Laying on Hands

7 June 2019

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will raise the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven.

There are a couple of hermeneutical moves here that are common in conservative circles. The first is to simply ignore the text. When a nosy student asks why we don’t do this, you must mutter something under your breath about cultural context, and change the subject.

But that’s not enough. “Cultural context” is not a magical phrase that allows you to ignore a text. The text meant something, and the original readers were meant to obey it. So are we. Obedience in our context might look different, but it will look like something. It is our job to figure out what. The best place to start is with the original context.

In the original cultural context, this was not simply some religious ritual. Oils infused with various herbs and scents were common in the culture, and using such oils medicinally was also common. In other words, to the original readers, anointing with oil was not simply a religious ceremony, it was a medical treatment.

Once you know that, you can transfer the principle to our day. Imagine you have someone in your church who is a cancer patient.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, giving him chemotherapy in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven.

Of course, the oncologist giving chemotherapy is not likely to be an elder in the church — but skip that for now. Let’s suppose the doctor is indeed an elder in this case, and move on from there. Do you see the departure from our standard attitude toward medicine? The medicine is administered “in the name of the Lord,” and when the sick person recovers, the recovery is attributed to the Lord, through the prayer of faith.

So the minimal application of this culturally conditioned command is to address sickness as a spiritual as well as a physical issue.

But I wonder whether we ought not go further. After all, we have mass media and Youtube, but we still believe that going to church in person is better. We have Facebook and phones and texting and many platforms for connection, but face to face is still better than anything else, by a long shot. Would it be so surprising to find that–especially where physical and spiritual matters overlap–the first-century ways of addressing things still have something to offer us?

I think they do. And so I still practice this passage as written: anointing with oil in the name of Jesus, laying on hands, and praying for the sick. My experience has been that this is valuable; when we are simply obedient, we do better than we know.

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To an Unknown Socket

24 May 2019

Energy workers quickly discover that it’s a bad idea to try to heal someone on your own power. Not that it’s impossible — it’s truly amazing what a human spirit-to-spirit connection can accomplish, especially for someone who doesn’t get much of that — but it’s unwise. You have a finite supply of energy, and if you expend it into someone else, you leave yourself depleted, worn out, and vulnerable.

The solution is simple: don’t use your own energy. But you can’t just create energy ex nihilo. It has to come from somewhere. For me, that is not a problem. I live under an open heaven, with the unlimited resources of heaven available. (Dad often has His own ideas about what the person needs, but that’s fine. He told me to ask, and I’m asking. He always shows up.)

I have a number of spiritual-but-not-religious friends who link into “the universe” as their source for healing power. Sending your requests out into the universe addressed to “General Delivery” and hoping someone benevolent answers is, well…maybe not the best idea. Not everybody that might wander across that request is your friend. This is going through life dependent on the kindness of strangers. It is the equivalent of flying Ben Franklin’s kite in a thunderstorm. It is eating mystery meat from a random flyspecked cart in a south Asian market, and hoping your intestines can take it. It is plugging your extension cord into a random socket in a foreign country and hoping the voltage matches.

But sometimes, it comes out all right. And when it does, people thank “the universe,” which is like building an altar to the unknown socket.

I know what it feels like when God is at work, and I’ve felt Him at work through some of these people. He can suck up all the bandwidth and work through anybody He wants to. He did it with Saul. He did it with the witch at En Dor. He did it with Balaam. Heck, He did it with Balaam’s donkey. In my experience God moves through people you wouldn’t expect often, because He has exalted His word above His name.

I picture my friend standing by the massage table, one hand on me, and the other extended to the sky, holding up an extension cord and praying that it will plug into “the universe.” God reaches down, grabs the cord, and plugs it into Himself. Then He nudges a watching angel and winks.

“Don’t tell her,” He says. “She’s not ready to know yet.”


What is energy work, anyway?

17 May 2019

Here’s what I know. In creational terms, you don’t have a soul, you are a soul. That’s what a human being is — a living soul. And a soul is made up of two things: dust and breath, brought together by God. “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”

  • What is meant by “dust?” The physical stuff, the literal dirt that returns to the dirt when we’re done with it.
  • What is meant by “breath?” The immaterial part, the spirit that returns to God who gave it, as Solomon once said.
  • And — most crucially — what is meant by “and?” . . .

That’s where we’re going to need to play the mystery card. The spirit and body interact in complex ways that we don’t really understand.

There’s a whole range of very subtle physical processes going on in the body. X-ray tomography shows that acupuncture points are structurally different from other points on the body. An electrical current travels faster down a meridian than between two randomly chosen control points the same distance apart…and slower than nerve conduction speed. There’s something else going on.

There are some very subtle, but actually physical, things going on that we’re just starting to understand. We’re just starting to even have the instrumentation to measure some of these things. So that’s the first thing that we mean by energy work – very subtle physical processes.

With respect to those physical processes, here’s my working hypothesis: just like every person has a skeletal system, a circulatory system, and a nervous system, every person has an energy system (or systems). Part of this is simply not that controversial (see Oschmann, 2nd ed.), but the useful models run far ahead of the science and make claims that, as yet, the science can’t really substantiate. But this stuff seems to work anyhow, so I’m using it.

But for me, subtle physical processes is not all I mean.

As Christians, we’re really good at understanding that the spirit relates to God. So far, so good. But spirit can interact with any other spirit, not just God. The first place our heads typically go with that is to realize that we can interact with demons. Which is true. But what about other people?

We can interact with other humans at a spiritual level. My spirit can touch your spirit. I don’t necessarily need to touch your body to do that. 

That’s the second thing I mean by energy work.

And — here’s the fun part — there’s not really a clear boundary between those two things. The spirit and the body interact in complex and hard-to-understand ways. I greatly envy people who have a governing theory for what they do. I don’t have one, having not yet encountered a model that I found persuasive enough to adopt wholesale.

In the meantime, it is my experience that I can achieve effects with my clients by manipulating the energy field that I cannot achieve without doing so. It is my experience that I can do these things while working in concert with God in prayer, giving God thanks. So — guided by Paul — I’m not concerned about meddling with something I shouldn’t. God seems to be blessing it.


“…not even our church.”

10 May 2019

One weekend while I was in massage school, I took an introductory class in Polarity Therapy. Polarity is a big field of study, and we just scratched the surface of most aspects. We did come out with a series of basic energy balancing exercises we could use with clients, though.

The day after the class, I came home and found my wife in serious distress. It was certainly manifesting in physical and emotional discomfort, but there didn’t seem to be anything physical obviously wrong. I wondered if the Polarity balancing session might help. I am automatically suspicious of myself when I think that a new tool I just learned is exactly the thing for someone’s ailment. To a man with a shiny new hammer, everything looks like a nail, you know?

But on the other hand, wouldn’t it be just like God to give me the tool right before I need it? So I thought, “Well, if it doesn’t work, I’ll just try something else.”

With nothing to lose, I set up the massage table and got her on it. As always, I began with prayer (I don’t pray out loud if the client’s not up for that, but I always pray). I asked for God to take this time and restore her well-being, then I went to work. The entire sequence had taken about an hour in class. Doing it on my own, it took two, and it was anything but smooth. I had to keep consulting my routine sheet to see what to do next, and the techniques were unfamiliar, so I had to keep deciphering the notes I’d hastily scribbled in the margins to remind me how we’d done each thing in class. Not ideal. Kimberly later described it as “the most boring massage of my life” — Polarity bodywork is on-body, but barely touching for the most part.

But here’s the thing: God answered my prayers. It absolutely worked. When we finished the session, she was calm and collected. The distress — both physical and emotional — was just gone.

We later lay in bed together debriefing. I described what the session had been like for me — the continual reference to my notes interrupting the flow, the battle to keep myself grounded, but also the sensations of energy moving from place to place in her body, where it felt stagnant or blocked, the shifting patterns of heat and cool I felt as I worked with her, and so on. She described her experience, and what she had sensed as I did certain techniques during the session. At one point I was talking, somewhat excitedly, about how it all felt, when she interrupted me and said, “You realize, you can’t talk about this at church. Not even at our church.”

I said, “I know.”

And it was true. Our church (at the time) was probably, of all the churches in our town, the most open to various forms of weirdness in daily life. We strove to be “naturally supernatural,” and we really meant that. But I knew better than to think I could talk about energy work at church.

It was a defining moment for me. I agreed with God when I got into this that I was going to explore, submit to the process and the experiences that He led me into, and never allow myself to ignore something or pretend it didn’t happen just because I didn’t understand it. And I won’t. But at that moment I realized that my agreement with God meant I was going to have to carve out a niche somewhere outside the established American church. At least in the churches I knew, there was simply no place for what God was showing me.

Their loss. God’s doing a lot beyond the walls of the established church, and it’s good. So I’m gonna start talking about it.


Dust and Breath

3 May 2019

What is a human?

It has been fashionable in the West to affirm that a human is simply the matter that makes up the body, and all else — psyche, mind, spirit, whatever words we use to describe the invisible part — is an epiphenomenon of the body, or else an illusion altogether. The East tended toward the opposite move, the contention that nothing but spirit is real, and all else is illusion. A popular variant of the spirit-only view concedes the reality of the ‘coarse’ body, as a stepped-down manifestation of the ‘finer’ energies of the spirit, or an unfortunate prison, an “earth suit” from which the real person (i.e., the spirit) will ultimately be liberated.

Christians know that neither of these simplistic answers is true. Like the Christian answer to the classic problem of the one and the many, so here: Christians affirm the difficulty of the dilemma, and then affirm the equal ultimacy of both. As the problem of the one and the many finds its only possible solution in the being of the Triune God Himself, so the problem of the spirit and the body finds its only possible solution in the being of humans as we really are. God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. We are equally dust of the earth and breath of God. Separating the two is the very definition of death; when we “separate” the two in our inquiries, something dies there as well. The best answer to the separationists is from the mouth of Jesus: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Someone will object that I have taken the quote out of context. I say I have noted a principle in one circumstance of united and equally ultimate opposites, and applied it to another such circumstance. Neither man nor woman is the ‘original’ in marriage; they are equally ultimate. The first woman was taken out of man; every man thereafter is taken out of woman, and no marriage is possible without the combination of the two.
Same with human spirit and body. What makes a living soul is the combination of the two.

If we seriously intend to address the whole person, we have no choice but to take both seriously.


Martial Arts and the Christian

1 March 2019

A friend wrote me recently, passing on some questions he’d been asked about Christian participation in martial arts. Of course I’ve addressed these questions many times over the years, and his email ended up sparking an essay. So–lightly edited–here it is.

One of the first lessons I learned about speaking on Christian participation in martial arts training is that context matters. In the usual settings where the subject comes up for me, my principal concern is explaining my own practice—which is quite a different thing from addressing whatever might happen in the storefront dojo nearest you.

So I have two basic things to say: On the one hand, these things can be done well, and to the glory of Christ. On the other hand, they often are not, pagans are plentiful, and an awful lot depends on the teacher. Discerning whether a particular school, instructor, or class is a good choice for a particular student can be a tricky business, since it depends not only on the instructor but also on the maturity and needs of the student. But we are called to have our senses exercised to discern good from evil, so if it’s going to be difficult, we’d better gird up our loins and get to it. God is light; He’ll show us the way.

As with all such areas of liberty, Romans 14 applies. It’s good to look into it, and it’s good to be fully convinced in one’s own mind. Different people may come to different conclusions about the same program, and they may both be right…for them.

A Christian who walks into your typical storefront dojo (a taekwondo school, say) finds himself in an alien world. There’s a bunch of people wearing pajamas and bowing to one another, folks with arcane titles like “Master” and “Grandmaster” and so on. What does it all mean? Can a Christian be part of it?

As to the bowing and titles, I’d advise looking into what it means in the parent culture. If two businessmen in that culture would traditionally bow to one another when they meet (as opposed to shaking hands like we do), then I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s a greeting. You’re paying to learn a practice from someone else’s culture; it’s silly to be upset that they don’t act like Westerners. Similarly, look to what the titles mean in the home culture.

For example, my own title (which I never use except on official paperwork, but more about my practice later) is Guru Muda, which is enough to make any red-blooded, English-speaking Christian spit. But in Bahasa Indonesia, guru means ‘teacher’ with no particular spiritual connotations; one can be a guru of chemistry or Chinese literature or engineering. (Muda means ‘young;’ the ‘young teacher’ designation is roughly analogous to an ‘associate professor’ in our university ranking system. The next step up is ‘teacher;’ the one after that is ‘master teacher.’) The reason guru has spiritual connotations in English is because spiritual teachers from India used their native word for teacher (guru) when they came here—Vivekananda and the like. For the same reason, the Japanese sensei has martial arts connotations in America, thanks to the karate teachers who came here (and the Karate Kid movies)—but again, in Japanese it just means teacher. A friend of mine who was teaching English in Tokyo thought it was really funny that his students called him their sensei. They didn’t understand why it sounded funny to him—to them, sensei has no martial arts connotations.

As to the flag and the yin-yang symbol: Taekwondo in particular is regarded as a Korean national heritage, and the Korean flag is nearly always displayed in Taekwondo schools (as you’ll sometimes find the Japanese flag displayed in a traditional Karate school). I look forward to the day when the symbol on the Korean flag is a cross rather than a yin-yang, but I’d be reluctant to conclude something was spiritually fishy about a particular school based on the flag alone. I mean, jeepers, there’s a bunch of pentagrams on the American flag, but nobody thinks you’re secretly worshiping the host of heaven because you happen to have a flag on your porch or in your church. (Whether it belongs in your church, and what it means to display it there, is another discussion. But it doesn’t mean you’re a sky-worshiper.)

On these sorts of things, you have to keep in mind what you’re doing, and accept its necessary conditions as the cost of doing business. You’re learning to fight from people who know how. Taking one thing with another, the people who are really great fighters did not get that way by being happy, well-adjusted humans. You’re not likely to be dealing with saints and Sunday school teachers, ya know? (Yes, there are exceptions. Don’t hold your breath.)

Another (often-)necessary condition is crossing cultural barriers. Here in the West, we developed firearms to an exquisite degree, and at the same time we have developed a society that’s less violent than anything ever seen before in human history. Apart from some arcane holdouts if you know where to look, the West has not really preserved its traditions of hand-to-hand combat; those that have a serious need, carry guns. So you’re going to a culture where their hand-to-hand arts haven’t been lost, to learn the way they do it—which is different than how things are done here. So you remember who’s the visitor, and be polite. If they bow instead of shaking hands, you learn how to bow. If they like onion in their tea, then you learn to drink onion in your tea. If they treat their bruises with foul-smelling herbs after practice, then you do too.

If they bow to a little shrine containing pictures of their ancestors in the art, you politely explain that you will happily offer God a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have preserved the art for you and passed it down to you, but God forbids bowing to images of the dead. If they won’t teach you because of that, off you go—that one wasn’t for you. But the point here is that outside of things God actually forbids, there’s no point in going all ‘ugly American’ just because the foreigners are acting foreign. If you don’t like it, go to a boxing gym.

The degree to which a particular school spends time on whatever philosophy may underlie the art varies widely from school to school, and sometimes from teacher to teacher even within a single school. Some places, it gets pretty deep. Other places focus on the physical art. (One teacher, asked about the spiritual side of his (Japanese) art, said, “Yeah, there’s a spiritual side: the dead guy doesn’t get to go to church.” Another one, this one Chinese: “Our philosophy? Our philosophy is to crash through the opponent’s center and kill him.” Not everybody uses the art as a platform for teaching a spirituality.)

The point here is, you gotta go and find out for yourself, and whether it’s a deal-breaker depends on what the prospective student is ready for. An awful lot of Christians want some kind of guarantee in advance that nothing will make them uncomfortable. They seem afraid of getting somehow tainted by rubbing shoulders with pagans. They’d prefer to do all their research online, and won’t go to the events and meet the people. That’s a poor way to handle apologetic engagement. Apologetic engagement requires, well, engagement. If you don’t go and see for yourself, you’ve no right to complain when people answer your objections by telling you that you don’t know the first thing about it. They’re right; you don’t.

Having found out, you then have to answer some hard questions. Is this philosophy attractive to me? Does it repulse me? Why? What is true about it? What is false about it? How do I know? The cautions Paul gives in Colossians about philosophy and vain deceit apply here, as do the characteristics of idolatrous thought laid out in Romans 1. Any Christless philosophy is vain and self-defeating, but sometimes it takes some growth in us before the self-defeating nature of the system becomes apparent to us. At the same time, because everyone–despite their ardent pretense otherwise–is living in Yahweh’s world, they often learn some useful things about that world. Sifting the operations of common grace from the operations of human depravity takes a good eye. So we need to grow, but there’s no need for panic.

Those same cautions apply to enrolling in Leviathan State University as an engineering or pre-med major. The student will encounter all kinds of ugly ideas and sub-Christian worldviews. There’s work to be done to counter them, but God has not given us a spirit of fear. You don’t want someone enrolling—either in your state university or in a martial arts school—who isn’t up to the challenge the environment will present to their worldview. So get ‘em ready, and then send ‘em in.

Now, as to what I do with my classes: I don’t pretend this is The One Right Way To Do Things, but I’ve been teaching since 1999, and this is what I’ve found works best for me and mine. I practice Kuntao Silat, an Indonesian art brought here by Dutch-Indonesian immigrants in the 60s. Some of the leaders and senior practitioners are Christian; some are not. The roots of the art are deeply mixed: Muslim, animist, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Christian. There are some practices in our history I don’t find appropriate as a Christian, so I don’t do them.

The terminology of the art is largely in Bahasa Indonesia, with a smattering of other languages thrown in; Indonesia is a polyglot kinda place in language and culture, just like it is in religion. I know what the Indonesian terms mean, but my students mostly don’t;  I teach my classes in English. (E.g., sapu and beset are two fundamental leg movements in the art; my students know them as ‘scoop’ and ‘drag’ respectively.) Shoot, half my students don’t even know my title is Guru Muda. They call me Tim.

We don’t open my classes with a bow. We open my classes with a blessing (and since I’m not starting a cult, we do it round-robin style; I give and receive.) All my students learn to speak blessing over other people, even if it’s a simple, “May the Lord bless you and keep you,” or “May your training be blessed today.” If you’re not willing to look another human being in the eye and speak blessing over them, I’m certainly not going to teach you how to hurt people.

After the blessing, we begin the class, which is informal and at times very demanding. You can teach martial arts with a number of different focuses (sport, cultural heritage, performance art, fitness, healthy movement, mental discipline, self-defense); I focus on healthy movement, discipline, and self-defense.

At the end of class, we finish with a closing circle where each student has to articulate one thing he learned that day, and one thing he intends to practice in the coming week. Then we have a closing blessing, and class is over.

Along with translating the terms to English, I’ve dropped a lot of the cultural trappings. This is a philosophical decision each teacher has to make for themselves: do you try to replicate your own learning experience as closely as possible, or do you cannibalize your own learning experience selectively to craft a new learning experience for your students? If you are, say, a traditionally raised Japanese man who learned jiu-jutsu from another traditionally raised Japanese man, you have a pretty good shot at reproducing your learning experience for the next generation of students, and it might be a good idea.

In my circumstances, that approach didn’t make much sense. The men who brought my arts to the U.S. grew up in colonial Dutch Indonesia before WWII, and like the Preacher said, “All is mist.” They are the products of a unique time, place, and culture that no longer exists. I’m a white boy from Virginia; I can’t reproduce that culture and I don’t intend to try. All the bowing and flags and so on leaves me cold, so I don’t bother with it. I’m passing on the fighting art, so that’s what we spend time on. I’ll teach some tidbits about the culture and history as it illuminates the movement or the mentality of the art (which it does), but the point is to understand the fighting art.

In my classes, we laugh a lot. We play, we have fun. But I also make my students face the ugliness of what we’re doing, for two reasons. First, I want them to come to terms with it in training before they have to face it for real. Second, it’s bad for your soul to romanticize a discipline where the raw material is healthy bodies and the finished product is cripples and corpses.

The theology is relevant, and it comes up as we work through the ethical issues that come with training to injure people. We can’t lose sight of the fact that what we are training for is not good. We broke the world, and introduced evil. We are living with the consequences, which include the need to fight evil—if you love sheep, you have to be ready to fight wolves. But—thank God—these things have an end. Jesus has already triumphed over evil and buried it in the heart of the earth; it just doesn’t know it’s dead yet.

On the glorious last day, we will beat our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks. From that day forward, we will no longer study war, and that will not be a sad day. No one will look back nostalgically at the good old days when we worked so hard to be ready to hurt people. But you have to know where you are in the story; friends don’t let friends over-realize their eschatology. Our job is to be ready for the last day when it comes, and until then, to be ready for tomorrow no matter what comes.


Christian Yoga?

8 February 2019

Once upon a time, I was part of starting and hosting a Christian yoga practice group. Naturally this raised questions, which I answered thus: 

Let’s talk about what our yoga practice looks like, why we do it, and why we call it Christian yoga. We recognize that some Christians are nervous about yoga, so at the bottom of the page, we’ll also devote some attention to those concerns. We also commend to you our essay on the real history of modern yoga, which is a bit different than people think.

What do we do?
The word “yoga” tends to conjure up images of bendy young women in impossible poses. What we do is a little different from that. First of all, a number of us are men. We’ve done a lot of fun things that were bad for our bodies over the years, and this kind of exercise helps us recover. Second, while the young are certainly welcome, most of us are over 40. Third, most of us don’t do impossible poses. Some of us can’t even reach our toes. Other than that, it’s a lot like you might think: slow movements that focus on control, mobility, strength, balance, and coordinating movement and breath. Because we’re Christians, we practice like it, with a focus on Christ and what He is doing in us.

Why do we do it?
Because there are significant health benefits to this kind of exercise, and we can all feel the difference. Because we believe that the gym belongs to Jesus as surely as every other area of life, and we prefer to exercise in an attitude of prayer rather than in the attitude of self-worship that’s so common in places where they hang mirrors on all the walls.

Why do we call it “Christian Yoga?”
We are aware, of course, that “yoga” is a Sanskrit word that means “yoking” or “union,” and that among people who use yoga posture practice as a Hindu spiritual discipline, it is intended to connote union with “the divine,” which we would understand as union with demonic spirits. (Sorry, guys, but it’s true.) Obviously, we don’t do that.

We are also aware that “yoga” has gone the way of kleenex, band-aid, and velcro. It may have been a narrowly construed religious brand back in the 60s and 70s, but in branding terms, that was a long time ago. The term “yoga” has long since entered the popular lexicon as the generic label for a particular kind of exercise: a complex, relaxing, posture practice, challenging to the point of being gymnastic at times, focused on flexibility, balance, and control.

Of course, when legally constrained to do so, people can avoid brand names and use circumlocutions like “facial tissue,” “adhesive bandage,” and “hook and loop fastener.” Some Christians have done exactly that with yoga (see the note on PraiseMoves, below). They are acting in the way most agreeable with their consciences. As Paul calls us to do in Romans 14, we bless their efforts. After all, who are we to judge God’s servants?

At the same time, we aren’t called to take that route ourselves. Everybody knows that when you say “hook and loop fastener,” you really mean velcro. Likewise, we could call what we do “Christian restorative gymnastics” or “stretching for Jesus” or something, but let’s face it: five minutes into the class, everyone will know it’s Christian yoga, so why not just say so to start with?

Today, the generic term “yoga” has a lot of latitude, and people attach different modifiers to connote different focuses of practice, hence “power yoga,” “restorative yoga,” “flow yoga,” and “prenatal yoga.” So, for example, prenatal yoga is a yoga exercise practice specifically designed for the needs and concerns of expectant mothers. It leaves out those things that would hurt mother or baby, and in their place it teaches things that will help them to grow healthily. Likewise, Christian yoga is a yoga exercise practice specifically designed for the needs and concerns of Christians. It leaves out those things that we as Christians find damaging or dehumanizing, and in their place it teaches things that will strengthen and deepen our relationship with Jesus.

Retaking the Territory
A lot of Christians are afraid of yoga, and depending on what we mean by “yoga,” the fears can be well-founded. But they can also be poppycock, and in any case, God has not given us a spirit of fear.

If you go into a studio and there’s a little brass Kali in the corner with a bowl of fruit in front of her, yeah — a Christian should be concerned that demonic entanglement is a real possibility in that yoga class. A Christian seeking exercise should walk right out of there and never go back.

On the other hand, it’s profoundly silly to suppose that a healthy exercise — any healthy exercise — can somehow become the exclusive property of a demon. Why would we ever believe that?

Suppose the U.S. Marine Corps were to claim rights to the pushup. Suppose they were to claim that the pushup was a Marine exercise, and unless you intend to be a Marine, you have no right to be doing pushups. Should anyone believe them? Of course not.

“There is not one square inch of the whole creation over which Christ does not call out, ‘Mine!’” Our bodies belong to Christ. Our health belongs to Christ. Every healthy exercise rightly belongs to Christ. The yogini who thinks her body and its movements belong to Shiva is sorely mistaken. The secularist in a step aerobics class at Bally’s who thinks there is no religious significance to her body and its movements is equally mistaken. (And you can see her true religion for yourself when she glances over her shoulder to admire her toned backside in the mirrors that liberally adorn the walls.) Over both of them, Christ calls out, “Mine!”

We all worship something; we can’t help it. As Christians, we believe that every movement we make, every day, all day, should glorify Christ. As we seek to enjoy the bodies God has given us, and to steward them well, we are in His service, and we should not be afraid to employ whatever belongs to Him.

Now there are exercises over which one lying demon or another has shouted “Mine!” and there are foolish people who have believed them — notable yogis and Dave Hunt among them. A good Christian should respond to that foolishness in the same way we would respond if the Marines were to try to claim the pushup: point and laugh. A claim has been made, to be sure, but that hardly makes it true. As the hands and feet of Christ in the world, it is our privilege to reclaim that territory for our King. Where healthy movement is being foolishly and unlawfully prostituted to the service of demons, it is our pleasure to return it to its right use in service of the King, and to demonstrate His supremacy over it.

This is not simply a matter of appropriating useful movement wherever we happen to find it. The spiritual battle is real. If the Marines were to claim exclusive rights to the pushup, we could expect them to press their claim vigorously and try to punish those who didn’t respect it. Likewise, where demons have claimed the territory, they will try to hold it. We cannot expect to retake the territory without a fight. But retake it we will, because we are the church of Jesus Christ, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against us.

Christian Yoga Resources
In our pursuit of yoga-style exercise, we have found a number of resources helpful for the physical exercise — most of them not authored by Christians. But there are some yoga resources created by and for Christians. We don’t vouch for everything they say about the theory and theology of Christian yoga, but when it comes to what’s on the mat, we have found them helpful, and we think you might, too.

  • Susan Bordenkircher has a book/DVD combination that is a pretty good place to start your Christian yoga practice. She also has a few other DVDS on her website. We began our group practice with nothing but her three DVDs.
  • Brooke Boone’s Holy Yoga has a number of DVDs, a couple books, downloadable resources, a subscription service, and teacher training.
  • Yahweh Yoga has DVDs, CDs, a book, online resources, and teacher training.
  • PraiseMoves has built their brand around being not-yoga, but rather a Christian alternative to it. They have a number of DVDs.