Yoga: A biblical response (Addendum)

So this is old news, but I’ve not had as much free time lately due to the constraints of having a real life job. You may remember that, several weeks ago, Al Mohler wrote an article condemning the practice of yoga by Christians. Like many others, I tried to wrestle with what Mohler was saying; you can read parts 1 2 3 & 4 of my response. Then, a week ago (which is like fifty thousand years in Internet time), Mohler issued  a clarifying statement which I find helpful.

I have heard from a myriad of Christians who insist that their practice of yoga involves absolutely no meditation, no spiritual direction, no inward concentration, and no thought element. Well, if so, you are simply not practicing yoga. You may be twisting yourselves into pretzels or grasshoppers, but if there is no meditation or direction of consciousness, you are not practicing yoga, you are simply performing a physical exercise. Don’t call it yoga.

You know, I think we agree here after all. I’d love it if we could stop calling it yoga when it’s performed for the sole purpose of improving one’s physical strength, stamina, and flexibility.

John Mark Reynolds writes a response in which he is more open to further uses of yoga. I think I like the general idea behind what he says (essentially that “what is good, true, and beautiful about Yoga” can be reclaimed for Christianity), but it’s lacking in specifics, which troubles me. I don’t believe it’s fair to counter Mohler with a blanket statement, without specific examples, and then claim that it is Mohler who “lacks imagination.” I’m not saying that Reynolds is wrong here, just that I think he needs to load his gun before firing it.

I should also add that all the angry feedback Mohler has received on this issue is a sad comment on the failure of Christians in the West at developing a biblical mindset. Mohler’s comments should be considered carefully, not casually dismissed just because you happen to like yoga.

So anyway, tomorrow or Monday I will be back to regular blogging as we continue our journey through Mark.

Yoga: a biblical response (Part 1 of 4)

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a man whose biblical wisdom I respect. So it attracted my attention today when he wrote an analysis of yoga with this conclusion:

When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. […] Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality.

Now, the reason that Mohler’s article caught my attention is because I’m about a month into the popular P90X workout program. Of the twelve workout DVDs, one of them is titled “Yoga X”, which trainer Tony Horton advocates because “it gives you strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, plus calmness of mind.” If Mohler’s conclusions are sound, I could not continue to do this workout. I’m okay with that; in fact, I was suspicious of it when I started P90X because of yoga’s origins in Eastern religions that would lead me away from Jesus Christ and a Christian worldview.

But even though I share Mohler’s concern about yoga, I can’t agree with his conclusions. The main weakness in Mohler’s approach to yoga is that he doesn’t turn to the Bible to see how God says we should respond to practices that may be “borrowed” from other religions. Like Zach Nielsen and others whom I see responding to Mohler’s article, I believe that a Christian should approach yoga with more nuance than “don’t do it.”

So here’s the (tentative!) plan: tomorrow we’ll take a look at 1 Corinthians 8–10, in which Paul talks the church in Corinth through a similar controversy. The next day, we’ll see how the principles we learned from Paul’s letter are significant to a Christian’s approach to yoga. Finally, I’ll end with an example—how I plan to respond to this teaching in my own life situation.

I’d love to read your comments on this series if you have insights into the Eastern and Western approaches to yoga or if you have thoughts on how the Bible addresses this important issue. And if you want to insult me for my yoga/yogurt pun, that’s fair too.