Jon Ronson is a deeply trustworthy journalist and documentary maker. His Secret Rulers Of The World is still one of the finest short series Guider and I have ever seen.

At the start of a new Channel 4 series on faith in the contemporary world, called Revelations, he looks at how the Alpha course plays out in an evangelical church in Oxford in a film called How To Find God.

Ronson starts out with a lovely gentle introduction, drawing out the way in which in a very relaxed setting, there is a a deep and evolved and structured process that Alpha invites people into. This is almost a service to the missional church because Ronson draws the two strands together: the live participation of the candidates over ten weeks and the way in which Alpha runs.

Then half way in there is a diversion, the diversion that prompts me to not use Alpha in my church. Ronson shows the footage of the so called “Toronto blessing“. Alpha puts a heavy emphasis on the spiritual gift of tongues that we’ve always felt was a bit over the top. Placing the spiritual gifts front and central in a presentation of Christianity runs against the grain of St. Paul’s own teaching. Such extraordinary manifestations of God do happen. But making them central or a necessity is upside down.

You can imagine how uncomfortable I was watching the scene where non-Christians were being asked to call for the gift of tongues. Ronson’s gentle touch as a film-maker is beautifully balanced; respecting these charismatic Christians but keeping the critical distance. A Ford GT40 sports car revs up just when the atmosphere in the room is getting too charged.

Ronson is much more fair minded than I am. He says he appreciates the gamble that the Alpha folk have made in placing tongues so centrally in the midst of their presentation. In his summation he editorialises of Alpha that it is a lovely thing that “these nice people share their lives and only put the pressure on once and even then its engagingly flaky” is about as balanced a conclusion as I have ever seen in a television documentary about Christianity.

Your Correspondent, Not mathematically nice

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