THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICS MORTON KELSEY AND JOHN WIMBER ON THE ALPHA COURSE

As evangelical discernment continues to dwindle, the spiritually dangerous Alpha Course is making a comeback despite it’s sinful ecumenicism a la The Ecumenical Compromise Of The Alpha Course. This is evidenced e.g. by The Alpha Course Receieves Praise From Moody Radio’s Janet Parshall and John Piper Approves Of The Alpha Course?

Christian Research Network is a sister work of Apprising Ministries. Here CRN Associate Editor Erin Benziger of Do Not Be Surprised… brings to our attention the element of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism within The Alpha Course:

The Alpha Course can be found in 169 countries with nearly 19 million people having attended over the years. It is advertised as a non-threatening, non-confrontational approach to evangelism. Alpha swept across the UK with great fervor years ago and continues to gain popularity worldwide. It is not without its critics, however, as CRN has demonstrated in the articles, “The Alpha Course Receives Praise from Moody Radio’s Janet Parshall,” and “The Ecumenical Compromise of The Alpha Course.”

In a recent teleconference with leaders of The Alpha Course entitled, “Handling the Healing Night,” Jeff Kirby, who is a Teaching Pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas and who has been involved with Alpha as a leader for 17 years, discussed the nuances of and offered advice for the Alpha Course Healing Night. This event typically occurs during Alpha’s Holy Spirit Weekend, and apparently at times brings with it questions and even anxiety from leaders and participants alike.

Below is a brief clip of the first five minutes of this teleconference. Though short, these few minutes provide insight into some of the teachings that are influencing the Alpha Course and its leader, Nicky Gumbel.

There is one particular aspect of this clip that serves the interests of this article. Namely, that of the book and author recommendations offered by Pastor Kirby. Since these books and their authors appear to be of great importance in the minds of Alpha’s leaders, it behooves the discerning Christian to learn more about these men and to examine their teachings. This article will look at two names in particular, the two that were most stressed by Mr. Kirby: Morton Kelsey and John Wimber.

WHO IS MORTON KELSEY?

According to apologist Bob DeWaay and his 2004 article, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Morton Kelsey is “the most prolific writer among twentieth century Christian mystics.” Open to any religious practice that will aid one in his own unique “inner journey,” Kelsey urges his followers to “guide others on their way and never impose our way upon them.”[1]

THE “KINGDOM WITHIN”

The idea of a journey inward is an important one for Kelsey, as a common theme among his writings is that of the “kingdom within.” Agnes Sanford, who was among the earliest to bring mysticism to twentieth century evangelicals,[2] had this to say in her book, The Healing Light, published in 1947:

‘The kingdom of God is within you,’ said Jesus. And it is the indwelling light, the secret place of the consciousness of the Most High that is the kingdom of Heaven in its present manifestation on this earth.[3]

Interestingly, Sanford is quoted favorably multiple times in Morton Kelsey’s book,Healing and Christianity, the very book that is commended by the Alpha Course in the above audio as the “all time classic” book on the topic of healing.

In fact, this idea of a “kingdom within” is found in Kelsey’s book. He writes:

The kingdom, as Jesus proclaimed it, may be viewed inwardly as well as eschatologically. It is true that Jesus and his followers undoubtedly looked for the immediate coming of the kingdom in history. However, the statements about it may also be seen as referring to the kingdom within, or the kingdom breaking through now in history.[4]

This “kingdom within” teaching stems largely from a misunderstanding of Luke 17:2021.

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20—21, NASB)

Here Jesus was teaching his listeners that the kingdom was among them in His very person, the person of Christ. He most certainly was not suggesting that man embark on a journey inward in order to discover this kingdom, for no man receives even the Holy Spirit unless he first repents and turns to Christ for salvation.

Yet, the teachings of Kelsey seem to indicate that he believed the Spirit of God to indwell all men, thus meaning that such an inward journey would not be in vain. Note the following quote from Kelsey’s book, Through Defeat to Victory, emphasis added:

Real listening is a kind of prayer, for as we listen, we penetrate through the human ego and hear the Spirit of God, which dwells in the heart of everyone. Real listening is a religious experience. Often, when I have listened deeply to another, I have the same sense of awe as when I have entered into a holy place and communed with the heart of being itself.[5]

In such contemplations the danger of the erroneous, mystical teaching of the “kingdom within” becomes grossly evident.

MORTON KELSEY AND CARL JUNG

Kelsey was greatly influenced by the notable psychologist Carl Jung, often combining various religious practices with Jung’s teachings. In realizing the influence of Jung upon Kelsey, it is important to note, even if briefly, that Jung believed he had a spirit guide named Philemon.[6] This cannot be ignored when considering Jung’s teachings. The influence of Jung upon Morton Kelsey is quite evident in the bookHealing and Christianity, as he liberally and favorably appeals to Jung on multiple occasions.

One primary area where Jung was of great influence on Kelsey is that of dream interpretation. For Kelsey, dreams were a way in which the “Divine” would try to speak to men. Jung believed that the “Other” could be found in the unconscious, which connects the individual to a spiritual reality.[7] In the book so highly recommended by Alpha, Kelsey states,

Thus Jung opened the door to the possibility of contact through the unconscious with an objective reality superior to human consciousness, which is able to order and vitalize human life when ego-consciousness is unable to do so. If the human psyche can thus act as a bridge between the physical body and the power of a transcendental reality, then religion and religious experience, particularly healing experiences, become a real and most significant possibility.[8]

Unfortunately, the idea of seeking meaning or understanding from one’s unconscious mind cannot be found in Scripture. Yet Christian mystics, and those who advocate their works, are striving nonetheless to mine these depths.

MORTON KELSEY, HEALING AND THE GOSPEL

Morton Kelsey’s book places great emphasis on the healing ministry of Jesus, making such statements as:

[Jesus] made clear that men in their present condition do not deserve or need judgment and punishment, which only drive them further into despair and defeat. Only twice did he make any point of speaking to the sick about their sins…[9]

Jesus thought not simply of ‘saving souls,’ to use a familiar Christian cliché. His redemptive concern necessarily encompassed the whole of man, including his body.[10]

It is true, sickness is not always the direct result of one’s sin. Jesus said so Himself inJohn 9:2-3. This does not mean, however, that a man’s physical healing is of greater importance than his spiritual healing. Nor does it require a man to be physically healed in order to experience spiritual healing, i.e., salvation. In fact, the recordings of the Apostle John in the sixth chapter of his gospel make evident that the miracles of Jesus often did not produce true or lasting faith in the recipient. Rather, many people were following Christ solely for what they could gain from His miracles, but had little use for His message of salvation, ultimately rejecting it (John 6:66).

One may well remember the story of the ten lepers that were healed as told in Luke 17:11—19. Jesus healed ten men from the terrible affliction of leprosy, then ordered them to show themselves to the priests. As the ten walked away, only one turned around and approached Jesus in thanksgiving, offering glory to God.

Kelsey also states that, “The most important reason that Jesus healed was that he cared about people and suffered when they did.”[11] Indeed, our Lord did experience compassion not only for the spiritually lost, but for the sick and ailing as well. This was not, however, His primary purpose in healing. Rather, Jesus healed men—made limbs to grow, eyes to see, dead men to breathe—so that men would know that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Even the blind man in John 9 recognized that he was healed by the power of God (John 9:31-33). Only Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, could offer full, complete healing of a person.

Thus are revealed some of the potentially dangerous teachings of Morton Kelsey, whose work comes so highly recommended by The Alpha Course.

WHO IS JOHN WIMBER?


The second book recommended by Alpha in the above audio is John Wimber’sPower Healing. This book boasts an introduction by spiritual formation proponent Richard Foster in which Foster exclaims, “I thank God for Power Healing.”

The website, Healing and Revival, offers a thorough biography of John Wimber. There it is learned that Wimber experienced conversion in 1963 through his involvement in a Quaker Bible study. Also noted is Wimber’s close involvement with notable church growth expert C. Peter Wagner:

In 1974 Wimber was offered a job by Peter Wagner to be the Founding Director of the Department of Church Growth at the Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. Wimber was traveling all over the world teaching on church growth.[12]

In 1977, Wimber and his wife, Carol, left their Quaker church to begin a church of their own. Prior to this time, it is claimed that Carol and a small group of people who were “seeking more of God” began to “experience the presence of the Holy Spirit,” and that “God also spoke to Carol about the importance of intimate worship.”[13] It would not be long before John Wimber also allegedly was hearing from the Almighty.

Due to Calvary Chapel’s experience with the Holy Spirit in the Jesus Movement, John became connected with Calvary Chapel and established his church as Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda in May 1977. God began to speak to Wimber about healing the sick, and he began a church series on the subject. In March 1978, after ten months of preaching and praying without anyone healed, Wimber saw his first healing. The church grew rapidly and began to experience a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Unexpectedly God began to train Wimber, and the church, in deliverance. This was a point of theological difference with Cavalry Chapel and they are (sic) asked to leave the denomination, but were recommended to associate with the Vineyard Church, another group in the area that was moving in similar directions. In 1982 Wimber’s church became a Vineyard.[14]

JOHN WIMBER AND THE VINEYARD MOVEMENT

In 1982, John Wimber also would become the head of the Vineyard churches. According to the Vineyard USA website, “John Wimber’s influence profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in November, 1997.”[15]

Throughout this time, John Wimber continued to teach at Fuller Theological Seminary. His course, “Signs and Wonders and Church Growth,” became “the most popular, and the most controversial, at the school.”[16] The class was an interactive one and, in 1984, Wimber decided to take his lectures on the road.

Wimber began to train people all over the world about praying for the sick and “doing the works of ministry”. His focus was on every-member ministry within the body. Healing and miracles occurred in these meetings.[17]

Preaching in 1991, Dr. John MacArthur spoke about the Vineyard Movement and it’s moniker of “The Third Wave,” as coined by C. Peter Wagner:

The main figure in what is known as the Third Wave is a man by the name of John Wimber, who is pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim. He is the major figure in this movement that has come to be known as the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes called the Signs and Wonders Movement. And this latest Charismatic tide seems to have swept across the globe in the last decade. It is literally everywhere in the English-speaking parts of the world. The term the Third Wave was coined by C. Peter Wagner who is a missions professor at Fuller Seminary and the author of several books on church growth. He is really the leading proponent of the Third Wave philosophy and methodology. According to Wagner, he said, “The first wave was the Pentecostal movement, the second wave was the Charismatic movement, and now the third wave is joining them.” By that he means, an inundating wave of the power of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself in visible ways….

At its core, [the Third Wave] is an obsession with sensational experiences, a preoccupation with the Charismata, that is tongues, healings, prophecies, words of knowledge, visions and ecstatic experiences, and that is, of course, where we find the indisputable link between the Third Wave and the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. In all three movements, there is a major absorption with these supernatural, sensational kind of power encounters or power displays as they like to call them. They deemphasize what you and I would know as the traditional means of spiritual growth, prayer, Bible study, the teaching of the Word and the fellowship of other believers. They don’t intend to do that and they wouldn’t do that in statement or even in print, but because of the very surpassing emphasis on the sensational experiences, those matters tend to get pushed significantly, if not all together, into the background.[18]

Pastor Gary Gilley examined the Vineyard Movement and various aspects of its theology in a 1995 newsletter of Think On These Things. He writes:

The [Vineyard Movement] believes in “power evangelism” vs. “program evangelism.” Program evangelism is the presentation of the gospel message to a lost sinner. While not anti-program evangelism, the VM believes that it is an anemic way of bringing people to Christ, especially people in the Third World. What is needed is power evangelism, that is, signs and wonders. If, in conjunction with presenting the gospel message, we also heal a person, raise the dead, cast out a demon, or speak a word of knowledge, our message will be with authority and power. The results of power evangelism, we are told, are far superior to program evangelism. It is interesting, however, to examine the Scriptural record of the results of signs and wonders. It would appear that miracles seldom produced any true faith or lasting fruit. Even with Christ, we find people following Him in order to be healed or fed, yet rejecting his message (e.g. John 6).[19]

Indeed, this line of thinking is quite similar to the teachings of Morton Kelsey as examined earlier.

In 1989, Wimber became involved with Mike Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets. In the early 1990s, a movement known as the Toronto Blessing began to sweep through some churches. The primary church in this movement was a Vineyard church in Toronto, though according to Healing and Revival, “Wimber did not agree with everything being taught in Toronto and eventually asked them to leave the association.”[20]

In 1997, Todd Hunter, who reportedly “had been with Wimber since the beginning,” assumed leadership of the Vineyard.[21] Wimber died in November of 1997.

JOHN WIMBER, NICKY GUMBEL AND THE ALPHA COURSE

Aside from being a recommended author by The Alpha Course, what additional impact might John Wimber have had upon Alpha and its longtime leader, Nicky Gumbel? As noted above, Todd Hunter, who had been with Wimber from the beginning of his charismatic ministry, took over leadership of the Vineyard Movement not long before Wimber’s death. Later, Hunter would be asked by Alpha USA to come aboard as its new president. In an interview with Hunter at that time, the great impact of Wimber upon Nicky Gumbel and, consequently upon Alpha, is revealed:

Q: Nicky Gumbel says that John Wimber was the most influential person in his life?

A: Yes. Apparently, when Nicky was a young man he attended some of John’s meetings and not only had his theological world, but also his experiential world rocked. During a clinic time, the Holy Spirit came powerfully on Nicky and John turned and said the Holy Spirit was going to use him to talk to the lost.[22]

Holy Trinity Brompton Church (HTB), where Gumbel currently serves as vicar, credits John Wimber’s church growth strategies for building a desire for church planting into the fabric of HTB.[23] This fact, along with Wimber’s incredible influence upon Nicky Gumbel, leaves it as no surprise to know that Wimber was welcomed to speak at HTB on occasion. In his “Bible in One Year,” devotional entries, Gumbel shares a bit more about Wimber’s influence upon his life and ministry, stating that, “Personally, I owe a huge debt to the ministry of John Wimber. We as a local church also owe him a huge debt.”[24]

Gumbel also briefly shares an account of the first time that Wimber visited HTB:

We often tell the story of when John Wimber first visited our church. We saw a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit and several healings. One incident, which occurred on the second night, is indelibly printed in my memory. One of our closest friends was eight months pregnant at the time. The Holy Spirit came upon her with great power. She started to whirl around at great speed. As she did so, she exclaimed over and over again, ‘I feel so strong!’

A few weeks later she gave birth to a son who from his earliest days showed not only spiritual and emotional strength but also extraordinary physical strength. He became a superb athlete and rugby player.[25]

Accounts such as this further validate the reports that HTB was the center of the charismatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the UK. Similar to what was experienced in Toronto at the commencement of the Toronto Blessing, Nicky Gumbel and his HTB caused an outbreak of “holy laughter” in the city of London. Time Magazinereported on this phenomenon in 1994:

It’s Sunday evening in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge neighborhood. Though pathetically tiny flocks of Londoners attend many Anglican services, Holy Trinity Brompton has a standing-room-only turnout of 1500. After the usual Scripture readings, prayers and singing, the chairs are cleared away. Curate Nicky Gumbel prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon the congregation. Soon a woman begins laughing. Others gradually join her with hearty belly laughs. A young worshipper falls to the floor, hands twitching. Another falls, then another and another. Within half an hour there are bodies everywhere as supplicants sob, shake, roar like lions, and strangest of all laugh uncontrollably. This frenzied display has become known as the ‘laughing revival’ or ‘Toronto Blessing’. After first appearing at Holy Trinity only last May, laughing revivals have been reported in Anglican parishes from Manchester to York to Brighton. At London’s Holy Trinity, schoolteacher Denise Williams says she ‘came here a little skeptical’ but soon was caught up in the fervor. ‘There was a lovely feeling of warmth and peace.’ Lines outside Holy Trinity now start forming an hour and a half before services.[26]

It is evident that the teachings of John Wimber have had great influence not only upon Nicky Gumbel, but upon the life of HTB and also The Alpha Course. Wimber, in his traveling “Signs and Wonders” show, would identify those who needed to be healed allegedly by receiving “words of knowledge” from the Lord. The Alpha Course, as indicated by the audio clip which began this article, also believes that a healing ministry is of utmost importance. Writes Gumbel in his book, How to Run The Alpha Course:

At this point we outline the model of healing prayer which we follow (Alpha—Questions of Life, Chapter 13). We then explain that God sometimes gives words of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8) which point out whom God wants us to pray for and which are also an aid to faith in this area. We have found that people receive these words in various ways. Some may get a mental picture of the part of the body which God wants to heal. Some will merely receive an impression, and others may sense that they hear or see words. We have found that one of the most common ways we receive words of knowledge is by what we call “a sympathy pain”: someone senses pain in their body, which they know is not really theirs.[27]

This description is nearly identical to what can be witnessed in videos of John Wimber’s 1985 Signs and Wonders Conference.

CONCLUSION

Alpha does little to hide the fact that it places great emphasis upon what it teaches to be the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit. Nicky Gumbel details this in his own book, How to Run The Alpha Course, referenced above, and numerous resources encouraging this emphasis are readily accessible at the official website of The Alpha Course USA.

Alpha also does little to conceal the influence of mystics such as Morton Kelsey and John Wimber upon its ministry. After examining the teachings of these two men, who both come highly recommended by the leadership of Alpha, concerns ought to be raised in the minds and hearts of Christians. The recommendation of these two authors did not come with a disclaimer, but rather with a hearty, almost urgent endorsement. It has been demonstrated, however, that Morton Kelsey not only espoused an incorrect understanding of the relationship between Jesus’ healing ministry and gospel proclamation, but that he also was highly influenced by other mystics like Agnes Sanford and the psychologist Carl Jung. This article also has revealed some of the erroneous teachings of the leader of the Third Wave, John Wimber, and his profound effect upon Alpha leader Nicky Gumbel.

To be sure, this article has not examined every area of The Alpha Course that may be legitimately critiqued. Others have called into question its actual gospel presentation. As already mentioned, CRN also has scrutinized the ecumenical nature of The Alpha Course. In spite of its errors, can God still use Alpha to save a person? Of course, after all, our God is sovereign! “But the fact that some people are saved despite being exposed to false teaching does not make that false teaching acceptable.”[28] When all of the information is taken into consideration, the Christian must test against Scripture what is being taught by Alpha, as well as what is contained within the resources it recommends. It is, after all, only the Word of God that will guide one into Truth, not the whims of men or the emotional rush of a so-called “outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17, NASB)

FOOTNOTES

  1. Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence, (Paulist Press: 1995), 75. Quoted in Bob DeWaay, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Critical Issues Commentary, no. 83, 2004.
  2. Bob DeWaay, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Critical Issues Commentary, no. 83, 2004.
  3. Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light, (Charisma Books: 1972), 3. Quoted in Bob DeWaay, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Critical Issues Commentary, no. 83, 2004.
  4. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Harper & Row Publishers: 1973), 53.
  5. http://www.inwardoutward.org/source/through-defeat-victory, accessed 29 November 2012.
  6. Bob DeWaay, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Critical Issues Commentary, no. 83, 2004.
  7. Bob DeWaay, “Contemporary Christian Divination,” Critical Issues Commentary, no. 83, 2004.
  8. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Harper & Row Publishers: 1973), 289.
  9. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Harper & Row Publishers: 1973), 65.
  10. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Harper & Row Publishers: 1973), 362.
  11. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Harper & Row Publishers: 1973), 88.
  12. http://healingandrevival.com/BioJWimber.htm, accessed 28 November 2012.
  13. http://healingandrevival.com/BioJWimber.htm, accessed 28 November 2012.
  14. http://healingandrevival.com/BioJWimber.htm, accessed 28 November 2012.
  15. http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  16. http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  17. http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  18. John MacArthur, “The Third Wave,” preached 25 August 1991.
  19. Gary Gilley, “The Vineyard Movement—Part 2,” Think On These Things vol. 2, 1995.
  20. http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  21. http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  22. http://www.offthemap.com/idealab/articles/idl0405-1-toddpres.html, accessed 28 November 2012.
  23. http://www.htb.org.uk/about-htb/history, accessed 28 November 2012.
  24. http://www.htb.org.uk/bible-in-one-year/more-trials-and-temptation, accessed 28 November 2012.
  25. http://www.htb.org.uk/bible-in-one-year/holy-spirit-part-1, accessed 28 November 2012.
  26. Richard Ostling, “Laughing for the Lord,” Time Magazine, 15 August 1994.
  27. Nicky Gumbel, How to Run The Alpha Course, (Alpha International: 2004), 173.
  28. http://blog.betterthansacrifice.org/2010/07/15/a-closer-look-at-the-alpha-course-and-whether-it-is-permissible-to-judge-what-other-christians-teach/, accessed 28 November 2012.

Further reading