The True Spirit of The Alpha Course

The Powers Behind The Alpha Course

Part 1: The Powerful Message

by Dusty Peterson & Elizabeth McDonald

Summer 2002

Alpha Course creator, Nicky Gumbel, the modern course currently sweeping America’s churches, is due to speak at John Arnott’s – Catch the Fire – conference next year.

Arnott still leads the Toronto Airport church that gave us the ‘Toronto Blessing’ (TB), and Gumbel’s church was arguably the prime British center for dispensing the Toronto spirit. Exactly how old, and how close, are the ties between the Alpha Course and the folk that gave us the Toronto church and its Toronto Blessing? This article takes us behind the scenes to reveal the true spirit of today’s Alpha.

Alpha has taken off in a big way in America. In 2001 alone the number of courses running in the U.S. grew by 90% to more than 5300. [1] But Alpha comes from a single Episcopal Fellowship in England, thus not all American churches looking at the Course are familiar with its roots. (The fact that almost all references to the spiritual roots of Alpha have been removed from present editions of the talks obviously does not help!) These details prove to be immensely important when considering Alpha.


Although the Alpha Course has been in existence since 1977, the modern version originated in the early nineties through Nicky Gumbel – a curate at Holy Trinity Brompton church (HTB). Gumbel is a qualified barrister, but he apparently attributes his powerful gift for communication to an extraordinary single event in 1982. The following account by Gumbel is lengthy but also very interesting:

“[A] man called John Wimber came to speak at the church … [after the talk] a very nice American came over [to me] and said … “Well, is there anything else that you would like us to pray for?” So I said, “Well, what I would really like to pray for is the power of the Spirit in my life” … After he had been praying for about 30 seconds, all I can say is I felt this incredible power – it was like 10,000 volts … going through my body. In fact, it was so powerful that after a bit I couldn’t take it any more but I think he had only just got onto the ministry team because he only had one prayer and it was “More power, Lord!” And every time he prayed this prayer, the power increased! So after a bit I couldn’t take it any longer and I started praying against him! I started saying, “No more power, Lord!” But he carried on praying, “More power, Lord!” So eventually there was this shouting match going on in the middle of the room. John Wimber … said, “Take that one out!” So they carried me out through the French windows! And as I was being carried out John Wimber said, “God is giving to that man power to tell people about Jesus Christ”. And I have often looked back at that as a very significant moment in my life.” [2]

As we shall see, this experience did indeed have a substantial and lasting impact on Gumbel. It should be noted that all of his work on the Alpha Course has taken place since that event. Let us now step forward to the early years of his Alpha labours.


Gumbel received what looks a lot like the ‘Toronto’ spirit more than a decade before Toronto itself did, and he jumped at the chance to promote the ‘Toronto Blessing’ (TB) when it finally arrived on the scene. He immediately modified the Alpha talks to incorporate, among other things, the following well-known testimony of how Eleanor Mumford, of South-West London Vineyard, channeled ‘the Blessing’ to HTB through him:

“Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto [3] … then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come’ and the moment she said that, one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room [4] and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing … making the most incredible noise … I experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn’t experienced for years, like massive electricity going through my body.” [5]

Gumbel went straight from Mumford’s house to a staff meeting at HTB. He was asked to close the meeting in prayer and the effect was that “the Spirit came on the people who were in the room. One of them started laughing like a hyena…” [6] As a result of this, Eleanor Mumford was invited to speak at HTB the following Sunday and preached at both the morning and evening meetings. [7] Several books record the classic ‘TB’ manifestations that occurred at both services. [8]

HTB then passed the ‘TB’ onto elders of many UK churches through Alpha training courses. (And, of course, myriad churches flew people to Toronto to get ‘it’ direct.) Thereafter, Alpha’s popularity rocketed. That Gumbel links this to Toronto is clear because, during Toronto’s height he wrote: “I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [i.e. the ‘TB’] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I think the two go together.” [9]

And so did numerous other big names. The number of TB supporters who have openly praised Alpha is substantial. A handful of the more famous examples in the U.S. or U.K. are: Mike Bickle, [10] Gerald Coates, Jack W. Hayford, Ken Gott, Tony Campolo, [11] Roger Forster, Bill Hybels, and Mark Stibbe. Even C. Peter Wagner has called Alpha “wonderful” and says he “enthusiastically supports” it. [12] Apart from Wimber [13] and Mumford, ‘TB’ promoters who have spoken at HTB include: John Arnott, Coates, Leighton Ford, and Stibbe, among many others. See HTB’s online audio catalogue for more.

The True Spirit of The Alpha Course article continues at source: Bayith
This article first appeared in Discernment Newsletter, Volume 13, Number 4, July/August 2002  (Discernment Ministries, PO Box 254, High Bridge, NJ 08829-0254, USA)

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