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In September 2010, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ignited a blogging and media firestorm by arguing that yoga and Christianity are incompatible. "The embrace of yoga," he wrote, "is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church." Mohler's critique went over as well as one might have expected among those who practice yoga either for health or spiritual growth. He reportedly received hundreds of responses, most of them negative.

The controversy regarding yoga wasn't new. In some ways, it rehashed an earlier kerfuffle surrounding emerging church leader Doug Pagitt, who was invited to debate John MacArthur on CNN in 2007. Once again, the battle lines were clear: MacArthur dismissed yoga as a degraded form of spirituality incompatible with the Christian life, while Pagitt embraced it as a way of integrating the body into a relationship with God.

Whatever we make of yoga's relationship to Christianity, it functions as a cultural bellwether within evangelicalism and its offspring. Pagitt and those who affirm yoga do so out of a genuine attempt to cultivate a holistic faith, one that resists a dualistic division of body and spirit. This movement might be understood as an extension of Eric Liddell's famous suggestion in Chariots of Fire: "I believe that God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure." If running, why not yoga? While nearly all evangelicals want to affirm Liddell's sentiment, there is obvious disagreement over precisely which activities are commensurate with it and which are not.

Evangelicals clearly need some boundaries. Yoga (if only for health benefits) has been normalized for ...

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August 2011

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