Comments: opinion

Interesting; I've done Alpha, but it was a ten week course, not a six week course. Also, the topics were different from the ones Tabitha mentions on the course she attended.

I wasn't troubled by the fact that the course didn't try to prove that Jesus existed (only a tiny, tiny minority of scholars doubt this), but I was troubled by the fact that a course which purported to be a ground-level introduction to Christianity never once actually told the story of Jesus. I think that's a serious defect in today's world.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 29 June 2013 at 6:29pm BST

I've never done Alpha, and reading Nicky Gumbel's book based on it was enough to guarantee that I never will. I've done similar things though (Christianity Explored). I always seem to be not only the only non Christian there, but also the only one who isn't already a member of the church running it. Something tells me that as tools of evangelism, they may not work as well as is claimed.

Posted by Tony B at Sunday, 30 June 2013 at 9:42am BST

I would never want to do Alpha (as an Episcopalian, why would I?), but I was still annoyed by the atheist (anti-theist?) writer. Leggett's mind was never open, not just to the contents of the course (I'd probably be similar), but to thinking of the participants as anything other than idiots. She was wasting their time and, in the essay, wasting ours.

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 30 June 2013 at 10:49pm BST

That's a good point, JCF. She also seemed to think that an evangelistic course would be an apologetics course, whereas of course the two aren't exactly the same.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Sunday, 30 June 2013 at 11:20pm BST

The genre of "I went to the Alpha course, it was a bit rubbish, some of the people were a bit damaged and it wasn't like a tutorial back when I was up at Magdelen" is pretty much mined out, wouldn't you say? It's hard to imagine that they're written in, to coin a phrase, good faith: is there anyone left who thinks that they won't be getting a rather wide-eyed assemblage of evangelical tropes (some or all of healing, talking in tongues, young-earth creationism, a probably less than accepting attitude to homosexuality), or anyone who think that they will serve to alter entrenched positions? As Tony B says, the impression one gets is that most of the attendees are seeking to bolster an already-established faith, but so what?

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 1 July 2013 at 9:05am BST

JCF and Tim,
these are the people you will be dealing with when you invite complete novices to Christianity for a course to explore faith.
I'm not sure how helpful it is to tell them that they don't quite meet your standards about what questions they should be asking.

I thought she was lovely. Yes, she was an atheist, but she was also clearly open to listening what the course leader had to say. The way she engaged with the course was genuine, her incomprehension real not put on for the sake of an article.
Yes, she was rooted in her belief system - most of us are when we first explore new ideas. But she was truly engaged. Things like "I cried a bit when I got home" and after the next session "I call my mum on the way home and cry again." aren't sentences of an arrogant reporter who is after a Louis Theroux type story. And "These people love sharing uncomfortable truths, but I find it all very awkward" isn't a sign of someone who dismisses the other participants as idiots.

Alpha IS trying to convert people to a particular brand of Christianity, so it makes perfect sense to me for her to say at the end that she is glad she didn't come out brainwashed.
I know people who went open mindedly for 6 months of marriage preparation in a church like that and who were so thoroughly turned off faith that they didn't baptise their children.

If she had been offered a more open course, like Emmaus, who knows what seeds might have been sown.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 1 July 2013 at 9:36am BST

Erika says, 'these are the people you will be dealing with when you invite complete novices to Christianity for a course to explore faith.'

Actually, Erika, that's not usually the case. The latest statistics I've seen for both the USA and Canada (I'm not sure about the UK) say that roughly 1.5% of the population claim to be atheists. The vast majority of the complete novices who I invite to Christian Basics courses at our church are not atheists.

Mind you, I do know a couple of delightful atheists, both of whom are guys married to women in our church. I enjoy engaging in rational conversation with them, but they both seem to understand (perhaps because of their marriages!) that there are all sort of reasons why we Christians become Christians and remain Christians, and they aren't all cerebral reasons. (Terry Eagleton makes this point excellently in his book 'Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate'.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 1 July 2013 at 10:41am BST

you are probably right, the vast majority is not atheist. They are agnostic with a very very low basic knowledge of Christianity. To all intent and purposes it's the same thing. When they talk to us with any degree of serious interest the first question is always "but how do you know it's true".
There are many possible answers to that, some open some more closed. But saying that "this course is not about providing an apologetic" is not helpful.

The biggest challenge the churches face is not to convince people who already know why Christians become Christians, but to engage with those who don't see the point of any faith.

I was struck by your earlier comment that the Alpha course does not appear to tell the Jesus story.
And I think you're right. Unlike 20-30 years ago we are no longer living in a society where it can be assumed that people know the Jesus story. And we definitely live in one where we have to take yet another step back and explain why it could be interesting or important to ask the question.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 1 July 2013 at 4:25pm BST

Tim, the 2011 UK census found that 25% of the UK population declare as atheists. There is no decimal point missing in that number.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 1 July 2013 at 10:36pm BST

Interested Observer, I've been attempting to track down that figure. I've been unable to discover on the official website that the question of belief in God was asked. What I see is that the (voluntary - the only voluntary question on the census) question was 'What is your religion?' and that 25% replied they had no religion. If that's the figure you're talking about, then I must point out that it's not the same as claiming to be an atheist.


Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 12:02am BST

Erika, we may be using language differently. When I talk about 'apologetic', I mean what an old teacher of mine used to refer to as 'the idea that a person can be argued into genuine Christian faith'. His comment was, 'If a clever argument can make a person a Christian, a cleverer one can un-make them'.

Reasons for the faith that is in us, yes, of course. But those reasons are usually not limited to the purely rational and intellectual.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 12:08am BST

I agree, I'd go as far as to say that faith is never fully rational. If you expect scientific proof or nothing you will end up as an atheist.

But if I read the article correctly, Tabatha felt there was no meaningful attempt made at all to explain to her why Christian faith should be something intelligent people might consider. If that's true, and if people did indeed only talk in self referential circles expecting someone not steeped in Christian language to understand what they're talking about, then it is a great shame.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 8:18am BST
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