In an August 13th Christian Post article titled “Serita Jakes’ Endorsement of Yoga at Potter’s House Sparks Debate,” popular pastor T.D. Jakes’ wife is reportedly promoting Yoga to congregants at Jake’s church. The CP article begins:
Serita Jakes, wife of popular televangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, has reignited debate over the practice of yoga among Christians after she shared a series of photos showing members of a women’s group at The Potter’s House of Dallas enjoying a “taste of yoga” as a part of a healthy living endeavor. . . .
CP reports that Serita Jakes posted comments about Yoga in their church on Instagram, which CP states”sparked debate with critics saying it’s wrong for Christians to practice yoga.”
The CP article also quotes a “group of Christians who support yoga called Christians Practicing Yoga.” But what is most interesting about this article, from our perspective, is the following statement: “Well-known evangelical theologian John Piper expressed his opposition to yoga, calling it ‘antithetical’ to Christianity.”
The fact that Christian Post turns to John Piper to obtain a quote from someone who opposes Christians doing Yoga is yet another example of how Christian media, for the most part, is completely in the dark about the mystical paradigm shift that has occurred in evangelical Christianity, largely coming through the avenue of contemplative prayer (i.e., spiritual formation); and ironically, the door that contemplative prayer opened is the door that is allowing Yoga into the church. If the Christian Post understood the dynamics (and the dangers) of contemplative prayer (and its strong connection, in nature, to Yoga), they wouldn’t turn to someone who promotes contemplative prayer (Piper) for a quote opposing Christians doing Yoga. It would be like someone willingly opening the door for a thief to come in and everyone blaming the thief but not the guy who opened the door in the first place. Like that guy, contemplative prayer is not being held responsible for its primary role in the crime.
To help substantiate what we are saying about John Piper, we refer you to a 2013 article Lighthouse Trails wrote titled, “John Piper Says No to Catholic Contemplatives But Yes to Protestant Contemplatives,” where Piper condemned “Catholic” contemplative prayer but endorsed “Protestant” contemplative prayer. In our article, we stated:
Piper says he is “ticked” with Christian seminary classes that turn “mainly” to the “mystical Catholic tradition in order to find this kind of depth and this kind of personal connection with the living God that is both rational and supra-rational and very mystical in its communion.” He adds, “You don’t have to embrace bad theology, namely Roman Catholic historic bad theology, in order to find amazing representatives of those who’ve known God at this level.” (emphasis added)
The obvious question that was not answered in this snippet is who does Piper believe are some of these “amazing representatives” who can teach us about “good” contemplative prayer? Thanks to our keen-eyed reader, who sent us a link to Piper’s church’s bookstore, we found that answer, at least in part — none other than Richard Foster, whose book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home is being sold on the Bethlehem Baptist Church’s bookstore website. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home is one of Foster’s primers on contemplative prayer. In that book, Foster tells us: “You must bind the mind with one thought” (p. 124). Foster’s advice echoes mystics such as Anthony DeMello as Ray Yungen points out in A Time of Departing (p. 75). Yungen warns that this binding the mind (getting rid of distractions and thoughts) is no different than classic Hindu meditation.
Ironically, while John Piper rejects the “Catholic” contemplatives, Foster does not. In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster quotes and references several, including Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Madame Guyon. With this in mind, we must reject the notion that John Piper is adequately distinguishing between bad Catholic contemplative prayer and good Protestant contemplative prayer. As we have always affirmed, there is no good contemplative prayer. And important to note, Thomas Merton was one of the significant figures in bringing contemplative meditation to the forefront, and Richard Foster is nothing less than a Merton disciple.
When Piper publicly interviewed Rick Warren in 2011, he showed his support for the Purpose Driven pastor’s doctrine when he stated: “At root I think he is theological and doctrinal and sound.”(1) This caused much dismay for those who understand the underlying beliefs of “America’s pastor.” Rick Warren is a strong advocate and promoter for contemplative mystics (such as Henri Nouwen) and the spiritual formation movement (the vehicle through which contemplative is entering the Protestant church).(2) So with John Piper’s embrace of Warren coupled with his apparent acceptance of Richard Foster, Piper students should be asking some prudent questions of their teacher. They should also dismiss the notion that we can distinguish between good and bad contemplative prayer. There is no such thing.
The point here is this: It doesn’t make any sense for Christian media to go after T. D. Jakes’ wife for promoting Yoga if they are going to give a pass to Christian leaders who are promoting contemplative prayer. The list of the leaders who are promoting contemplative spirituality (either directly or by proxy) is so long, it would be easier to give a list of those who don’t (that would be a really small list). It is frustrating to see this Christian Post article on Yoga, knowing that Christian Post has promoted, for a very long time, Christian leaders such as Rick Warren who consistently promote contemplative prayer. We are just wondering when the church is going to take a serious look at the contemplative prayer (i.e., spiritual formation) movement in an honest, responsible, and biblical manner.
As for Yoga in the church, the CP article states that what T.D. Jakes’ wife posted “sparked debate.” Really? Where is the debate in the larger influential circles of Christianity on “Christian” Yoga? There should be debate (rather protesting) against Yoga in the church. But where is it? What we do see is that Yoga is becoming more and more the norm in evangelical churches. While many pastors may not give endorsements for Yoga at the pulpit level, their wives, daughters, and other women in their congregations are doing Yoga regularly (and probably reading Jesus Calling and The Shack in between their Yoga sessions).
There are strange things going on in the evangelical church today—and some of the things that matter most (because they relate to the tearing down of the Gospel itself) are being completely ignored. We remember back in 2003 when Rick Warren said that the contemplative prayer movement was a “hot topic” and in 2010 when Christianity Today said it was a controversial issue, but what we don’t remember is when Christian leaders, Christian media, Christian publishers, and Christian pastors actually believed that.
Note: Lighthouse Trails receives regular phone calls and e-mails from Christians who tell us that their churches are now including Yoga sessions or that many of the women in their churches attend community Yoga sessions. If you are not sure why Yoga is not compatible with Christianity or why contemplative prayer is not biblical, please refer to some of the resources linked to below.