In a blog post dated September 20th, Al Mohler contended that yoga was incompatible with Christianity because of yoga’s Hindu, “occult” roots. He made mention that people who are not of the Christian faith find yoga to be a spiritual alternative; and that secular society has wooed Christians into this practice, which borders on “ritualized sex.”
For the numerous Christians who do engage in one form of yoga or another, however, Al Mohler is silent on an alternative. Surely, there must be some spiritual practice that can help Christians promote physical and spiritual health without tapping into the “occult.”
But Southern Baptists are not necessarily known for practicing spiritual exercises that come to us from an ancient faith, exercises such as Lectio Divina or Centering Prayer. These ancient rituals are too “Catholic” or too “ritualistic,” and so Baptists stick with the usual “safe” spiritual growth formulas: attend church, pay your tithe, and get your Sunday School badge. If you’re hip, then wear blue jeans and a collared shirt from the GAP. (And, “Catholic threat” aside, we all know that Baptists will not do anything out of ritual especially–you know, like singing from the same hymn book every week or wearing a suit to church even in the dead-heat of summer.) Anything less is an affront to Jesus in general and to the Protestant work ethic in particular.
Truth is, the lack of spiritual disciplines in Baptist life has left a vaccuum in people’s faith development. No wonder they turn to yoga, transcendental meditation, or the like. Let’s face it: We Baptists are great when it comes to building community and having a quality-cooked potluck, but we sure aren’t heavy-hitters in the area of spirituality or what some “spiritual formation” authors call the “interior disciplines.”
There is hope yet! Not all Baptists are so whatever-isn’t-Southern-Baptist-is-of-the-devil as is Dr. Mohler. Since the 1970s many Baptists have explored the deep, rich geography of spiritual formation. Southern Baptist Seminary professor, E. Glenn Hinson, was one such Baptist leader who promoted the spiritual disciplines from a church history point of view. Thousands of other Baptists have poured over books written by M. Robert Mulholland, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Marjorie Thompson, and Richard Foster.
I recently read Donald Whitney’s 1997 book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, which you know is safe because you can purchase it at Lifeway. Whitney’s writing is thorough, though over-run by his sensitivity to Baptist skepticism aimed at spirituality. He makes sure that every practice–from journaling to fasting–is backed up by dozens of Scriptures, lest you doubt whether Whitney was trying to get Catholicism and mysticism in the back door. The over-the-top apologia makes reading Whitney too cumbersome and too trite; and it didn’t really seem to make a dent into Southern Baptist life, especially when there are so many souls of those yoga-loving WMU gals to save.
The very first blog that I published on Baptist Spirituality was entitled “Baptist + Spirituality = Oxymoron.” The premise was simple: The two words rarely go together. I agree with Dr. Mohler that there are many “spiritual” practices that the secular world has sanitized. There are too many Christians engaging in these secular practices without considering biblical consequences. Yet, at the same time, I think it is the responsibility of Christian leaders to provide alternatives that speak to the needs of our time as well as borrow from the cache of spiritual disciplines that are rooted in the long, ecumenical heritage of Christianity.
So, if not yoga, then what do we do with ourselves? Watch more TV? I think not.
The day before I wrote this article, Dr. Al Mohler wrote a blog in response to the critics of his article on yoga. Since I only caught the article today, a day after I wrote my blog, I thought I’d share the link with you, fellow reader.