John Piper takes the “better safe than sorry approach” to yoga (my words not his, in his 2015 article on Desiring God). In short, because it is derived from Eastern Practices and because those practices are not rooted in the same things as the Gospel, he personally would devote his time to a different kind of exercise. For what it’s worth, I love John Piper to death. I deeply respect his opinion and I have no agenda to persuade him to take up yoga. But I also feel that the premise of his argument can lay the foundation for a lot of jackassery, so it’s worth talking about.
Full disclosure: I am a pastor. I love Jesus. And I practice yoga regularly. Not even just the Christian version with Toby Mac beats in the background. Some may be surprised to hear that I have yet to contract any evil spirits. At least, not to my knowledge.
FREEDOM seems to me a very KEY emphasis of the Gospel. The Gospel brings freedom from Law and demands dependency on the Spirit of God. Going back to Piper: he denounces what he calls the “maximalist approach to life,” which he defines as constantly trying to get away with as much as possible. I agree 1,000,000% when we’re talking about matters of objective sin (worshipping other gods, adultery, theft, dishonesty). In such cases, who are we kidding? A little bit is too much. And if yoga, or any other lifestyle choice, causes you to worship other deities, stay the HELL away from them!
But if we are afraid that a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus might accidentally slip into idol worship because their preferred exercise practice originated on a different continent, that is a different thing entirely.“‘Better safe than sorry’ is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating.”
This “BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY” approach is not as wholesome—or as safe—as it initially appears. Better safe than sorry is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating. (Remember good ole’ Joshua Harris? Don’t worry, he recanted 20 years later, so dating is once again an “approved conservative Christian practice.” Sex before marriage is not.)
Behind its wholesome exterior is FEAR. Fear that sin will overtake us. Fear that the Holy Spirit is an insufficient source of discernment. Fear that it’s really not possible to live in the world without becoming part of the world. But Jesus prayed differently in John 17.
The Christian must fear God. The Christian needs a healthy respect for sin, but the Christian also must live a FREE life and a missional life. Those two things together allow for a lot of cultural adaptation (not gospel adaptation, but cultural adaptation).
If Paul was better safe than sorry, Gentiles would not have the gospel. He would have caved to Jewish cultural expectations and it would have remained a Jewish movement until someone was willing to follow the Spirit into the wild, crazy, pagan, Gentile world.
People got drunk at parties in Jesus’ day too, but he still made wine. He joined in the festivities without becoming like his peers. He didn’t stand outside, worried that he might get a contact high, or a bad rep. He went where the people were.“Jesus didn’t stand outside of the parties of his day, worried that he might get a contact high or a bad rep. He went where the people were.”
You don’t need to stop eating Thai food because they have a Buddha statue on display. You don’t need to stop using the internet because porn exists on it. We don’t need to abandon all social media because it can get saturated with polemical vitriol. You don’t need to stop listening to secular music because the musicians are philosophically misguided.
Humans don’t contract sin by standing next to it. You will never have a mission field if you are always living the “better safe than sorry” life. Just because it can be dangerous, doesn’t mean we need to BAN it. Danger means we must be careful. We must rely on the Spirit of God. But all of life is dangerous, all things in life can steal our affections and heart. So as Jesus said, we must grow up into people who “live in the world, but not of it.”
Lots of people love yoga. So do I. It’s a perfect place to deal with my back issues. I don’t love it for its eastern spirituality. I love it for the people I meet, the relationships I build with my friends as we exercise together. When it’s quiet I pray. I do avoid chanting mantras in other languages when I don’t know what I’m saying, but that’s my choice in the matter.
Should you try yoga? It’s up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s great. Just don’t hate on me and my Jesus yogis because you read a Piper article once or heard that people can catch yoga demons.
Can Yoga be sinful? Absolutely, if you are worshipping false gods, denying Jesus, or tempted to syncretize eastern philosophy with the Gospel. As with most sin, it is more a matter of the heart.
Romans 14 tells us, “whatever you do, do it will full conviction, to honor the Lord,”
Let’s be careful to not lazily employ the “better safe than sorry” technique, because we don’t understand it, have never tried it, or somehow chose that particular cultural practice to get self-righteous about. If it were up to me, I’d employ the “Better safe than sorry” to NASCAR. But that’s just my opinion.