John Mark Reynolds on the “Yoga Wars”
Over at The Scriptorium, John Mark Reynolds of Biola University writes a response to the “Yoga Wars” (our own Rich also responded last week):
Recently, Mohler wrote a courageous post condemning the importation of Yoga into the church. If a blog post was to be judged by its enemies, then Mohler is on the side of the angels. Some people who care nothing for the Bible, doctrine, or even Christian tradition have been livid. They are angry because they measure the worth of an idea only by whether it immediately helps them.
Yoga has done them some good, so it must be all good. This is fallacious, however. A system may be deeply evil, but still make trains run on time or improve education for serfs. Many of Mohler’s critics are wrong, and he is right to warn us: historic Yoga, as practiced for centuries, cannot be brought in totality into a Christian life.
But this does not mean that many insights of Yoga and all that is good in it, and there is some good, cannot be appropriated by the Church.
Mohler lacks imagination in this regard. The man who imagined that Southern could be returned to traditional Christianity should find faithful men and women who can appropriate what is good, true, and beautiful in Yoga and turn it to Christ. It was Christ who gave men of old the insight to do good through Yoga and devils that corrupted that insight into a false religion.
Can Southern purge the evil and bring out the good in Yoga? It is exactly what Christians did with the very notion of the academy when we created the modern university out of what was best of the philosophical academies.
Reynolds here advocates what Augustine, in De Doctrina Christiana, referred to as “stealing the gold out of Egypt.” Augustine, responding to the question of how Christians should use the writings of pagan philosophers, wrote:
Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves, were not making a good use of; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also,–that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life,–we must take and turn to a Christian use.
The Augustinian/Reynoldsian approach seems to me good and healthy and as anti-Gnostic as can be.
I agree with what Reynolds is saying here.
I had a religion professor in college who used to say, “Religions don’t stick around for thousands and thousands of years unless there’s at least some truth in them.” I think history bears this out pretty well…
Why is it that cultures on different continents who have had absolutely no contact with one another end up worshiping similar gods? Every pagan religion that I’ve ever heard of has a sun god, a river god, a fertility god, etc. I think this is what the apostle Paul writes about in Romans when he says that God revealed himself to humanity through the natural world long before Christ entered it. Yet these people worshiped the created instead of the Creator.
Or, as C.S. Lewis puts it in his Space Trilogy, the ancient pagan gods were worshiped because people got just a glimpse of the Divine through nature, but were unable or unwilling to look beyond those things themselves to worship the One who created them.
To get back on topic, yoga and Hinduism are pretty intricately linked. And Hinduism is far older than Christianity, and (depending on who you believe) even older than Judaism. As a Christian, my belief is that God revealed himself and his plan to humanity most fully and completely through the person of Jesus. But I can also say, without compromising my Christianity, that there are some deep spiritual truths in Hinduism, and Buddhism (an offshoot of Hinduism), and Taoism, and Judaism, and Islam, even.
To recognize those spiritual truths in other faiths doesn’t mean that I’m giving away anything, or becoming pluralistic. I simply recognize that God has the power to reveal himself to humanity any way that he wants, and I’m open to the possibility that he gave the people of the Indus River valley some revelation of himself and the spiritual world at some point in history.
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