accompanied the complete set of DVD’s that we were to be watching throughout the course, which gave us a rough outline of each weekly session, and in which we could make notes.

Lights were dimmed and the course began…

On the DVD an amiable chap called Nicky Gumbel would present the weekly programmes, and he began by trying to get us to imagine the big questions in life. We should ask ourselves, “What are we doing on earth? Where did we come from? Where are we heading? Who are we? Does our life have any ultimate purpose and meaning? What happens when we die?”

He then goes onto explain that there’s more to life than material possessions. He tells us a story of the legendary lead singer of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, who had all the material goods he could wish for, yet, as Gumbel tells us, Mercury was lacking the one thing he really wanted in life: a loving relationship. Gumbel doesn’t waste time moving into God territory, and claims, “Ultimately there is only ONE relationship that is completely loving and totally ongoing, and that is a relationship with God.” And that such a relationship brings “reality to a confused world”.

More of the same followed, including a brief allusion to, of all things, Pascal’s Wager. He then assures us that, “Jesus came to set us free” and that “the Christian message is good news… and the good news is this – God loves you. And he loves you and me so much that he came in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, to live and to die for us”.

A little later he ends the sermon by stating that Christianity wasn’t boring and that “it’s not untrue. It’s not irrelevant to our lives. It’s exciting. It’s true”

Interesting stuff.

The program ends, the DVD is ejected, and we begin to discuss what we had just watched.

“Can anyone relate to any of the points raised in the programme?” asks the pastor. One of the ladies says that she had asked herself those ‘big questions’ in her childhood. She begins, “As a child I asked myself, “Do I love my mum and dad as much as I do and its all going to dust at the end of the day? All this love that I’ve given out, and all the love they have given me, is it not going to be anything at the end of it all?” I was thinking these kinds of things when I was really small and it used to make me really sad. I used to think that if the story [Christianity] was not true then what a waste all of this [the universe, life and everything] would be.”

I suggested to her that the things that we humans consider to be valuable in life are often the things that are rare and temporary. Diamonds and other precious jewels, for example, are considered valuable not because they are common, but because they are rare. A collector would not spend £5million on a blade of grass from a neighbouring field, or on a grain of sand from the Sahara Desert, but he may spend that much on an original Ming Vase or an original painting by Van Gogh. An evening at the theatre does not lack meaning because the performance is only two hours in length. Does the show/movie/ballet have to go on forever in order for it to be fulfilling and meaningful? Of course not. Similarly the temporariness of life does not preclude meaning and purpose. Our lives are full of meaning, despite being finite. I then suggest to her that if indeed there is no God and no eternal paradise, and that this life is the only life we’re ever going to get – then it becomes all the more valuable because of it.

The group then takes it in turn to offer insights into why it is that we do or do not believe in God, and we discuss these reasons briefly.

We’re now one hour into the course, and it is at this point that the pastor turns on the DVD player again, for we are about to watch the first proper session on the DVD, entitled, “Who Is Jesus?”….

[Note: To read the next instalment click on the appropriate link under the “Recent” header to the right of the screen. Or alternatively scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on the "Next" button.]

About these ads

September 9, 2008 - Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

31 Comments »

  1. Hi there, I was interested in attending an Alpha course but was unsure about what it is all about so I did a Google search and found your blog. I am an engineer by trade but also consider myself to be a spiritual person and am always looking for intelligent people to have spiritual discussions with. I hope I can add to your discussion.
    I agree with your point that we humans consider things that are rare to be valuable, like diamonds. But I’m not sure I agree with your point that we value things that are temporal over things that are long lasting. For example, you give the example of an original Ming Vase or an original painting by Van Gogh of being of great value. I believe partly what makes them so valuable is that they have stood the test of time. If a collector knew that a painting was going to deteriorate in a week, they wouldn’t pay much for it, but if they knew it would still be around for generations to come they would pay a much higher price. The other example you give is a play that is 2 hours long. I would argue that a play that is well performed and written which you remember months later is of greater value than a 2 hour meaningless action flick which you forget about an hour after you’ve seen it. It is the long lasting nature of a moving play that gives it a greater value.
    Regarding your statement that if there is no God and this life is all we’ve got, then this life becomes very valuable. I would agree with that. But I would not agree that if there is a God that it makes this life of less worth. Say for example, you have 2 men on death row and both are scheduled to be executed in a week. However, the govenor decides to pardon 1 prisoner and not the either, both still only have 1 week left in prison, one is going to his death, the other will be set free. The time that the condemned prisoner has left is extremely valuable because of the scarcity of days he has left. The freed prisoner could either go on to lead a life of crime or he could become very productive and find a cure for AIDS. His life could become very valuable or have little value. My point is a person who has a short life span does not necessarily mean they have a more valuable life than someone with a long life span otherwise we would all desire to a have a terminal illness at a young age. It’s what we do with the time that we have been given which determines our worth on earth.
    Anyways, I think we all agree there is meaning in life to all human beings whether they believe in God or not which is why we go on living. What we are all trying to figure out is whether there is a greater meaning/purpose than the 80 or so years we have on this earth. Hopefully the Alpha Course will address some of these questions.

    Comment by Frank W. | October 1, 2008

  2. I am currently an atheist but have been searching for material on the “other side” having read Mere Christianity and The Language of God for starters. I’ve borrowed the 2006 version of the Alpha course DVDs from a friend and have finished watching the “intro” lecture. I plan to make a post here and there on this site to chart my own journey.

    Based on the first “intro” lecture I noted several things:

    Nicky claims that Jesus fills a need that all people have and that many people always look to the next thing without ever being fulfilled.

    I would posit, that those people just haven’t found the thing that fulfills them. For some Jesus is it, for myself, I think it will be education (I plan to be a teacher). At the risk of sounding dualist, if people take the approach of a relationship with Jesus as being the ultimate in their lives, then doesn’t that imply that anything else in the world is meaningless (friends, family, etc…) in comparison?

    I jotted the note that life has what meaning we give it.

    I found Nicky to be quite funny and I enjoyed his sense of humor.
    I liked his analogy with the TV radial where he said that in his youth, they watched a TV that had poor reception. They didn’t know it could be any better until they hooked it to an aerial and he makes the comment that once they did, they would never want to go back. He likens this to the relationship with Christ in that once you have experienced what he has to offer, you question how you got along without it before and that you would never want to go back.

    He alludes to the big questions of “Is Christianity true?” I gather he will comment on this later in the series.

    He then goes into a superficially convincing discussion on personal knowledge that comes from experience and intellectual knowledge. He again uses a lovely analogy of going into a book store and finding a book all about a woman (his wife) that discusses her kindness, compassion, cooking skills, parental skills, etc… He says this is intellectual knowledge. Then he says that having been married to her for 25 years, he KNOWS how kind she is, how compassionate she is, etc… and says this is experiential knowledge. Of course it is, but it is clearly based on 25 years of evidence where you can site specific examples of each redeeming quality. You have confirmed the text you read in the book store much like going out to confirm Newton or Kepler’s laws based on evidence. I’m unclear how helpful his discussion is in claiming knowledge about biblical accounts.

    In the introduction he says that a former professor at Oxford said The Resurrection is the best attested fact in history.” He does not name the professor.

    He makes the appeal to authority by quoting prominent scientists throughout history who have been attributed to being religious. He does not examine the context or culture that they were in where they would have been treated like Galileo if they went against the very powerful religious leaders of the time.

    He talks about how, when he was a non-believer, that he wondered how Christianity could be relevant to our lives having been laid down 2000 years ago. I’ll have to check, but it seems he is stating that if it is not true then it has no applicability to our lives. That seems false as we can pick and choose things of our liking from any writing of the past like Shakespeare, Homer, or heck, even horoscopes, and apply them to our lives. We are the ones that give the writings meaning to us though.

    He never in this talk mentions the Old Testament. I wonder why.

    I found he had a very well balanced and accepting approach to the presentation of the course.

    He mentioned one thing I vehemently agree with: “if it is true, it is of infinite importance.”

    Carl Sagan wrote in “The Varieties of Scientific Experience: “If we have such an emotional stake in the answers, if we want badly to believe, and if it is important to know the truth, then nothing other than a committed, skeptical scrutiny is required. It is not very different from buying a used car. When you buy a used car, it is insufficient to remember that you badly need a car. After all, it has to work. It is insufficient to say that the used-car salesman is a friendly fellow. What you generally do is you kick the tires, you look at the odometer, you open up the hood. If you do not feel yourself expert in automobile engines, you bring a friend who is. And you do this for something as important as an automobile. But on issues of the transcendent, of ethics and morals, of the origin of the world, of the nature of human beings, on those issues should we not insist upon at least equally skeptical scrutiny?”

    Comment by John | January 19, 2009

  3. I, as a Christian, found this article fascinating. And as it goes, I took issue not with the author, but with they way that this Pastor seemed to present his case. So many times we Christians tend to listen to anyone that has passed a course regimine, and has obtained a degree in Theology. This, in my humble opinion, has led to more confussion than all the anti-Christian movements in history.
    These pastors, and those that sell educational series should remember that not all people have the education, and/or the background to know what the Holy Bible says. So, the ignorant people say things like “Whats the meaning of our lives here?”, or, “Is there a bigger purpose to our existence?” . I could be a swindler and sell most of these people the English Channel, because they are the type to take all this on just faith.
    Do not get me wrong, I am merely pointing out that without telling these poor souls what the foundation is, then how can we as Christians be serving the greater interest of Our Lord? How can we say to them that God truly loves them if we do not provide them with the proper tools to investigate these claims for themselves? We do great disservice when we do this things. It is my humble opinion that we bear a greater responsibility than say the Apostles did. We must make our argument a few thousand years after Christ’s death. Therefore, we need to have our guns, if you will, ready to fire, and make sure that we are aiming at the correct point.
    To invite someone to join the greater family of God, with no info is just ludicrous. It invites attack. It promotes discord. It leave those of us that have had a spiritual awakening struggling for a way to explain what these people have done.
    I liked the analogy that the post made to this article about the television aerial. Christian faith is very like that. Once you’ve had that experience, it surely is very hard to go back.
    I am going to read the other articles in this series to see where it goes. But I was most upset at yet another person selling supposed religious knowledge, without the proper foundation. If there is one thing I could point to to say why atheism has become so popular in our day and age, I would have to say that it is because atheists do their home work, and present their case with all the tools they’ll need to refute arguments. They lay their foundation and build there-on. This is sadly lacking for many so called Christian educators. These educators would do well to get their ducks in a row, if you take my meaning.

    George Ford

    Comment by George Ford | February 16, 2009

  4. Frank said;

    “Say for example, you have 2 men on death row and both are scheduled to be executed in a week. However, the govenor decides to pardon 1 prisoner and not the either, both still only have 1 week left in prison, one is going to his death, the other will be set free. The time that the condemned prisoner has left is extremely valuable because of the scarcity of days he has left. The freed prisoner could either go on to lead a life of crime or he could become very productive and find a cure for AIDS. His life could become very valuable or have little value. My point is a person who has a short life span does not necessarily mean they have a more valuable life than someone with a long life span otherwise we would all desire to a have a terminal illness at a young age. It’s what we do with the time that we have been given which determines our worth on earth.”

    You are looking at this all wrong, Frank. You are looking at the value from an external point, value as judged by someone else.

    For the convict sentenced to death, every moment is precious, every meal to be savored, every memory to be enjoyed. However, undoubtedly, knowing his imminent fate, he will spend his time in abject terror. Even though he may have done some unspeakable crime, I can pity his terror.

    For the convict to be freed, the remaining week in prison is trivial – it has no meaning, a mere annoyance to be gotten out of the way before freedom, before he can get on with his life.

    To put that into the Christian context, the theist may be willing to put up with some unnecessary hardship in their life to ensure a better afterlife (for example, going to church every week, genital mutilation (esp women), fasting, etc), while the atheist, with no future may be in a better position to fully appreciate life, to embrace it completely and to follow their hearts completely.

    Life is finite – for an atheist there are no do-overs, there can be no plans for the afterlife.

    Comment by Louis | October 15, 2009

  5. @ post #3:

    “These pastors, and those that sell educational series should remember that not all people have the education, and/or the background to know what the Holy Bible says.”

    I would submit that many atheists are at least as well versed in what the bible says, and often much more so, than your average churchgoer.

    Comment by chris | October 15, 2009

  6. “… many atheists are at least as well versed in what the bible says, and often much more so, than your average churchgoer.”

    From my experience, this isn’t saying very much. I sure wouldn’t put it on my resume expecting anybody that matters to be very impressed.

    Guy in bar: Yup. I’m at least as well-versed in what the Bible says as your average churchgoer.

    Cute girl: Wow. That’s a lot!

    Comment by Hoosier X | October 16, 2009

  7. i love alpha teaching so much.thank you for that

    Comment by malisa enos | October 30, 2009

  8. I’m intrigued by your data collection. You have very detailed descriptions but have also actively participated in the process. How did you get such full material?

    Comment by Chriski | November 16, 2009

  9. Hello Chriski

    All of the sessions were digitally recorded. The conversations you see here in the blog are taken from these recordings, verbatim.

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 16, 2009

  10. Thanks. Did people know that they would be recorded and that their verbatim discussions would be publically available? They were a pretty brave group if that’s the case.

    Comment by Chriski | November 16, 2009

  11. This is a question that has been raised a number of times in the comments section of this blog. The answer to your question is best explained in the comments section of Week 11, comment #18.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield.

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 16, 2009

  12. Thanks. That’s useful but I don’t think you have answered the question. Did the group know that their comments were going to be made publically available and were they sent a link to the account of the group? What were the ground rules for the sessions? Sometimes they promise that when groups discuss personal issues there is a promise of confidentiality.

    Comment by Chriski | November 16, 2009

  13. Chriski,

    Because this blog is written in a way so that all the participants remain anonymous throughout, there is no need for promises of confidentiality. Had I written it so that their real names and locations were disclosed, then of course I would have asked for their permission. But that wasn’t necessary, obviously.

    There were no ground rules other than the rule I gave myself, which was to write an honest account about the honest answers offered to me in response to honest questions. This blog is a product of that endeavour.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | November 16, 2009

  14. This comment is in response to Comment #4 above.
    Louis said:
    “while the atheist, with no future may be in a better position to fully appreciate life, to embrace it completely and to follow their hearts completely”
    I agree that from an atheist’s point of view one has no future, nothing to look forward to after death. A mass murderer and a great philanthropist have the same fate, they are equally dead. However I disagree that atheists are in a better position to fully appreciate life. All one has to look at are the people that have lived under communist regimes that have outlawed religion. What you get is a society with no hope and no future. People are merely existing waiting for death, there is no purpose to living. Why work hard? Why be truthful? Why not just end it now?
    My point is that the duration of one’s life is not what makes one’s valuable or not. It’s what you do with your life is what counts.

    Comment by Frank W. | January 6, 2010

  15. FrankW;

    In said communist regime, both the theist and the atheist would be in the same position – with no hope in this life, both would be simply waiting for death. However, I was not talking about life in a totalitarian regime (although many totalitarian regimes are religious, especially in muslim countries). Make no bones about it, non-religious totalitarian regimes outlaw religion to remove competition, not for any idealistic reason.
    Similarly, why would a theist choose to tell the truth ro work hard, or be nice – all is forgiven if they repent – the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card? Similarly, if heaven is as great as it is made out to be, why are’t all religionists martyring themselves, saving children from burning houses, at the cost of their own lives?
    What you do with your life is of no value to you (although it may to others) after you die [salvation is by grace, not by works]. That applies whether a God exists or not. Since an atheists life has no value to them after they die, all meaning must be found before you die, and cannot be put-off to find in heaven (or hell, surely most people go to hell).

    Comment by Louis | January 7, 2010

  16. Frank W: In Alpha-style versions of Christianity, the philanthropist and the murderer have fates that are completely unrelated to their actions in this life, which I would say is even worse. Alpha-style Christians believe that you are tortured for eternity based on your belief, not on your actions.

    Comment by R | May 3, 2010

  17. Given that jesus is God’s son, then Mary must have slept withh God is my conclusion. Bullshit. She most likely slept with one of the guys in the neighborhood, got pregnant, was embarassed and i’m not sure if she was scared of her parents reaction or not, and so called it God’s work. And then her bastard son grows up and becomes christianity leader. Retarded. I wonder why no miracles happen these days? i tell u why, becoz now humans are much more intelligent and are gonna ask of how it happened not just accept it. Which would at the end turn out to be a lie. All religions are lies.

    Comment by vahedah | September 23, 2010

  18. [...] of it, and it strikes me as, well, evil through ignorance really. Here are a couple of reviews: here and here. If you’re worried that I’ve chosen biased reviews, because both are by [...]

    Pingback by An alternative alpha course? « Bishopthorpe Nature | February 19, 2011

  19. [...] went on an Alpha course. I haven’t been on this myself, but I’ve read the reviews (here and here and here) and seen the videos (remember, this is a course for non-believers). This course claims to [...]

    Pingback by Faith Stories 1 « Bishopthorpe Nature | March 10, 2011

  20. 5 weeks ago I went to the Alpha course organised by the nearby Christian Centre.
    I have recently turned 60 and am now retired. I was educated at C of E boarding schools in the UK and since leaving school in 1969, the only occasions I have been to a church or religious institution were for weddings, funerals or as a tourist.
    I decided I will attend the Alpha course mainly to get some first hand experience as to what these modern churches are like. At the same time, I thought it would be beneficial to polish up on the Bible. I have a King James Version since 1961. I also borrowed from the library the latest edition of the New Revised Standard version, translated into modern English
    To date I have attended the first four DVD sermons given by Gumbel and these are my observations so far.
    During the first two DVDs, Gumbel freely used the names of famous scientists and celebrities as evidence of the existence of God and of the Resurrection. Gumbel said he was once a lawyer and barrister, I do wonder what type of evidence he would have gathered and used when he was in practice.
    I have only read a few comments on your website, some are tongue in cheek and some were more of a personal opinion. In writing this comment, I am attempting to criticise the Alpha Course and Gumbel by using direct quotations from the Bible (NRSV) but more importantly, the quotes I felt Gumbel should have given in order to achieve a greater understanding of the Christian message, but he failed to do so.
    ON FAITH, Gumbel failed to mention Hebrew 11 which talked entirely on Faith. He also failed to quote James 2.17 “Faith by itself, if it has no works is dead”.
    ON JESUS TEACHING Gumbel had identified most of them but how about Matthew 19.21 “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give it to the poor” Also, Acts 2.45 “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had needs”
    OH JESUS TEACHING, Jesus instructions to the 12 twelve disciples in Matthew 10.5 were “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Again in Matthew 15.24 “Jesus answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”
    I supposed it was Paul who disobeyed the instructions of Jesus and started to preach to the Gentiles. An easy way out for Paul because he found teaching the Jews was like talking to a brick wall. Perhaps it was a noble thing to teach the Gentiles but I wonder if the lost sheep of Israel has adopted the ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ some 2000 years ago, what would today’s world be like? Perhaps Jesus second Coming might have happened a lot sooner, as predicted quite a few times in the Bible.
    ON THE TOPIC OF THE CROSS, Gumbel teaching on this topic was nothing short of a slick bit of marketing. I felt it important enough for him to mention the symbol of Christianity was originally the Fish which was used for quite a few hundred years until someone thought it was a form of idolatry, then it was a mis-translation of the original Hebrew and Greek words, crux and stavro, which subsequently became the word ‘cross’. Although this is my personal opinion, the only historically accurate description as to what Jesus died on, can be referred to in Acts 10.39 “we are witnesses to all that he (Jesus) did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree”.
    During the DVD teachings, I did not make any notes and cannot remember everything, I will definitely complete the 7 week course, if anything just to see how much more misinformation or half truths Gumbel will continue to make.
    Gumbel should take heed of James 3.1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”,
    Finally, to my total surprise and amazement, I found a passage in Romans 16.v17 and v18 which took the exact words out of my mouth in summing up the Alpha course and Mr Gumbel “Keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teachings that you have learned, avoid them for such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple minded”.

    Comment by Dickson Wong | March 19, 2011

  21. [...] atheist by the name of Stephen Butterfield has also attended an Alpha course and blogged about his experience. He went into great detail about both the subjects covered and the discussions he had; I highly [...]

    Pingback by Wrapping up the Alpha course « Thoughts from a Godless Heathen | April 18, 2011

  22. [...] it’s been around that long. I first read about it on Stephen Butterfield’s fantastic blog “Alpha Course: Reviewed.” Stephen, a fellow atheist, did much the same thing I’m doing: attended an Alpha Course and [...]

    Pingback by Alpha Course Redux: Week #5 « Thoughts from a Godless Heathen | October 24, 2011

  23. 5 weeks ago I went to the Alpha course organised by the nearby Christian Centre.
    I have recently turned 60 and am now retired. I was educated at C of E boarding schools in the UK and since leaving school in 1969, the only occasions I have been to a church or religious institution were for weddings, funerals or as a tourist.
    I decided I will attend the Alpha course mainly to get some first hand experience as to what these modern churches are like. At the same time, I thought it would be beneficial to polish up on the Bible. I have a King James Version since 1961. I also borrowed from the library the latest edition of the New Revised Standard version, translated into modern English
    To date I have attended the first four DVD sermons given by Gumbel and these are my observations so far.
    During the first two DVDs, Gumbel freely used the names of famous scientists and celebrities as evidence of the existence of God and of the Resurrection. Gumbel said he was once a lawyer and barrister, I do wonder what type of evidence he would have gathered and used when he was in practice.
    I have only read a few comments on your website, some are tongue in cheek and some were more of a personal opinion. In writing this comment, I am attempting to criticise the Alpha Course and Gumbel by using direct quotations from the Bible (NRSV) but more importantly, the quotes I felt Gumbel should have given in order to achieve a greater understanding of the Christian message, but he failed to do so.
    ON FAITH, Gumbel failed to mention Hebrew 11 which talked entirely on Faith. He also failed to quote James 2.17 “Faith by itself, if it has no works is dead”.
    ON JESUS TEACHING Gumbel had identified most of them but how about Matthew 19.21 “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give it to the poor” Also, Acts 2.45 “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had needs”
    OH JESUS TEACHING, Jesus instructions to the 12 twelve disciples in Matthew 10.5 were “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Again in Matthew 15.24 “Jesus answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”
    I supposed it was Paul who disobeyed the instructions of Jesus and started to preach to the Gentiles. An easy way out for Paul because he found teaching the Jews was like talking to a brick wall. Perhaps it was a noble thing to teach the Gentiles but I wonder if the lost sheep of Israel has adopted the ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ some 2000 years ago, what would today’s world be like? Perhaps Jesus second Coming might have happened a lot sooner, as predicted quite a few times in the Bible.
    ON THE TOPIC OF THE CROSS, Gumbel teaching on this topic was nothing short of a slick bit of marketing. I felt it important enough for him to mention the symbol of Christianity was originally the Fish which was used for quite a few hundred years until someone thought it was a form of idolatry, then it was a mis-translation of the original Hebrew and Greek words, crux and stavro, which subsequently became the word ‘cross’. Although this is my personal opinion, the only historically accurate description as to what Jesus died on, can be referred to in Acts 10.39 “we are witnesses to all that he (Jesus) did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree”.
    During the DVD teachings, I did not make any notes and cannot remember everything, I will definitely complete the 7 week course, if anything just to see how much more misinformation or half truths Gumbel will continue to make.
    Gumbel should take heed of James 3.1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”,
    Finally, to my total surprise and amazement, I found a passage in Romans 16.v17 and v18 which took the exact words out of my mouth in summing up the Alpha course and Mr Gumbel “Keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teachings that you have learned, avoid them for such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple minded”.

    +1

    Comment by Ursa Zimmer | November 12, 2011

  24. Stephen,

    As of today (June 26, 2013), have you found the truth? By definition, there can be only one truth, and so I am curious as to what you espouse to be the truth? Presumably, answers to the questions that led you to attend the Alpha Course, with an open mind and heart. Questions concerning the meaning of life, good vs. evil, who you are, why you are here, what it all means?

    I know a great deal from your writings regarding what you don’t believe, but very little about what you do believe. Thanks for listening and for your blog.

    Take care,

    A. Marie

    Comment by A. Marie | June 26, 2013

  25. Hello A. Marie,

    When it comes to questions like “the meaning of life, good vs. evil, who you are, why you are here, what it all means” I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to claim to know, let alone assert, the answer to any of them. Some religious people, though, seem to be supremely confident that they have the answers to such questions. Such people intrigue me.

    “I know a great deal from your writings regarding what you don’t believe, but very little about what you do believe.”
    I believe in plenty of things, but before I could hope to answer your question perhaps it would be helpful if you could be more specific? Thanks.

    All the best,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | June 26, 2013

  26. Well, what led you to sign up for Alpha?

    What were you hoping to gain or to learn from it?

    Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life. That doesn’t seem to
    ring true for you, or at least not as it was presented through Alpha.
    If Jesus isn’t the way, isn’t the truth, isn’t a way of life for you, then
    what is?

    I am only curious. You needn’t answer.

    Many thanks,

    A. Marie

    Comment by A. Marie | June 26, 2013

  27. A. Marie,

    “Well, what led you to sign up for Alpha?”
    These people who claimed to have an answer to all of the big questions in life genuinely intrigued me, so I signed up.

    “What were you hoping to gain or to learn from it?”
    I was hoping to find out if they could support any of their lofty claims.

    “Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life. That doesn’t seem to
    ring true for you, or at least not as it was presented through Alpha.
    If Jesus isn’t the way, isn’t the truth, isn’t a way of life for you, then
    what is?”

    Well, I’m not asserting that Jesus isn’t “the way, the truth and the life.” It’s just simply the case that I have no reason for believing that he is. And, like I said earlier, I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim to know the answer to the ultimate questions about life, the universe and everything, so I’ll keep an open mind about it and am always open to the possibility that a persuasive argument may be out there somewhere.

    All the best,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | June 26, 2013

  28. Hi Stephen,

    OK. That is fair. I am a follower of Christ, but not connected with Alpha. I was reared as a Roman Catholic. Then my mom died of lung cancer when I was 18. I felt many emotions: I was shocked, scared, angry with God and extremely hurt, because I loved my mom, she was only 45 when she died, and her sudden death left me homeless (my parents were separated). Out of my suffering, I deduced God didn’t exist. For decades, I was angry and hurting, and called myself atheist.

    I am glad you are not living with anger or pain, and that you are open to possibilities.

    Take care,

    A. Marie

    Comment by A. Marie | June 26, 2013

  29. A. Marie,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your mum. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it has been for you.

    I do hope you’re in a happier place now. I wish you well.

    Best wishes,

    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | June 28, 2013

  30. Stephen,

    Thank you for your kind words and concern. I have no way of articulating my suffering and loss at the time. I am an American, yet my brother and sister and I affectionately called her Mummy (Irish heritage) and we were a close family (your calling her my mum reminded me.)

    Six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs, she passed away, and my world collapsed. My younger brother and sister went to live with my father. But Dad and I were estranged back then, so I couldn’t join my siblings. Two of my dear high school friends took me in (my best friend’s mother called in a favor at work and got me a full-time job two months later.)

    That was 1979. I was 18. Today, I have wonderful childhood memories and I’m entirely healed. I have a husband, a son, and two adult stepsons. Yes, my life is much happier now.

    It could have turned out badly for me. You hear of a family tragedy having a domino effect.

    Earlier you talked about a persuasive argument, which for me means logic, reason, irrefutable facts.

    No worries … I am not called to persuade others to do or think or believe anything. I am only called to love my neighbor as myself, and to be salt and light to others.

    I can attest to the love I received from my two Christian friends after I buried my mum. Donna said to me, “Where are you staying tonight?” Donna was my next door neighbor at the time, and she came over as I was loading my car with my belongings. I tried to be strong, you know? But I was terrified. Where indeed was I going? I had no idea. Caring for my mum during her illness was an around the clock commitment. I had been working at a hardware store, saving for college, but because I missed so much work caring for my mum, I was let go from my job. I had about $100 in my pocket. No job. No prospects.

    Finally, after what must have seemed an eternity to her, I sobbed that my plan was to sleep in my car that night. Donna said, “Oh, no. No, you will stay at our house tonight.” And she led me inside her house, as I broke down in tears of relief, thanking her for her kind offer. Donna’s mum and my mum had been best friends for many years, but like so many cancer patients, my mum isolated herself during her treatments. I hadn’t seen my dear friend for months, and now she was inviting me to stay with her family.

    Know what the saddest twist of the story is? Donna’s mum passed away of an acute asthma attack a few years later.

    Death. When it seems decades off, it’s easy to talk about. But death is anything but easy, right?

    Over the years, I’ve likened Donna’s kindness to me with a painting that captured my imagination many years later. The painting hung in a convent where my cousin, a nun and missionary, lived. I came to visit her at their annual spaghetti dinner, and this painting, I couldn’t stop looking at it, and reading it’s caption.

    The image was of a woman sitting across from Jesus speaking with him.

    Jesus was meeting her in heaven. The woman was elated and said how much she had looked forward to seeing her Savior. (I am reminded of carrying my son for 9 months, all the while wondering what his little face would look like, what color would his hair and eyes be … and then my son was born and I couldn’t stop crying looking at him for the first time because he was so beautiful and it was like I had known him all my life.)

    But the woman hesitated … Jesus, there was this one time, you remember it, don’t you? I thought I would die, it was so horrible. I called for you, I begged you to come, to help me, but you did not. Why? Where were you, Jesus? Because had it not been for a few friends who came and tended to me night and day … who comforted me, and stayed with me, and dried my tears … had it not been for them, Jesus, surely I would have died.

    Jesus looked into the woman’s eyes, with more love than she could have ever imagined. He replied, “My child. Why did you not recognize me?”

    Thank you again for your kindness and for listening.

    Have a wonderful weekend,

    A. Marie

    Comment by A. Marie | June 29, 2013


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: