A few months ago, Al Mohler set off a firestorm when he pronounced yoga to be incompatible with Christian faith. The comments came in a review the Southern Baptist leader wrote about Stephanie Syman's book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. Mohler said:
Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God – an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation – not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.
To his surprise, Mohler received a significant backlash from Christians who use yoga as part of their exercise routine as well as those who believe the practice can mesh with Christian forms of reflection and meditation. But Mohler would have none of it. He wrote, "Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions." In other words, those who merely use yoga as a form of stretching and muscle strengthening are mistaken. He continued:
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. Should any Christian willingly risk that?
Not to be ignored amid a cultural controversy, Mark Driscoll added his $.02 into the discussion. In this video the pugnacious pastor calls yoga "absolute paganism" and says it opens the door to demonism. But he adds this caveat: "Is it possible for a Christian to do stretching and read scripture and pray and do so in a way that is exercise that is biblical? Yes, it is possible. But if you just sign up for a little yoga class you're signing up for a little demon class." (BTW, Driscoll also warns against watching Avatar…the "most demonic movie ever.")
Of course not everyone agrees with Mohler and Driscoll. David Sapp, senior pastor at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta says the form of yoga taught at his church has "sort of been de-religionalized."
"What we do is yoga as stretching, exercise and relaxation technique," he said. "We don't do yoga as Buddhist philosophy." Sapp also believes that when yoga stretches and breathing techniques are combined with Scripture meditation, it can be used as a way of communing with God."I believe that God can come to us in all experiences in life," Sapp said. "God has lots of ways of revealing himself to people, and if he chose to do it through yoga, he could sure do that."
- Tablet and PDF editions of every issue
- Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net