Yoga, Beads & Beer Cans: Why “Things” Cannot be Inherently Wrong for Christians

Beer Cans and Bible School

Recently, a former student of mine sent me a message to ask a very important question about how followers of Jesus should interact with the religious artifacts and practices of other religions. I have enjoyed this student’s questions from the minute he walked into my class. As a freshman, he had recently chosen to follow Jesus and was learning things for the first time. It was always a privilege to have new followers of Jesus in my New Testament and Old Testament classes. They had questions no on else had and brought a perspective that really informed the rest of us “religious lifers”.
PBRNot only do they do they ask great questions, but they sometimes do things that we would never expect. This student happened to be one of those kinds of students. In response to the requirement for a creative aspect to their presentation on first century social groups, this student threw empty beer cans all over the front of the classroom to demonstrate the licentious and decadent ethics of the Epicureans. Falling off of my chair, and choking to death from laughter, I still vividly remember cans of PBR in my Evangelical college school classroom where I taught New Testament three times a week. While alcohol has been destructive in the lives of so many people, it is one of those “things” that is too often labeled as evil when it is impossible to actually identify an ammoral object as evil or righteous. How a “thing” is used is usually what makes the action either normalized and healthy or immature and destructive, not what the “thing” is. As such, when I saw empty cans of Beer all over the front of my Bible class, I had not choice but to give them an A.

The Question:
What are your thoughts on incorporating things from different religions into our christian life like yoga, karma, or liking the meaning behind mala beads? People asked me this before and I don’t know how to respond. Part of me says it is fine because its encouraging a better life style, but you’re bring in foreign gods?


The Throwback: I remember taking a grad school class that in the first session, the professor said that yoga was wrong for Christians to do because it is demonic. I dropped the class the next day and haven’ looked back since. That kind of thinking doesn’t invite critical thinking, cultural intelligence or historical precedents into the conversation and is simply not fit for an educator in an education environment. It also doesn’t invite Scripture into the conversation which is where I begin with my answer.


Phoenician Temple-Melqart:Baal

Phoenician Temple of Baal/Melqar

The Answer:
Architecture: I don’t see anything wrong with choosing to incorporate things from other religions in the same way Israel’s God did in the O.T. For example, the architecture of the Jerusalem temple was primarily Phoenician in design (Phoenicians made temples to worship Baal) and yet God was cool with using their architecture.


Religious Rites: Circumcision was a religious rite practiced by the Egyptians and the Canaanites long before Israel and yet God made it clear that he wanted circumcision to be used as a sign of his covenant as stated in Genesis 15.


Ideologies: Our Wisdom Literature borrows and copies from the Wisdom of Egypt (Maat) extensively and yet it is accredited to God without reservation. Wisdom to the Egyptians was an integral ideology to their religion and supported how they practiced their faith as well as formed a foundation for their religious identity. 


Hi-Jacking God:
As such God is ok with incorporating architecture, practices and ideologies from other religions that predate the faith of Israel for his own purposes.


The catch is that it is for his “own purposes”. He takes liberty in how and what he uses and if it becomes problematic he can discard it. He also isn’t beholden to using it in the same way or for the same purposes as it was originally used for. So there is freedom there. It would be problematic if he had his temple built to worship Baal as well as himself, but not problematic to confiscate/hi-jack the familiar architecture of Phoenician temples to bring people to worship him only.


As the people of God’s creation, we must not look at culture as inherently evil, but as an environment in which God can reveal himself through familiar cultural memes that are already in place. He can even reveal himself through religio-cultural memes (practices, ideologies and artifacts of other religions). There is a way of doing it so that God remains the one true God to us, but we shouldn’t fear absorbing cultural and even religious memes into our faith if they have the capacity to enrich our faith, our love of God and neighbor and and give us the natural ability to live freely in the culture God has placed us in. Our holiness is more often determined by how we do things than what we do or don’t do.


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