Tuesday, 6 November 2018

An Open Letter to Nigerian Christians in the UK

Dear Nigerian Christians in the UK

I have noticed significant church growth among churches in the UK that have Nigerian leadership. They have a vision for more growth and more churches in the UK. This is commendable.

However, there is concern, and it has been expressed by other Nigerian Christians, about the lack of Gospel preaching, ministry, church work in the north of Nigeria. When my friend travels around the north he does not find Christian workers, evangelists or preachers working there. So charity does not begin at home when it is the north! They seem to avoid it. Like the plague?

I don't know why there is so much focus on UK ministry when there is an enormous mission back home in Nigeria, northern Nigeria. Please explain this. I find it hard to understand, especially when Nigerian preachers have prophesied a mighty revival in Nigeria.  When such preachers talk about Nigeria do they mean southern Nigerian and never the north.

Do the Nigerian church leaders in this land invest money, time and effort in projects to evangelise the north of Nigeria? Are there any plans to work in the north?

Love Nigeria? Well, what about the north of the land. It needs your help.

Yours fraternally

Johli Baptist

Monday, 5 November 2018

Alpha in HM Prisons

In the 1990s and at the beginning of this century I thought a lot about Alpha in prisons, particularly in England and Wales.  I found that the Alpha material did not resonate with certain inmates and a number of chaplains. They were critical of the bourgeois/upper middle class ethos of Alpha, from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), and Nicky Gumbel's presentations. His humour and style grated at times. He was seen as a toff, and someone who lived in another world. They did not relate to his message and medium.  Some of the Alpha supporters and lovers of the Alphacrats, those who run and make the policy decisions at Alpha HTB, could not understand how anyone could dislike Nicky Gumbel.

I asked the Alphacrats in charge of the Alpha for prisons and Caring for Offenders programmes to make an alternative video or some fresh presentations. I suggested using working class converts, ex-prisoners, former convicts and other suitable people that would have a greater appeal. They needed folk they could relate to, that understood their pain and prison life. Such testimonies would have far more impact than jokes about the luncheon club, life with Pippa, challenges at the gym, or evangelistic adventures with Rupert. The upper middle class ethos is not suitable for prison ministry, despite claims to the contrary.

At the time I was told that such a project to film a suitable presentation was too expensive. What? HTB was making loads of money through Alpha, the books, the merchandise, the courses, the videos (at that time) etc. A university visual aids department could have made a decent film or video presentation at a cost of £ 1,000 per day at 2000/2001 prices. Perhaps a professional film school could have produced a series of videos or DVDs at a reasonable cost.

 Some scholars and critics of Alpha thought that naivete and muddled thinking was evident in the early years by some Alphacrats at HTB, and they certainly did not take any criticism at all well.

The good news is that the Alphacrats did produce some videos using ex-convicts and prisoners who have an engaging story to tell. There are some great testimonies to lives changed through Alpha, and it must be said by other interventions.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Pakistan, a place of persecution and pathetically poor standards of human rights

What disgraceful scenes were shown today on our television screens of mob violence, madmen, mayhem and murderous intent over the just acquittal of an innocent Christian woman, Asia Bibi. People have been murdered. Her lawyer has had to flee for his life. Very sensible. Who would want to stay there in Pakistan? Asia Bibi is not currently permitted to leave Pakistan. Crazy! More murders are expected.

 If you ever go to Pakistan then be prepared to adjust your watches. Put them back three hundred years! The country is one of the most unenlightened on the planet.

Imran Khan, the former cricketer and Oxford graduate, will have his work cut out if he wishes to bring enlightenment and human rights to his country. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

More about Alpha Course

Those of a reformed and conservative evangelical persuasion have been critical of the Alpha Course because they dislike its charismatic elements and presentation of the Gospel. They claim that the message of repentance is not strong enough. They are unhappy about the teaching on the Holy Spirit, particularly any mention of speaking in tongues or spiritual gifts (charismata). Some promoted Christianity Explored as an alternative.

In this reformed and evangelical camp, which includes those in the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, there is concern and criticism of Alpha's ecumenical and charismatic links.  Some would denounce Alpha as a deception that leads Christians into doctrinal danger.

Some critics seem to forget that Alpha is a starter and not a main course. It was never intended to be more than an introductory course. Its original milieu was upper middle class and Alpha became popular among the bourgeoisie, particularly confident young urban professionals at Holy Trinity Brompton.

I was particularly interested in its application in prisons. More about that in due course.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

LLDC? Letting London Down Catastrophically?

Security at the London Stadium last night was said to be, by some waggish football fans, not only comical but also catastrophic. One pitch invader was careless, but two separate incidents could mean a catastrophe or comedy of errors. Both invaders managed to interrupt play. No doubt the guy in the mask from a horror film (Wes Craven's Scream) thought he was being funny on Halloween, the eve of All Saints' Day. It was topical, but not amusing at a major sporting event.

Fortunately for Tottenham Hotspur fans it did not spoil their victory in any way.  Spurs won away by three goals to one, and Son bagged a brace. West Ham management must be wondering and worrying about the level of security provided by LLDC, who have let them down again. It's not the first time.  And now two foul ups during play. Is that a red card offence?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Alpha Courses: more than fast food Christianity?

Alpha, the popular course that introduces people to Christianity, has been an effective form of evangelism in the UK, starting in 1977, and internationally since the 1990s. It has been taken up by mainstream Christian churches and fellowships, despite opposition from those unsympathetic to its charismatic elements.

It has been criticized for superficiality, shallowness, heresy, false doctrine, theological error, crass conservatism and bourgeois religion. Despite all the criticisms and many more, Alpha has helped thousands to find faith in Christ and a place within the fellowship of the Church universal.  There are many testimonies of people from all walks of life, not just urban professionals and the middle classes in comfortable suburban homes, to the life changing experience and encounters with God as a direct result of an Alpha course. Conversions and commitments to the Christian faith cannot be ignored or discounted.

It can be argued that at the end of the 20th century the Alpha course was the most effective form of evangelism in the UK and led to significant church growth in places throughout the land.

Alpha's basic formula, which has been tried, tested and refined, has worked well. A meal, a talk/presentation and a discussion have brought results.

The meal breaks down barriers and tensions. People are more relaxed and amenable after a good meal, even if it is a Holy Trinity Brompton pasta recipe. The meal makes people more open to listening to the talk. Christian hospitality can be very appealing.

The talks, based on clear and concise material, if they are well presented (and pre-recorded messages are available) help people to understand the basics of the Christian faith. Booklets, literature and downloads are also available to facilitate the Alpha experience.

In my opinion, the most important part is the discussion and how it is handled by the leader.  If it is handled well, and that is not always the case unfortunately, then the group or participants will enjoy the frank exchange of ideas. They often bond and find a good level of fellowship and even friendship.
This can, in fact, lead to what has become known as Alphaholism. This is a condition in which the participant finds the Alpha experience so rewarding that they wish to continue it on another course, even course after course, because they do not find that level of friendship available in the normal life of the Church. Those who criticize the Alpha course for being "joined up dots Christianity" have probably not been on an Alpha course with a highly competent leader who is prepared to discuss difficult questions and tough topics.

When the discussions run well then the participants want to come back for more!

I shall return to this topic and share some more insights in due course.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Lloris lets Spurs down and PSV off the hook

There were howlers from Hugo and Toby.  The Spurs self destruct button was engaged.

In moment of sheer stupidity Hugo Lloris, the Spurs captain, made a wild and rash tackle outside the penalty area injuring a PSV player. It was dangerous play and a clear foul. A foolish foul. He earned a red card, was sent off and Spurs were then under enormous pressure with only ten men. They conceded a goal to a revived home side and now Tottenham look down and out of the Champions League. With performances like this they do not deserve to be there. Dismal and disappointing. What a waste of such a good opportunity to win away! After disaster early on, being a goal down, Tottenham gained control and were doing so well until Lloris's lamentable lunge.

The game in Eindhoven ended in a 2-2 draw.  Tottenham Hotspur only have one point from three games. Barcelona and now Inter Milan are expected to progress to the next stage.


River Stour