We Wish You a Merry Saturnalia: Northern Churchman

We Wish You a Merry Saturnalia? The Northern Churchman There is a familiar feel to this time of year. The Christmas advertising on television, the darker evenings, the Carol Services – and the inevitable scoffers who call the Christmas story a myth. Not ‘Once in Royal...

Mark Pickles: The Story of Two Trampolines

Gospel-Driven Anglicanism By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles The Story of the Two Trampolines:  A passage that is frequently referred to during times of great revival is Isaiah 64:1-3:  “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your...

Ten Thousand Bibles for London’s Children

TBS Auxiliary Meets Ten Thousand Bibles For London’s Children The Greater London Auxiliary of the Trinitarian Bible Society was delighted to report at its Annual Meeting held on 15 November that over 10,000 Bibles have been distributed to London schools since the...

Good News for Egypt’s Christians

Barnabas Fund Reports Good News for Egypt’s Christians The government of Egypt licensed 125 churches and church-affiliated buildings on 14 November. It is the 24th batch of approvals made since the government committee overseeing the licensing process started work in...

Church Society’s Response to MP Ben Bradshaw

Church Society’s Response to MP Ben Bradshaw In the aftermath of Desmond Tutu’s daughter being refused permission to preside at a funeral in a Church of England parish, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told The Guardian that the “C of E must move swiftly to welcome lesbian...

Collins: Who’s Your Righteousness?

Who’s Your Righteousness? By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins Who’s your righteousness? "The Lord our Righteousness" was the sermon preached March 20, 1757 at St. Mary's Church in Oxford. It offended nearly everyone that day and William Romaine was invited to never preach...

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act of 1963

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act of 1963 Persons Against Whom Proceedings May be Instituted. Proceedings under this Measure may be instituted against an archbishop, any diocesan bishop or any suffragan bishop commissioned by a diocesan bishop or any other bishop or a...

Editorial: Joy to the World Cup

Editorial Joy to the World Cup The result of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is already in. And it appears the Church of England has lost. The latest advice from the Church of England’s Support Hub is for parishes to consider the timing of Christmas Carol Services to avoid...

Symes to Step Down from Anglican Mainstream Leadership

Symes to Step Down from Anglican Mainstream Leadership By Chris Sugden Andrew Symes is to stand down as Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream on January 1, 2023, after nearly ten years in post. Rev Symes, 56, who had earlier served with Crosslinks in South...

Retired Bishop Given Life Suspension

Retired Bishop Given Life Suspension By George Conger The former Bishop of Ramsbury has been suspended for life from the ordained ministry after he admitted to having sexually abused two women. The Daily Mail reported the Rt Rev. Peter Hullah had been the subject of...

Repackaging Christianity: Alpha and Building a Global Brand

Repackaging Christianity

Alpha and the building of a global brand

Andrew Atherstone

Hodder & Stoughton, 2022 (ISBN: 978-1-399-80151-5, 308pp, £22)


The Alpha Course is known to many from its prolific advertising, on buses, on banners outside churches, on the London Underground, and online – and to some from the first-hand experience of taking the course. From small beginnings in 1977, via a ‘Global Launch’ in 1993, the course has grown from Kensington across Britain and the world, cross-pollinating to many denominations and church networks. Remarkably, this book is the first full-length history of the programme in its near half-century existence. 

Somewhat inevitably, writing the history of Alpha demands consideration of its parent church, Holy Trinity Brompton. As such, the early chapters of Repackaging Christianity serve as an accessible and lucid summary of the recent history of what became colloquially known, in the period under consideration, as ‘HTB’. The key cast of characters, including Raymond Turvey, David MacInnes, John Collins, Sandy Millar, John Wimber, Charles Marnham, Nicky and Pippa Gumbel, Nicky and Sila Lee, Ken Costa, Justin and Caroline Welby, and Tricia Neill are carefully discussed. The close connections between Kensington high society, Eton College, Trinity College Cambridge, and the Bar are noted, though rightly not laboured.

A second ‘fringe benefit’ of writing a history with this focus is the opportunity to describe, in as scholarly a manner as possible, the charismatic ‘renewal’ of the 1980’s and the Toronto ‘blessing’ of the 1990’s. The account is direct in recording the chaotic scenes following Wimber and Frisbee’s visits to Chorleywood and Lancashire. It is equally factual regarding the fits of maniacal laughter at HTB in 1992 following the Toronto encounter of Eleanor Mumford. Whether the subsequent reported growth in Alpha courses and HTB attendance was down to an authentic work of the Holy Spirit or simply a result of the excitement and publicity generated by such unusual behaviour in a well-heeled CofE parish is subject to debate. 

Repackaging Christianity is a thoroughly theological history, weighing the full range of views on Alpha, positive and negative. Privileged archival access at Alpha International has permitted fascinating insight on the doctrinal discussion behind the well-manicured façade, such as negotiations over adapting the course to fit with French Catholic dogma. Generous airtime is equally given to robustly Protestant critics, whose existing concerns about a programme influenced by Toronto were only amplified by the alliance with Rome.

The subject, serious though it is, lends itself to a certain amount of comic satirisation. Chapter five collects some of the most stinging reviews of Alpha from the London gossip columns of the 1990s, sending up the Knightsbridge style with aplomb. Such vignettes are nonetheless interlaced with healthy doses of conversion testimony. Without a doubt, much genuine faith has been birthed and nurtured under Alpha and the book’s slightly abrupt ending indicates that this is a story yet to run its full course. Nonetheless, the question hangs over various aspects of the movement as to what more could have been done, had for example the turns to address social injustice and away from Toronto extremes occurred earlier. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford