Rev. Nicky Gumbel,
you know, January 2004 is exactly ten years since the ‘Toronto Experience’
(TE) appeared in Toronto. Despite
this elapsed time, some crucial questions on the subject still remain.
Because your church, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), was at the forefront of
promoting the TE in Britain, we have sent this letter in the hope that you will
be able to assist the many people who received the TE but who do not fully grasp
what they were encouraged to involve themselves in.
(Your thoughts would also be of help should the TE recur.)
you yourself are very busy, but would it be possible for someone on HTB’s
leadership team to provide replies to our queries?
We will gladly place the full response onto our website (www.bayith.org)
as soon as we receive it. Many
thanks in anticipation.
1 – Hindered by prayer?
You rightly say that “The New Testament exhorts us to pray ‘always’ (1
Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18)”
and, as you will be aware, other passages which teach us to pray without ceasing
include Luke 18:1 and Luke 21:36. In
light of these verses, can you explain why John Arnott – the head of the
church that dispensed ‘Toronto’ – said the following words at HTB in
1995: “Another thing that hinders [the TE] is, people pray all
the time… Our experience is, that will hinder substantially your
ability to receive… Pray on the way out; you can pray later”?
Do we not distance God from the proceedings when we stop praying?
2 – TE understandable?
Could you help us to appreciate why an HTB book quotes John Arnott as
saying “we read clearly that the natural mind does not
understand the things of the Spirit of God”
– when the Bible verse he is quoting (1 Cor. 2:14) actually refers to “the
natural man”? Would you
concede that this verse, especially when read in context, is demonstrably a
reference to the natural (i.e. unsaved) man, as opposed to the spiritual
(i.e. reborn) man? Would you
not further grant that, just two verses later, we are told Christians are given
“the mind of Christ” (see also Rom. 12:2; Isa. 1:18a etc)?
Given this, and the fact that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor.
14:33), would you agree that believers are supposed to be able to understand
God’s dealings with mankind? If,
as John Arnott also says in the same HTB book (and which is still on sale at
HTB’s bookshop), the Toronto Experience “doesn’t need to make sense” as
long as it “feels good”
how can we ever know whether something is of God or not?
For example, hypnotherapy may feel good, but surely that does not
make it of God
(Finally, what does all this indicate to you about John Arnott, and hence
the church he leads?)
– Was ‘it’ transferable or not?
HTB’s head man, Sandy Millar, appears to have denied that the ‘Toronto Blessing’
was transferable from person to person
yet surely HTB’s actual experience
along with that of other Fellowships, was that the TE could be
transferred thus? Sandy himself
elsewhere admits that Toronto had human “origins”
Indeed, certain guidelines which HTB helped to draw up refer to people
acting as “channels of this blessing”
Do not these facts imply that the TE was transferred from those
origins, and through those channels?
Numerous other TE proponents taught that it was transferable
or called it “contagious”
How do you reconcile these things? And
can you possibly explain how a mortal man can transfer the Holy Spirit to
another – especially when, in your own words, “the Holy Spirit is … a Person”
– Who were the origins?
As we have seen, HTB speaks of the human “origins” of the TE, yet HTB also
claims that believers don’t need to know about these people who introduced the
‘Toronto Blessing’ to the world
Would you concede that the “origins” must be of some
significance? Who do you consider
to be the TE’s human originators?
– Origins okay or not?
Would you not agree that the Bible says we are to test “all things:
[and to] hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21)?
Would you accept that two key originators of the TE were Kenneth Hagin
Senior and E.W. Kenyon
One problem for those of us who were encouraged to partake of the TE was
that some supporters of this outpouring were very much in favour of Hagin
and Kenyon (e.g. William deArteaga)
whereas other supporters of the TE were opposed to them (e.g. Mike Fearon).
Fearon says that “Kenyon and Hagin’s work stems … nakedly from the occult”
and that “Their theology is basically deist … This is the very basis of witchcraft”.
What is HTB’s view of them?
Is HTB really ‘holding fast’ to that which is good in this
matter? And do you acknowledge that
the Pensacola ‘anointing’ has been shown to have been transferred
there from Toronto
(and via HTB)?
6 – Snap judgments?
HTB criticized some of Toronto’s detractors for making “almost snap
judgments” about it
but would you not accept that HTB too made some fairly “snap” judgments
regarding it? Do you remember that,
within just hours of first hearing about the TE, you encouraged Sandy to invite
Eleanor Mumford to dispense ‘it’ among the congregation of HTB
Do you recall that he quickly agreed and promptly invited her to minister
at HTB on the very next Sunday morning?
Do you further recall that he permitted her to repeat these activities at
HTB’s evening service that same day? Only
a short time afterwards, Sandy was writing that “We have begun to see an
astonishing outpouring of the Spirit of God”
In his substantial letter, Sandy makes no mention that ‘it’ needs to
be tested, suggesting he has already made a final judgment that it must be of
God. Is not this at least a little
– Quality over speed?
Surely the main issue is not how rapidly a judgment appears to be made,
but the quality of the evidence offered in support of that judgment?
Is it not the case that many of the TE’s early detractors had a fine
knowledge of Scripture – and of Church history – and had been investigating
relevant individuals (i.e. those who ended up being the origins of the TE) for
several years before ‘it’ broke out in Toronto? Therefore, might not such detractors have been able to make
well-informed decisions quite quickly once ‘Toronto’ itself arrived?
– Judging God?
During a statement defending ‘Toronto’, HTB said “we shall continue to judge
this move of God’s Spirit along recognized New Testament principles”
Presumably you would grant that this wording proves HTB had decided
‘it’ was a move of God’s Spirit?
If so, what was the point of “judging” something that HTB had already
determined was of God? How can anyone judge a work that they are convinced is from God?
– Judging the fruit?
When people tried to test ‘Toronto’ by comparing the lifestyles and
doctrines of its originators with the standards and judgments given in the
Bible, you complained that these researchers were tracing the “roots
for it, but Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you will know them’. I think
we should look at the fruit [of the TE] … Actually we must stop judging
Would you not agree that, when read in its context (see Matt. 7:15-23),
the passage you cite regarding fruit is clearly about people, not an
event? After all, the quote you
give is “By their fruits you will know them”.
Since this plainly refers to people rather than to an episode, would you
agree that it is thus not directly applicable to the TE itself?
Further, would you accept that it would be wise to obey God’s word and
to apply the test you cite to the people who originated the TE? Finally, if (as you suggest, despite a variety of Bible
passages to the contrary such as 1 Cor. 5:11-13,
John 7:24, and the whole of 1 John) Christians are not allowed to make judgments
about others, then how can we ‘know them by their fruits’?
Wouldn’t that require us to make judgments?
– Hurtful delay?
Is it not the case that HTB knew there was a chance the TE manifestations were
from the enemy? (Even some of the
TE’s earliest and strongest proponents admitted there appeared to be a demonic
In September 1994 John Wimber himself said “we can’t rule out the
possibility of demonic activity”
Indeed, back in 1990, Vineyard’s Jack Deere “stressed
the possibility” of experiences coming from the enemy
HTB has said “We must … judge these events by their fruit”
Can you explain to us how this is supposed to work?
If someone is forced to wait months, or even years, to see the fruit
before deciding if an episode was of God or not, were you planning (in the event
that the TE was found to be from the wrong spiritual source) to contact
every person who had ever been given the ‘Blessing’ via HTB and offer your
heartfelt apologies and deliverance ministry?
Did HTB collect the names and addresses of all these people so that they
could be followed up? (And what
about those folks who accepted the TE at HTB’s urging but who happened to receive
it elsewhere?) Surely you must
judge such an event by its roots so that you don’t have to test it out
on human guinea pigs?
– Good shepherd?
HTB has stated that “Some of the manifestations … may be of the devil”
But which ones does HTB believe may have been of the devil?
During your early Bible studies on the subject, did you not notice that all
the TE manifestations are listed in Scripture as being associated with apostasy?
See, for instance, Isaiah 29:9-10,13-14; 51:21-23; 56:9-11; 59:10-15;
& 63:6. (There are other
examples in Isaiah alone, and many further ones in other books
Why would God be so confusing as to give a blessing which shared the very
same signs as His judgment? Some
of HTB’s own colleagues implied that the TE could be a “demonic counterfeit”
Based on all this, the TE was potentially going to hurt recipients.
Is it being a good shepherd to expose sheep to something before it has
been properly tested?
– Safe judgment?
HTB has written that “just as you wouldn’t feel safe in founding a
biblical doctrine only on one verse, so it is equally unsafe to express
very settled views about manifestations based on only one visit to the church”
Firstly, these two concepts do not seem comparable to us, so could you
tell us what reasons HTB has for saying they are akin?
Surely a single experience can often be sufficient to make a right
judgment (e.g. you don’t need to drink bleach more than once to know it is bad
for you)? Might not one visit to a church elicit many dozens of
evidences for a particular Biblical conclusion? Did not Ezekiel need only one visit to the Temple court to
discern what was happening there (Ezek. 8:7-12)? Secondly, does HTB itself not base its view of
what the TE was on a single verse (i.e. Acts 3:19)
Would you not further accept that even this verse is inappropriate, since
it declares that refreshing follows repentance, which is not true of the
TE? Would you concede that many of
HTB’s other doctrines surrounding the TE are also founded on only one verse
each – and invariably ambiguous ones at that?
(See our book Alpha – the Unofficial Guide: Overview for more
Besides, you yourself must surely have expressed “very settled views”
about the TE after only one visit with Eleanor Mumford, in order to
convince Sandy to accept her new ministry?
13 – A ‘thing’?
Three years after the TE hit, you called it a “move”
Seven years after its arrival, you called Toronto a “thing”
Could you be more specific? Proponents
of the TE have now had ten years to work out what was going on.
They also enjoy access to the lessons from hundreds of years of Church
history, plus hundreds of years worth of Bible commentary, in order to help them
do so, but would you agree that they remain very confused – and very confusing
– about it?
– Our dryness God’s problem?
You helpfully teach that “If we stay close to Jesus Christ through his word,
we will not dry up or lose our spiritual vitality”
yet many of the church leaders who traveled around the world to get
‘Toronto’ admit that they did so because they felt spiritually dry
Can you suggest why they did not simply deal with their ‘dryness’ by
staying “close to Jesus Christ through his word” instead of trekking off to
another geographic location? Would
you agree that they were trying to remove their ‘dryness’ in man’s
way rather than God’s way – and that, since they were actually opposing
God in this, it is unlikely that what they received was a blessing from
– A refreshing?
HTB often claims that the TE was a ‘refreshing of the church’.
But if this is so, why did it also get poured out on the unsaved
And would you honestly say that the church has come out of it
‘refreshed’ (beyond the counterfeit refreshment that would have taken place
if, instead, we had all taken a course in hypnotherapy)?
If Christians are refreshed and revitalized through God’s Word,
why did we need the TE? And how
would you answer one of your own close associates regarding the TE who said
“If these are meant to be times of refreshment, how come many of the leaders I
have spoken to are already exhausted? Something must be wrong”
– Any precedent?
HTB regularly cites Charles Finney and his ministry as a favourite precedent for
Are you not aware that, towards the end of his life, Finney said of his
followers, “the great body of them are a disgrace”
Can you name any event in the Bible (or even any moment in the
history of the true Church) which possessed the same attributes as the TE did?
In other words, do you know of a single precedent for a genuine
outpouring which: (a) was hindered by prayer, (b) was transferable, (c)
increased when the teaching decreased, (d) produced manifestations which
are all associated with hypnotism and apostasy
(e) was not a revival, (f) was Spirit-centred rather than Christ-centred,
and (g) was rooted in doctrines and people who were plainly occultic?
(We come from a Pentecostal background, yet we know of none.)
– Not hypnotism?
You have said “I’m not hypnotizing anybody … I don’t know anything
But isn’t that a somewhat naïve position?
We hope this doesn’t sound ungracious, but does a person have to study
electrical engineering before they can accidentally electrocute themselves?
Indeed, would it not be sensible to obtain some knowledge in order
to help ensure this doesn’t happen? Would
you acknowledge that a number of people have pointed out that the manifestations
and practices associated with the TE are effectively identical to
Would not the wise response be to learn a little about hypnosis so as to
ensure that your techniques haven’t inadvertently been drawn from a corrupt
source? Do you not recall Hosea
4:6a, where God warns “My people are destroyed for lack of
To be expected?
HTB has “often” indicated that it believes the Church today is the “end-time
Would you not agree that the Bible repeatedly tells us that the
‘end-times’ before the return of the Lord will be characterized by grievous
deception and apostasy among many believers (Matt. 24:3-5,9-13; 2 Thess.
2:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Luke 21:7-8,16-17), and that it will see “lying
signs and wonders” from within the professing Church (Matt. 24:23-27; 2 Thess.
2:8-12)? You called the TE “wonderful”
and you were still describing it as a “wonderful thing” five years later
Likewise, Sandy has regularly referred to the TE as “wonderful”
or “unusually wonderful”
Is not the frequent use of this particular word quite ironic, in view of
the Lord’s sober caution to us that “Many will say to me in that
[last] day, Lord, Lord, have we not … in Thy name done many wonderful
works. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye
that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23)?
19 – Helping the hurt?
Would you not accept that some recipients of the TE were unquestionably
damaged by it
You have said, regarding ‘Toronto’, that you “don’t talk about it now”
but isn’t that letting down those people who were affected and who need to
know what happened to them? A lot
of people trusted the HTB leadership. Do
you not owe them more? If the TE
was of God, why not keep proclaiming and explaining this truth? Is your silence not a tacit admission that the fruit of the
TE, far from being true revival, has actually been greater confusion and
hypocrisy, less obedience to God’s written Word, and increased immorality in the
church (not to mention a growth in unrighteousness and pagan religions in the
– Just more intense?
Would you agree with your close associate Michael Green that the TE was merely
of what had already been taking place in your circles for a long time?
After all, Sandy has claimed it was simply a “more vivid” version of
something that had been going on for years
and you yourself have said “the only difference is that we are seeing
people having more powerful experiences”
If it was happening for years beforehand then surely it is continuing
to happen, albeit in a less “vivid” way?
If the TE is effectively still going on, can we ask why you do not
talk about it now? Is it, perhaps,
in order that people who doubt the TE will not be so suspicious of the ‘less
powerful’ version being spread around today?
– Alpha related?
If, as you imply, a ‘milder’ form of Toronto has been present at HTB since
the eighties, would it not be fair to assume that the modern Alpha Course is at
least partly a tool for bringing people into the TE?
Would you accept that numerous Alpha statements promote Toronto-type
experiences and that many official testimonies reflect this
Can you tell us what the essential differences are between the
manifestations on Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ and those from
‘Toronto’? Even if the “more intense”
experiences are not frequently seen on Alpha now, what fundamental difference
does this represent? Is it not
simply a return to the subtler version from HTB’s past?
Would you not agree that they have been shown to have identical roots
Are they not from the same spiritual source?
very much for your time. There are
quite a number of other such questions on this subject, but we wanted to send a
manageable letter to enable you to reply as soon as possible.
Please see our book
for further problems with the TE (and for our personal conclusions about them
all, as well as our own current recommendations for folks who received it).
HTB's Reply to our Second Open Letter
Received 1st December 2003
Our response is Given Immediately Below
Dear Dusty Peterson and Elizabeth McDonald
Thank you for your letter to Nicky Gumbel but I
can only think that the whole basis is misconceived. Anyone who has read the
Alpha material as presented in Nicky Gumbel's book Questions of Life or seen the
videos of the course would be mystified at the bizarre catalogue of suppositions
and suggestions which form the basis of your letter (as well as all the other
material involved - the Alpha videos, Searching Issues, Challenging Lifestyle,
Heart of Revival, A Life Worth Living).
All we can do in response is to encourage your
readers to investigate the Alpha material for themselves, by reading Nicky
Gumbel's booklet Why Jesus?, which is given to people attending Alpha suppers
and guest events and his book Questions of Life, which is the Alpha course
material in book form.
I trust they will then understand that Alpha is
an introduction to Christianity which has the support of senior church leaders
of different denominations and traditions all over the world, including
theologians like Professor J.I. Packer. Our vision is simply to present the
gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy world - and why there is cause to rejoice that
more than six million people have now done an Alpha course and many have found
faith in Jesus Christ for the first time.
on behalf of Mark Elsdon-Dew
We were tempted to allow HTB's
remarkable reply to stand on its own. It speaks for itself, and it reveals
the true spirit behind Toronto more vividly than the most eloquent response from
us ever could. However, since the reply includes a substantial advert for
the Alpha Course we feel it would be unwise to allow it to go unanswered.
We have split our thoughts into two parts:
HTB's reply serves powerfully to
confirm the very worries expressed in our open letter, because it manifests many
characteristics of the spirit behind Toronto (and behind Alpha's 'Holy Spirit
weekend'). This spirit is:
the letter, HTB simply doesn't appear to care about those folks who received the
'TE' and who are now confused about it or are not able to fellowship with those
who refused to receive it. (By extension, neither does HTB appear to care
whether Alpha's 'Holy Spirit weekend' is of God or not.) By not bothering
to take any of our points seriously, HTB has given the strong impression
that they have no interest whatsoever in the myriad souls who submitted to HTB's
insistent support for 'Toronto' but who now feel deceived about the accompanying
teachings and promises.
letter consisted almost entirely of quotes from the Bible and from HTB's own
staff - or their very close colleagues - plus reasoned deductions from these
sources. (Indeed, a book edited by Mark Elsdon-Dew was cited nine
times.) Therefore, if our open letter is "bizarre" it can only be because
the quotes we gave from the pro-TE camp were bizarre. Thanks to the spirit
behind Toronto, HTB is apparently unable to follow logical arguments.
HTB's reply certainly bears virtually no relation to the letter which spawned
Disrespectful Towards the
Bible: It is noticeable that HTB's letter exhibited no concern
about John Arnott's blatant misrepresentation of Scripture. It is also
very noticeable that HTB's reply did not feel led to cite a single verse of the
Bible (perhaps because they know that Toronto is biblically indefensible).
In contrast, our letter cited over 30 passages from God's Word. Not only
did the reply not acknowledge this, but HTB apparently did not check a single
reference we gave - else it would have seen the truth of our concerns.
HTB calls the "whole" basis of our letter "misconceived". As we have
demonstrated above, it is HTB's reply which was truly misconceived.
(Our open letter hopefully showed that HTB's basis for 'Toronto' was
misconceived too.) HTB calls our letter "bizarre" yet it is theirs
which is irrelevant and peculiar. Frankly, it is HTB's letter which will
only could HTB not bring themselves to admit that there was any possibility that
they were ever wrong about anything, but neither did their reply give the Lord
any of the glory as they boasted of Alpha's 'success'. There was a veil
of civility present, but it proved superficial at the end of the letter where
the customary closing pleasantry was completely dispensed with. the phrase
"bizarre catalogue of suppositions" does not seem to exude much grace either.
Closed to Correction:
Although apparently unable to refute a single one of the 21 points that appeared
in our open latter, HTB chose not to accept that any comment we made was
valid. We didn't require a point-by-point analysis at this stage (although
HTB did have more than two and a half weeks to reply), but, although they were
not prepared to admit that they have erred in any way regarding Toronto, HTB
seemingly could not name a single book on the subject which would deal
with our concerns. This is very telling regarding the TE, but it also
reveals the hardness at the heart of HTB. As other observers have found,
HTB is simply not open to correction.
Fearless Towards God:
While apparently fearful of facing up to the points we raised, HTB's reply
displays no obvious fear of God. The primary topic of our letter
(as was surely made clear by its title: Your Understanding of 'Toronto')
was the 'Toronto Blessing', yet this was thoroughly misrepresented in HTB's
reply. While charging us with "bizarre suppositions", not a single example
was supplied - suggesting a distinct lack the integrity that is engendered by
fearing God. Far from renouncing 'Toronto', HTB continues to stand up for
HTB's letter cannot have taken more than half an hour to write, yet it was sent
on the afternoon of the deadline day for publication - thus giving us the
minimal possible time to write a response. (We had identified the deadline
day to HTB when we sent our open letter.) Furthermore, knowing that we had
promised to include HTB's full response in Vanguard and on our website,
HTB took up most of their latter with a lengthy advert for Alpha instead of
answering our questions. Both acts seem to us to represent rather cynical
HTB's apparent fixation with numbers (both of 'converts' from Alpha, and of
denominations supporting the Course) is a very post-millennial attitude which
sweeps under the carpet most (if not all) problems in the Church because of the
erroneous belief that everything will inevitably get better and better in the
lead -up to the return of the Lord. (Quite how HTB marries its
post-millennial ideas with its admission the Toronto "splits churches" [Ronson,
op. cit.] is anyone's guess.) It is absolutely true that Alpha is
accepted by practically every denomination the world over, but, as our Lord said
in Luke 6:26, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!"
The second area over which we feel
obliged to contend is HTB's stated view of Alpha. It is breathtakingly
false to suggest that the Alpha materials are not compatible with Toronto and
with the concerns expressed in our open letter. We had already made clear
that our book Alpha - the Unofficial Guide: Overview proves this
assertion, but again HTB appears to have avoided letting the facts get in the
way of its reply.
The Alpha publications cited in
HTB's reply regularly promote Toronto-esque doctrines, practices and
personalities (although, confusingly, it lists the Alpha videos twice but omits
Gumbel's other central Alpha resource 30 Days). For example, the
current issue of Heart of Revival says: "John Arnott, [is] the pastor in
charge of the Toronto Airport church which has been at the centre of a
remarkable move of God's Spirit" [p182]. HTB must have known this, if
only because we gave this reference in our original letter! Our entire
series of Powers Behind the Alpha Course articles on our website already
reveals the very intimate relationship between Alpha and Toronto. (We will
need to write at least one further such article to mop up all our remaining
evidence.) But, as Nicky Gumbel himself has acknowledged, the very
reason for the mid-nineties explosion in the take up of Alpha was its
compatibility with Toronto.
We do not deny that people are
"finding faith" through Alpha. The question is, in what are they
finding faith? (Note HTB's choice of terminology. Are words like
"salvation" no longer in its vocabulary?) While Alpha guests are certainly
enjoying (misplaced) faith in the drug-like experiences they receive on the
Alpha weekend - as we showed in our article in Vanguard 17 -
official testimonies prove that guests are certainly not "finding faith" in the
Jesus of the Bible. (Our book establishes this.) Just as HTB has
obscured the truth about our open letter (and the true relationship between
Alpha and Toronto), so Alpha obscures the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Please see our three web articles entitled Chapter and Verse on Alpha's
Jesus for details.)
That the TE involves a blinding
spirit is amply demonstrated by HTB's letter. (Most believers seem to have
little or no problem comprehending our open letter. If any readers
received the Toronto spirit and found our letter hard to understand then we
sincerely believe they have probably not yet been fully cut off from their past
involvement in the TE. Those who are not labouring under the 'TE' have
found our letter easy to follow.)
Alpha's 'Holy Spirit weekend' was
created by the same people who promoted 'Toronto' the loudest in this country,
yet we are supposed to believe that this weekend is likely to be 'of God'.
it comes from a church which cannot defend its understanding, or handling, of
the TE. Surely only someone who was suffering from the Toronto spirit
would have problems drawing the inevitable conclusion.
D.P. & E.McD.