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Westminster Presbyterian Seminary’s 2022 Conference

Christ’s Mission for the Church  Westminster Presbyterian Seminary’s 2022 Conference Westminster Presbyterian Seminary’s 2022 conference has been scheduled for 20 — 22 October.  Located in Newcastle, the conference will feature presentations by Alistair Begg, Simon...

Chuck Collins: John Day & Foxe’s Book

John Day & Foxe’s Book By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins John Day was the foremost printer/publisher of the English Reformation. He is best known for collaborating with John Foxe in compiling and printing Actes and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes...

Pilgrim’s Process by the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon

Pilgrim’s Process Broken Hearts We all like to feel good about ourselves. Indeed there is a popular school of thought which suggests that the thing which most holds us back in life is ‘low self-esteem.’ When this outlook is accepted, the Christian message is adapted...

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: What is the Church For?

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary What is the Church For? Amidst the political intrigue of the 2022 Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, addressed the assembled bishops on the topic of evangelism. Whilst unsurprisingly less controversial than the...

Banner of Truth Borders Conference 2022 “Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

Held at the Church of Scotland Chapel in Carlisle, it is a gathering intended particularly to serve those in northern England and southern Scotland with fellowship and faithful biblical teaching. The conference is open to all, whether in full-time ministry in the...

Anglican Futures: Plural Truth, Playing the Cards Right

Anglican Futures Plural Truth: Playing The Cards Right This is the first in a series of three blog posts, examining the concept of 'Plural Truth,' in the light of what has been observed at the Lambeth Conference.  This one looks at how 'Plural Truth' has impacted the...

Orthodox Bishops at the Lambeth Conference Reaffirm Lambeth 1.10 as Anglican Teaching on Marriage & Sexuality

ORTHODOX BISHOPS AT THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE REAFFIRM LAMBETH 1.10 AS ANGLICAN TEACHING ON MARRIAGE & SEXUALITY “Resetting the Anglican Communion Back to Its Biblical Roots” ORTHODOX BISHOPS attending the Lambeth Conference have reaffirmed Lambeth 1.10 as the...

Statement from Anglican Bishops And Primates Who Are Keen to Affirm and Celebrate LGBT+ People

STATEMENT FROM ANGLICAN BISHOPS AND PRIMATES WHO ARE KEEN TO AFFIRM AND CELEBRATE LGBT+ PEOPLE August 2nd 2022 In the interest of full context we reproduce the letter signed by 170 bishops (26%), including five archbishops from across the Anglican Communion in support...

170 Bishops Affirm “Holiness” of Same-Sex Love

170 Bishops Affirm “Holiness” of Same-Sex Love 170 bishops from within the Anglican Communion signed a document supporting same-sex marriage and other issues promulgated by the LGBT community.  This means 480 of those bishops in attendance did not sign.  Over three...

Letter: The Abolition of Female Bishops?

Letter to the Editor The Abolition of Female Bishops? Dear Sir, Following the revelation at General Synod that there is no official definition of a woman, surely a Synod member could ask a further question, namely, ‘How many women bishops have served in the Church 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

 

 

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