John MacArthur has become a regular on TV representing evangelical Christianity, and by the grace of God he always brings a clear proclamation of truth. I’m constantly surprised by the depth of his considerations and directness of his speech.
Pulpit Magazine posted the transcript from the recent CNN live discussion concerning Christianity and Yoga, also with Doug Pagitt, a pastor and recognized leader in the emerging church movement.
It will definitely be worth your time to read below. Alternatively, the video is available here.
Mike Galanos (host): [directed to Erica Hill] Let me ask you that question? When you do yoga do you feel the spirituality? Would it compromise a faith with you?
Erica Hill (host): No to me it’s very, to me it’s relaxing. It relaxes me. Now to some people maybe that would be relaxation in the form of spirituality. But to me, it’s sort of “oh,” it’s clearing my head, it’s giving me a break.
Mike Galanos (host): Okay. And that, you hear a lot of that, you read a lot of that on the internet. Me personally, I haven’t done it. I work out, maybe I’m doing a few curls and I’m getting out of the gym, so I come at this with a purely inquisitive mind. What do we have here? Alright let’s find out.
Erica mentioned it’s big — seventeen million of you out there practice yoga. But again, Erica mentioned it, some Christians, one in particular says a Christian should not do yoga. He’s Pastor John MacArthur; he is pastor of Grace Community Church also host of the radio show Grace to You. He joins us now. Bottom line, basically you can’t get the physical benefits without incorporating the spiritual roots of yoga. We’ll talk with John MacArthur in just a minute.
Also joining us, a pastor who fully disagrees and says “Hey, doing yoga is okay,” Doug Pagitt. His church in Minneapolis actually offers a class in yoga.
But let’s start with you, John MacArthur. Alright, let’s say I do decide to try yoga, head to the local gym, give it a shot. What am I opening myself up to spiritually that could go against my Christian faith?
John MacArthur: Well that would depend on how the yoga is conducted. If it’s just purely exercise, and you’re a strong Christian, it probably wouldn’t have any impact on your faith. But in the big picture, why would Christians want to borrow an expression from a false religion, from pantheism (god is everything, you’re god, everything is god), when we believe there’s only one true God (the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ). Why would we need to import that? If you want to exercise, exercise. But why borrow a term that has been part of a false religion for centuries?
Mike Galanos (host): Doug Pagitt, let’s get you in on this. And as we do, I want to read the definition from Webster’s on “yoga.” It says it’s “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.” Kind of tough one to cipher but, on a spiritual front for a Christian, that does not sound like Christ-centered faith to me. On the surface of that definition, what’s going on here? Help us out.
Doug Pagitt: Well, for people who perform yoga, what they’re normally trying to do is to find a whole and complete and healed life. So when people participate in yoga, most of them aren’t on some kind of a yoga agenda. What they’re trying to do is use whatever practices they can find that would help them have a whole and complete life. And for a Christian, that’s certainly what we’re after. The Jesus agenda is a whole life, is a complete life, is a healed life. So when people use it to relieve stress, to be healthy in their relationships, to feel good in their body, that’s a really good thing.
In fact, there’s a great little verse in the New Testament where it says, “Whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is noble, whatever is praiseworthy, think upon such things.” And for so many of us, yoga has been one of those ‘whatevers’ that’s such a positive thing in our life.
Mike Galanos (host): So you say, Jesus is alright with yoga?
Doug Pagitt: Yeah, are you asking if I think Jesus was alright with yoga?
Mike Galanos (host): Yeah.
Doug Pagitt: Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how to answer a question like that. My assumption is that Christianity and yoga are not in competition with one another and are not enemies of one another. So to suggest that I could speak clearly for everything that Jesus would have been okay with – if Jesus was familiar with yoga when he was alive, and yoga has certainly around from before the time of Jesus, I don’t think Jesus ever spoke out against yoga and said, don’t perform yoga. But that kind of question that you’re going to ask somebody – “If Jesus was okay with it, then I wouldn’t do it” – that’s the kind of thing that says, would Jesus be okay with pastors wearing suits? Would Jesus be okay with having Christmas trees? These are the kinds of questions that just don’t move forward.
Mike Galanos (host): Let’s get back to the yoga — Doug, let’s get back to yoga real quick – as you do the postures, and this again, again I have not done yoga, but you do the postures, and they’re, one of the concerns is that it’s an offering to some of the millions of Hindu gods. Is there a part of you in the spirit that’s tweaked at all by this? Are you bothered at all. You practice yoga yourself. How do you go through with it?
Doug Pagitt: Hey, I have to confess that I’m not very good at it? Yoga, it’s really hard to hold these postures, to hold these positions. And I’ll tell you that from my own experience, and the many, many people that I know who participate in yoga, none of them have ever found themselves to be opened up to something negative or something demonic or something evil. In fact, many of us find the high benefit that comes from body mind connection, and from knowing that we are pushing, that we are stretching, that we are sending our body into an exercise. And that exercise is not wholly disconnected from our will or from our mind or from our spirit; it’s a complete practice. And I’ve never known anybody who has had anything detrimental come into their spirit because of their practice of yoga.
Mike Galanos (host): John MacArthur, real quick, want to get you in on this as well, is all yoga bad yoga for the Christian?
John MacArthur: Well, let me just respond to what I’ve been hearing. That doesn’t sound anything like Christianity. If you want a whole life, if you want your life to be what it should be, you don’t put yourself in some weird physical position, empty your mind, center on yourself and try to relieve your stress. You go to the word of God, to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you embrace in faith the sacrifice of Christ in his death and resurrection as your savior and redeemer. God comes, regenerates you, transforms your life, makes you a new creation, and you’re saved and you’re on your way to heaven, and you can live a life of peace and joy. That’s the promise of the gospel. There is no contribution made to that by any physical position or any kind of meditation.
The idea of Christianity is to fill your mind with biblical truth and focus on the God who is above you. That’s Christian worship. The idea of yoga is to fill your mind with nothing except to focus on yourself and try to find the god that is inside of you. From a Christian viewpoint, that’s a false religion. Exercise is a different issue.
Mike Galanos (host): Gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave it there. Pastor Doug Pagitt and John MacArthur we appreciate your time, both of you. Thank you very much.