Hank Hanegraaff

Author and Christian Apologist

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Since Swami Vivekananda first introduced yoga to the West more than a hundred years ago, yoga has become as American as apple pie. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world. Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

As noted by New Age expert Elliot Miller, “Yoga is rapidly becoming integrated into such traditionally secular institutions as public education, health care, and the workplace. It has been widely embraced by Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, and over the past several years a Christian yoga movement has been thriving among evangelicals.” Because of its rock-star status, I’ve developed the acronym Y-O-G-A to give you a memorable overview on what this practice entails.

“Y” reminds us that the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yogah,” which means “to yoke or to unite.” Indeed, the goal of yoga is to uncouple oneself from the material world and to unite oneself with the God of Hinduism, commonly understood to be Brahman, the impersonal cosmic consciousness of the universe. Put another way, yoga is the means by which the user’s mind is merged into the universal mind.

“O” represents the Hindu mantra “Om”—a sacred Sanskrit syllable cherished by Hindu yogis as the spoken quintessence of the universe. Repeating such mantras as “Om” over and over is a principalmeans by which yoga practitioners work their way into altered states of consciousness. The objective of achieving an altered state of consciousness is always the same: to dull the critical-thinking process because the mind is seen to be the obstacle to enlightenment. As noted by the late Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, “the goal is to create a new man, one who is happily mindless.” Shockingly, what was once relegated to the kingdom of the cults is now being replicated in churches. In the ashrams of the cults there is no pretense. Despite such dangers as possession or insanity, Hindu gurus openly encourage trance states through which devotees tap into realms of the demonic and discover their “higher selves.” Whether experiencing involuntary movements or encountering illusory monsters, all is written off as progress on the road to enlightenment.

“G” is reminiscent of the gurus who developed and disseminated yoga for the express purpose of achieving oneness with the impersonal God of Hinduism. Most noteworthy among the gurus is Patanjali—the Hindu sage who founded yoga around the second-century BC Of particular significance in the West is the aforementioned guru Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the self-proclaimed “god-man” Sri Ramakrishna. In 1893 Vivekananda used the Parliament of World Religions to skillfully sow the seeds for a new global spirituality. Second only to Vivekananda in the Westernization of yoga was Yogananda—proudly hailed as “Father of Yoga in the West.” In 1920 he founded the L.A.-based Self-Realization Fellowship, a principal means of disseminating yoga to multiplied millions of Americans. Finally, of special note is Swami Muktananda, popularizer of kundalini yoga, a method by which divine energy thought to reside as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine is aroused; ascends through six chakras; and aims for union with the Hindu deity Shiva in a seventh center allegedly located in the crown of the head. Such Hindu gurus have been so successful in exporting yoga to the West that today it is common fare in classrooms, corporations, and even churches.

Finally, the “A” in Y-O-G-A will serve to remind you of the Hindu word asana. As repetition of the word “Om” is used to work devotees into altered states of consciousness, so too a regiment of asanas—or body postures—are used to achieve a feeling of oneness with the cosmic energy flow of the universe. Coupled with breathing exercises and meditation practices, asana positions are the pathway to serenity and spirituality. According to Yoga Journal,“asanas are their own type of meditation; to perform difficult postures you have to focus on your body and breath and relax into the pose.” While multitudes are being seduced into believing that asanas are spiritually neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, as pointed out by Swami Param of the Dharma Yoga Ashram in New Jersey, to think of asanas as mere body positions or stretching exercises is analogous to believing “baptism is just an underwater exercise.”

In sum, while an alarming number of Western Christians suppose they can achieve physical and spiritual well-being through a form of yoga divorced from its Eastern worldview, in reality attempts to Christianize Hinduism only Hinduize Christianity.

For further study, see Elliot Miller’s three-part article series, entitled, “The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment,” which was published in Christian Research Journal,Volume 21 / Numbers 2, 3, and 4; available through Christian Research Institute at www.equip.org.


“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.
For what do righteousness and wickedness have in
common? Or what fellowship can light have
with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ
and Belial? What does a believer have in common with
an unbeliever? What agreement is there between
the temple of God and idols?” 

2 Corinthians 6:14–16 NIV
 

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada. For a list of stations airing the Bible Answer Man, or to listen online, log on to www.equip.org.

(This article originally appeared at www.equip.org. If you have been helped by this answer, sign up to receive regular newsletters from the Christian Research Institute (CRI) here >> http://www.equip.org/e-truth.)

“Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use
to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when
planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds
of the air can perch in its shade.”

(Mark 4:30-32)

A tired old canard making the rounds these days is that the gospel of Mark and the God-man Messiah were both mistaken about the size of mustard seeds. The argument is typically framed as follows: Orchid seeds are smaller than mustard seeds. Thus when Mark records Messiah as saying that a mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds he was patently mistaken. It follows therefore that if Jesus was mistaken, Jesus is not God. And if Mark records Messiah’s mistake, the Bible is not infallible. What’s wrong with this picture?

First, in order to interpret the Bible literally we must pay special attention to what is known as form or genre. Put another way, to interpret the Bible literally we must first consider the form of literature we are interpreting. As a legal brief differs in form from fantasy literature, so, too, a parable concerning a mustard seed would likely differ in form and function from a technical discussion on horticulture.

Furthermore, when Jesus asks, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?” (Mark 4:30, emphasis added) we should immediately be alerted to the fact that Jesus is about to use an extended simile (parable) to teach his disciples a principle about the kingdom. Indeed, Jesus says as much when he continues, “or what parable should we use to describe it” (v. 30, emphasis added). As with metaphors, the danger is to interpret extended similes in a strictly wooden literal sense. The kingdom of God is obviously not like a mustard seed in every way. Nor does Jesus intend to make his parable “walk on all fours.” A kingdom does not look like a mustard seed, nor is a mustard seed the smallest seed in the kingdom. Rather the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed in the sense that it begins small and becomes large (cf. Daniel 2:31–45).

Finally, while the One who caused the universe to leap into existence (another figure of speech) by simple speaking would obviously know that an orchid seed is smaller than a mustard seed, an orchid seed would have been profoundly inept for the purpose of the parable. Jesus used the smallest seed familiar to a Palestinian farmer—a small seed that unlike an orchid seed grows to have “big branches that the birds in the air can perch in”—to illustrate that the kingdom of God began in obscurity but would one day “fill the earth.”
In sum, to avoid the dangers of the hyper-literalism of fundamentalist scholars on the left, it is crucial to read the Bible as literature, paying close attention to form. As we do, you and I must ever be mindful that the Bible is not merely literature. Instead, the Scriptures are uniquely inspired by the Spirit. Thus, we must fervently pray that the Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, illumines our minds as we learn to read the Bible for all it’s worth.

For further study, see “What does it mean to interpret the Bible literally?” [on p. 522].

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada. For a list of stations airing the Bible Answer Man, or to listen online, log on to www.equip.org.

(This article originally appeared at www.equip.org. If you have been helped by this answer, sign up to receive regular newsletters from the Christian Research Institute (CRI) here >> http://www.equip.org/e-truth.)

The day before Good Friday, on the Colbert Report, Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, attempted to demonstrate that the gospels of Mark and Luke stand in hopeless contradiction to one another with respect to the death of Jesus. “For example,” says Ehrman, “in Mark’s gospel, Jesus goes to his death in deep agony over what’s happening to him and doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening to him.” Conversely, “When you read Luke’s gospel, he is not in agony at all.”1 Has Ehrman discovered the crux of the matter? Are Mark and Luke irreconcilably at odds with respect to the death of Jesus? I think not.

First, to suggest that in Mark’s account of the crucifixion Jesus “doesn’t seem to understand what is happening to him” is more than a little baffling. Even a child reading through Mark’s words leading up to the crucifixion knows better than to think such a thing. Who can forget Christ’s poignant defense of Mary after she had broken an alabaster jar and poured perfume on His head? “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial,” said Jesus (Mark 14:8). Or His anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36).

Indeed, as Mark’s gospel makes crystal clear, Jesus knew precisely what would happen to Him and why. As He explained during the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (14:24). Or as He put it just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Son of Man came “to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45). Jesus had in fact repeatedly predicted His suffering, death, and resurrection (see 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; cf. 14:61-62). To say otherwise is both an insult to Christ and to common sense.

Furthermore, it is almost beyond belief that a scholar wrestling with the text of Scripture could conclude that Christ, in Luke’s gospel, “is not in agony at all.” As documented by Dr. Luke, Christ’s torment began in the Garden of Gethsemane after an emotional Last Supper. There He experienced a medical condition known as hematidrosis. Tiny capillaries in His sweat glands ruptured, mixing sweat with blood. Or as Luke’s gospel puts it: “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44, emphasis added). Subsequently He is arrested, beaten, and executed in grotesque and humiliating fashion. The Roman system of crucifixion had been finely tuned to produce the maximum of pain. In fact, the word excruciating (literally, “out of the cross”) had to be invented to fully codify its horror. To tell Colbert and vicariously the world that in Luke’s gospel “he [Jesus] is not in agony at all” takes more than a little gall.

Finally, allow me to drive a nail into the heart of Ehrman’s methodology. Unless biographers such as Mark and Luke say exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, Ehrman stands ready to crucify them on the pretext of contradiction. Here’s how he restates the shopworn charge on Colbert: “What people have done is they’ve taken Mark’s gospel and Luke’s gospel and combined them together into one big gospel, which is not like either Mark or Luke.” The very nature of biography, however, is to pick and choose elements of a congruent story that the biographer wishes to emphasize. As such, no single biographer captures every detail of a subject’s life and experience.

Indeed, one of the most amazing realities with respect to the composite biography presented through the canonical gospel writers is that they were empowered to present a living portrait of the most interesting, complex, and significant being who has ever walked among us—and without contradiction or collusion. And they did so with eloquence and erudition.

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada. For a list of stations airing the Bible Answer Man, or to listen online, log on to www.equip.org.

(This article originally appeared at www.equip.org. If you have been helped by this answer, sign up to receive regular newsletters from the Christian Research Institute (CRI) here >> http://www.equip.org/e-truth.)

Notes

1 Colbert Report, Comedy Central, April 9, 2009, online at http://www.colbertnation.com/thecolbert-report-videos/224128/april-09-2009/bart-ehrman, accessed Sept. 9, 2009.

*All Scripture quotations are from the NIV.

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
(Prov.18:17)

One of the reasons cited by famed New Testament scholar and best-selling author Bart Ehrman for his transition from fundamentalist Christian to fundamentalist agnostic is that the gospel of Mark is riddled with factual and historical errors. A prominent example is that David and his men ate the showbread “when Abiathar was the high priest.” In reality, argues Ehrman, Ahimelech (Abiathar’s father) was high priest at the time. Did Mark make a mistake, or is it Ehrman who is dead wrong?

First, it should be noted that it is Ehrman, not Mark, who makes a crucial blunder. A quick reading of the text in question reveals that, far from saying that Abiathar was high priest, Mark states that David and his men ate the showbread “in the days of Abiathar the high priest” (Mark 2:26, emphasis added). Put another way, there is no direct indication that Abiathar was serving in the office of high priest at the time, only that he was alive. Had Jesus erred, the Jewish leaders who were intimately acquainted with their history would have jumped all over him.

Furthermore, the reason Jesus references Abiathar rather than his father Ahimelech should be self-evident—particularly to a New Testament scholar. Namely, while David has little interaction with Ahimelech in biblical history, he is inextricably linked to Abiathar. In fact, after Saul killed Ahimelech (1Sam.22:1–19), Abiathar found protection under David (1Sam.22:23), became priest to David (1Sam.23:6,9; 2Sam.8:17), and eventually was exalted to the highest priestly office under David (1Chron.15:11; 1Kings2:35). Put another way, Abiathar was the star—Ahimelech was but a footnote.

Finally, one-thousand years from now people may well say that Desert Storm occurred in the days of President George W. Bush, though he was not President at the time—his dad was. Indeed, the entire Iraq crisis from 9/11 to the toppling and trial of Saddam are associated with George W. Bush’s Iraq war, not with George Herbert Walker Bush. In much the same way, Jesus is justified in speaking of David eating the showbread “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.”

Through a fair and balanced application of interpretive principles, this and a host of apparent contradictions are easily resolved.1

— Hank Hanegraaff

This article originally appeared at www.equip.org. If you have been helped by this answer, sign up to receive regular newsletters from the Christian Research Institute (CRI) here >> http://www.equip.org/e-truth/

 

NOTES

1. For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff’s The Bible Answer Book (Nashville: J. Countryman, 2004), The Bible Answer Book Volume 2 (Nashville: J. Countryman, 2004), and The Bible Answer Book One, Two and More (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

About Hank Hanegraaff

Let Christian Research Institute President, Hank Hanegraaff, and his guests equip you to defend your faith against errors and false teachers, and help you stay strong in your walk with the Lord.

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