A brick may be used in a pagan temple, but then reverently placed in a Christian church. A cave may be used as a stable, but then turned into the birthplace of God. No metaphysical system is safe from plundering by Christianity, because Christianity is afraid of no good idea, object, or word.
The system in which a great work of art is trapped may be corrupt, but we can reinterpret that work and so redeem it for Christ.
Is this process dangerous? Of course, because there is always the danger of being corrupted by the object of redemption before it can be re-imagined. What is more dangerous is the cowardice that would leave any good, true, and beautiful thing to the Evil One. We must reclaim everything for King Jesus.
All religions that have lasted for a very long time will contain valuable insights and great ideas. These wise ideas will be deeply embedded in demonic wickedness and vice, but a Christian that engages their culture must work to redeem what is good and not leave it to empower and attract others to evil.
A culture that takes a beautiful mountain and names it for their pagan god does not thereby force us to blow up the mountain. We need to reinterpret the mountain for the people in a way that enfolds their history and insights into the broader story of Christendom.
Christ’s Kingdom makes no colonies, it redeems nations. The nationals of every land re-imagine their God given insights to make them part of the Christian story.
We must acknowledge that many good things come to mankind through the common image and grace of God in each human being. Christians of all stripes would never want to hide the truth that some great idea or good thing came from another faith. That is the false path of those Muslims who take Christian churches, turn them into mosques, and then bury the earlier Christian history as if it did not exist.
Better is the acknowledgment of what a thing was and then a joyful description of what it now is.
For example, in the United States of America the art of some city landscapes was often built on materialist or secular assumptions and ignored the needs of human beings. It needs imaginative redemption and artistic reconceptualization.
Such an appropriation of the best of the cityscape cannot be syncretistic, but must condemn the greed and the materialism that sent money makers soaring over cathedral domes. This can be done, however, without tearing down a single beautiful building or covering up their sordid histories. Just as the Narnia stories redeemed the image of Bacchus for generations of children, so better Christian story tellers can redeem the best of the skyscrapers in our cities.
As the King’s College develops in the bosom of the Empire State Building it will perform this deeply Christian task.
As this dangerous work is done, we must listen to the prophets who will warn us of the danger of adopting the evil systems along with the singular ideas and works that we intend to redeem. One such faithful prophet is Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The traditional Church must admire his courage in restoring a lost seminary and in reclaiming much that the world was appropriating from us.
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.
This is normal Christian behavior, as a thought experiment would show.
If Mohler took over a town built by the Bolsheviks, he would not tear down the school buildings just because Stalin built them. He would not dishonor the blood of the enslaved who built those works with their blood by failing to keep them, redeem them, and turn them to their true purpose.
Mohler would never ignore the good done in those buildings, even while utterly damning the system that built them. The schools were not the problem, communism was. He would take those schools and turn them to good works.
In the same way, Christians can and should take the insights of Yoga and turn them to good.
Mohler’s essential argument against Yoga seems to come to three main points: Yoga involves internal meditation, Yoga conflates the spiritual and the physical, and Yoga necessarily implies a non-Christian view of sexuality.
No Christian can oppose meditation per se. We are taught to meditate on the name of Jesus, the Word of God, and His precious inerrant Words in Sacred Scriptures. It is true that no Christian could meditate on meaningless phrases or the names of pagan gods, but meditation itself is not the problem.
It is not hard to find a long Christian tradition of helpful spiritual formation through meditation.
Second, Mohler is no gnostic. He knows that bowing the knee in an attitude of prayer puts the physical symbolically in line with the spiritual in our culture.
Every culture develops physical acts that bring the outer into conformity with the inner reality. Kneeling may be a sign of adoration to Zeus in one place and time, but the problem is not the kneeling, rather with the demon to which men are kneeling. So the positions of Yoga, which are just physical positions after all, need reinterpretation by men and women steeped in the culture that created them, but also deeply Christian.
We need no superficial work, but a reimagining that is true to the original insights of the creators of Yoga while also true to Sacred Scriptures. This work has not been done, so Mohler is right to express prophetic concern about members of the Church who lightly sprinkle the Yoga imagination, but do not baptize it.
To give just one example, if Yoga implies a sub-Christian view of sexuality, then it is bad for a person and ultimately for a culture. Yet Yoga has also helped men and women with sexual dysfunction as well. Can Christians find a way to reinforce the good insight of the basic wholesomeness of sexuality without allowing base and depraved ideas to infect it?
Surely we can.
The genius that could work to reclaim the Baptist convention can also reclaim what is good, true, and beautiful about Yoga. Justin Martyr was right when with confidence he could claim anything worthwhile for Jesus, because those good things came from Jesus at the start. No logos without the Logos.
Most of the online opponents of Mohler would throw holy water on Yoga and bring it into the Church. This light and careless attitude is destructive to the Faith. It is bound to lead to syncretism and the destruction of the Church. That is the path of the Episcopal Church in the United States and it is best labeled “Ichabod.”
But shunning Yoga is not the best idea for Christian academics. Instead, with pastoral oversight, we must find what the Logos initially said to the wise, which demons turned to folly in the unregenerate sages.
As for me and my house, against all attacks, we will serve the Lord God. If an idol must be destroyed, we will get an axe, but we will also save what can be saved and appropriate what can be redeemed.
This house is afraid of nothing that is good, true, and beautiful. It is easy to imagine Yoga dying, because Christianity has enfolded all that is good in Yoga within the embrace of its true home. May some Indian genius do this very task.
John Mark Reynolds is the provost of Houston Baptist University and a professor of philosophy.