Monday, 10 August 2009

Looking for God? The Alpha Male's experience

The Fulcrum blog was, until a little while ago, carrying links to Adam Rutherford’s Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ diary of doing an Alpha Course — not least, I’m sure, because he was doing it at St Mary’s Islington, until recently home of the now Bishop of Sherborne, Graham Kings.

I’m not sure the latest updates have been linked, but the diary is well worth reading, not least to see how a Guardianista approaches the faith. One thing that seems clear to me is that Rutherford has a fixed view that Christianity is essentially a moral philosophy propagated by a man called Jesus which, if we could strip it of its ‘miraculous’ accretions, would reveal something worth living by, if not necessarily dying for. It all sounds wonderfully reminiscent of the Enlightenment. Take this summary of ‘the story so far’, for example:

What I have learnt so far is that Christianity does not lend itself well to hard rational and factual analysis. No great revelation there. But what appears to be a theology of atonement via penal substitution relies on the physical truths of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. My sense from this course is that our latent cultural Christianity, particularly amongst us, the de-churched, means we are prone to relinquishing critical faculties out of apathy. Barbara, of whom I am growing fond, doesn’t buy into the resurrection myth and is unmoved by this session. But she’s not bothered enough to let it shake her belief that there is something divine to inspire her faith. It strikes me this might be a key to Christianity’s success: give them enough to believe, but not enough to tear it apart.

Now I am not a great fan of the Alpha Course (though I’m pleased to see it means penal substitutionary atonement is alive and kicking at the heart of Open Evangelicalism), but I will endeavour to keep following this to see how it turns out. I will be particularly interested in the ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ (if they did it — I gather the diary is well after the event).

Meanwhile, I commend it to you for consideration as to how you would handle the same issues, and how you would talk to Mr Rutherford if you met him at a dinner party.

John Richardson
10 August 2009

Week 1: From AA to Alpha
Week 2: A Matter of Facts, not Faith
Week 3: Why did Jesus die?
Week 4: Resurrecting Doubt
Week 5: The Good, Sexist, Beautiful, Violent Book

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  1. Not a great fan of "Alpha?" You are not alone. I suspect it is still a Beta version. I keep waiting for the Omega course to come along.

  2. You refer to the apparent view of Adam Rutherford to the effect that Christianity may be alright as a purely-moral thing, when divested of the "miraculous" - can I recommend my piece on this subject "The Inevitable Fate of Stand-Alone Ethics" - ?


  3. God really spoke to me through Alpha but anyway off topic comment following really.

    Just to say Rachel at Re vis.e Re form has given you an Honest Scrap award. See

    Site looks better John, nice piccy ;-)

    BTW - just bought your 'The Eternal Cross: my 'Reflections on the Sufferings of Christ'', which was in the sale box at W Owen (alongside some very good stuff so don't worry about sale box thingy)- so I'll let you know at some point how I got on with it.