Monday, August 17, 2009

Bear Grylls Did Alpha… So How’s that Supposed to Make Me Want To?

While I am a big fan of the Alpha Course (Northshore Vineyard is gearing up to run the course in Covington in October) and have certainly seen how it has been a powerful tool for introducing people to Jesus I am a bit puzzled by the newest Alpha promotional video released by Alpha USA—“Bear Grylls Did Alpha”.

The obvious idea behind this marketing campaign is to appeal to public interest in celebrity to make people want to take the Alpha Course. This is quite problematic to me though in light of the evidence that emerged back in 2007 of how many segments of the show Man vs. Wild were not as authentic as the audience was led to believe. In fact if you type in the name “Bear Grylls” on the first and most played clips which will come up are either about how fake certain aspects of Grylls’ Man vs. Wild show were or of Grylls trying to defend himself against accusations of being a phony, though not very convincingly, in an interview with Dave Letterman. Grylls has what might commonly be referred to as a credibility problem. People don’t trust him. So if people don’t trust him in his regular gig (his field of expertise) then why would they trust him with the weightier issues of faith?

While I am happy that Grylls has gone through the Alpha Course is now a Christ-follower, I can’t see how using his life as a testimony for those seeking answers to faith is going to yield very good results with those outside the faith. It may be exciting for a Christian to know that a celebrity is now a Christian but I don’t think that any of my friends who are not Christians would be encouraged to investigate faith further because a celebrity who is very much linked to faking a whole lot of his show is now a person of faith.

If you’re going to get a testimony from a Christian who is a celebrity why not try someone like Mel Gibson?… oh wait there’s a credibility issue there too… Wait, there's Heidi and Spencer Pratt who claim to be Christians… oh yeah there's the same problem there too… hmmm surely there’s some celebrity out there who is a Christ-follower who still has credibility. Or maybe celebrity and credibility are just not as synonymous as we would like to think. Or maybe, as the Apostle Paul made the case in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, if we are looking to celebrities, to the wealthy and the powerful for examples of faith then perhaps we are looking in the wrong place and should not be too discouraged when examples are few and far between. Perhaps the best examples of changed lives from the Alpha Course are just from regular everyday folks.


Anonymous said...

Oh Crispin, I SOOO agree. I'm to the point that I feel like the closet thing to a celebrity having credibility when it comes to being Christian are those who simply live it out but don't talk about it (of which there are a few, a very few). Because the more they tend to talk about it, the more their lives tend to prove it's all about talk and less about heart. Quite frankly the best "ad" for ALpha or Christianity in generall should be yourself (in the general "you" sense) and the way you live your life as a child, parent, spouse, employee, neighbor, citizen.

Laura Thompson

Kim Gentes said...


I follow the logic you have, and actually didn't even know about the Grylls association with Alpha until i saw your posting (ya, people read this stuff!). I can accept the point you make about celebrity promotion not being the end-all- be-all of advertising, but I don't accept agree on the "credibility" issue. Not because I know anything about that particular situation, but because I know about people. There is the obvious truth that regular everyday people make more relatable examples for such testimonies, but what makes those people "everyday"? It is not that their normalcy is based in perfection or credibility. In fact, their normalcy is centered in their failures. Their humanness, as it were, is the broken, lost, and marred nature of them and us. I find it duplicitous when we take that human failing and remove it from the equation when talking about a "personality" simply because they are more public. Again, I am not defending Grylls or this particular situation, more just asking if we are looking for celebrity to meet our expectations beyond what we expect from one another. What do we expect from lost, hurting people who turn to Jesus in the end? We expect them to be failures, just like us. We could "gussy" it up and claim that now that we are good Christians, all of us attain to some superior standard in which we no longer sin, no longer have credibility issues. But is that true? So anyways, my thinking here is meant to just provide something of a buffer to the standard thing that crops up that amounts to this-- "we can't listen to celebrities about Jesus, unless they are perfect". We run the risk of being hypocritical if we tell a celebrity to sit down and shut up, but encourage each of the "little people" to tell their story of redemption especially when we all know the sins, struggles and credibility of each one is something that "common to man".

Just my thoughts. Don't mean to offend. Hope that makes some sense.

Your friend,
Kim Gentes

Crispin Schroeder said...


I don't mean to say that Bear Grylls as a normal person has a credibility issue or that I doubt his sincerity. I am more looking at this from the issue of how it will be perceived by those who are outside of the faith who, by their very place in life, make up the very target audience that Alpha is shooting for. This is where marketing faith gets tricky. My main point here is that the very ones we are trying to reach will not be reached by this kind of add and may be further put off by it regardless of however sincere Bear Grylls' walk with Christ is (and I do not doubt that it is). I do not say any of this to look down on him or to say that anyone else is better than him but just to note that it seems like a bad idea to use this as a marketing tool to get folks interested in Christianity when already so much of the church in modern America has a credibility problem (whether perceived or real).

Donny Cannoy said...

Hey Crispin -

I'm a huge fan of Alpha (have run it a few times myself at our church, and as a church have done it probably around 10 times). As far as I know, every course someone has always received Christ and many more experience life transformation through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

One thing that I have learned through experience, and at the Alpha Conference, is that personal relationship with others is the key to reaching people through Alpha. In fact, we were strongly encouraged not to invite people that we didn't first have relationship with.

Obviously, nobody's gonna come to Alpha if they don't know about it, but celebrity marketing almost feels contradictory to the principles I've learned.

As far as what Kim mentions - I agree that we are all broken and in desperate need of God's saving grace, but I've always believed that the more public you are, the greater need that there is for living an examined life. I wonder what effect it would have if Christians in the public eye were more transparent and genuine?

Honestly thinking out loud here more than making informed statements...


Pi Man said...

Thanks for not taking the easy road, Bro. You tackle mainstream issues. Good stuff as always.

Ken said...

Just found this blog post. Interesting points you bring up. I can definitely see how Bear might have a credibility problem, however, I would also point out two major achievements that proves he is the real deal.

1.) One of the youngest to climb Mount Everest.

2.) Member of the UK's SAS.

Anybody who understands what those two achievements are knows that they are not easily faked and near impossible to attain by most.

Unfortunately, with televsion, the more controversy, the higher the ratings.

However, anyone who doubts Bear's credibility would best be served to investigate his past achievements to see he is indeed the real deal.

Ken said...

Bear Grylls is not 'just' a celebrity who filmed the advert. He's a big supporter of Alpha and recently said: "I have seen the course help change and heal so many people’s lives. It leads people to Jesus in a personal unreligious way."
The reason Bear's in the advert, is because he's a member of HTB church, where Alpha was 'born'. Also, his vicar Nicky Gumbel (who developed the course), is one of his good friends. Bear just wanted to support his church and help his friends by doing this Alpha promo. And of course because of what he said, namely that it leads people to Jesus.

Btw, makes me remember an interview with Bear and Nicky Gumbel at HTB, where Gumbel asked Bear why he did the advert and what Alpha means to him. Bear's answer made me laugh: "Well... we were playing squash, and I said: 'If you win this next game, I'll do the advert for you!' And I've never seen Nicky raise his game of squash to that level...! :-) No, I did it because I've seen Alpha touch so many people's lives over the years and I've seen it encourage people find a simple faith. And I wanted to encourage that, because I believe in what it brings to people."

Doesn't sound too bad to me!

Ken said...

Btw I'm not the same Ken as above!