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Taboo or to do?

Is Christianity complementary with yoga, martial arts, Hallowe'en, mindfulness and other alternative practices? A new book seeks to explore. By Ross Clifford & Philip Johnson

Taboo or to doWhat advice would you give to a mother whose 12-year-old daughter has been told that after every football training session she must do a compulsory yoga session to unwind? Or, what would you say to someone who works in management whose professional development programme centres on mindfulness?

Then there is the Christian retirement centre that asks whether it is appropriate for them to run Reiki classes for their residents? Or you are the principal of a Bible College who is approached by concerned faculty because outside the library there is a group of visitors doing T’ai Chi exercises. There may be someone who is battling ill-health and asks if it is ‘okay’ to try acupuncture?

Isn’t this just one snapshot of our global village which illustrates just how close some “taboo or to do” practices are to our doorsteps?  

The reason we wrote the book Taboo Or To Do? Is Christianity Complementary with Yoga, martial arts, Halowe’en, Mindfulness and other Alternative Practices? is because of these real-life illustrations and questions that have come our way. We explore (in the chapters) how in our multi-cultural neighbourhoods we, as Christians and churches, are encountering and responding to Eastern religious practice and traditions. There are other public practices such as Hallowe’en that we also consider. There is a spirituality we are rubbing against in the public square.

From our experience there is no popular book that takes up these issues that individual Christians are facing as part of their personal growth. Churches that are wanting to reach ‘spiritual but not religious’ people are engaging with have few resources. We agree with Scottish Baptist theologian, John Drane, who who did the book’s foreword: ‘We seem to be in a contradictory shadowland in which we have become both less religious and more religious, depending on where you look and whose opinion you listen to.’

This is what the book is about. In the introduction we start a conversation about today’s spiritual search interacting with the report The Spirit of Things Unseen where the executive summary concludes, in Britain ‘a spiritual current runs, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.’

That current we sense impacts most of us through practices we consider that include yoga, aromatherapy, mindfulness, transformation mind seminars, T’ai Chi and martial arts. The average Christian is not having to deal with new perspectives on Paul but rather practices that touch them at the work place, school and in family life.

We also deal with Hallowe’en and Christian blessings for pets. Each chapter contains background to the practice, contact points, a spiritual discernment section, as well as case studies. There are more than 15 case studies when considering what their response should be. The aim is to allow each church the opportunity to work out their position before God.

A key lesson throughout the book is about reflecting on the practitioner’s worldview. Is it advocating a specific religious position? Is it a secular view? Is it something that may be Christianised? Another question is whether a practice may evolve from its roots? John Drane also asks the question from a missional perspective: Are there any no-go zones for God?

One way to illustrate this is by considering T’ai Chi. T’ai Chi is an internal passive form of martial arts. It has strong affinity with the Taoist faith. It uses a variety of bodily postures, many of which are named after animal poses, such as the crane. Unlike the rapid movements in karate and tae kwon do, T’ai Chi involves deliberate slow exercises which represent a continuous flowing action of harmony and energy. The key discernment point is, is it appropriate to be involved in a Chi-based practice that affirms impersonal energy forces?

One case study involves the Revd Simon Bickersteth, vicar at St Martin’s Walsall. He indicates they will not hire their halls or conduct any ministry that conflicts with the Christian faith. They believe they operate T’ai Chi within a Christian framework. He states: ‘The T’ai Chi groups were introduced alongside the weekly community cafe. The groups have proved very popular. The leaders have very gently allowed their faith to impact the people who attend the T’ai Chi group.

'So for example, we have a prayer board where people can pin their prayer requests – this is always available when the T’ai Chi group meets. People who attend this group know that because of this they are being prayed for, and they know they can ask for prayer at any time.

'As a result of the cafe and the T’ai Chi group, relationships have been formed, and through these relationships we have seen people coming to faith, or returning to faith, and some have started worshipping at St Martin’s.’

In the chapter on Mindfulness there is a case study from Shaun Lambert the senior minister at Stanmore Baptist Church (London). Australian Baptist, Guy Yeomans, who is now pastoring in England, also sets out a ministry of meditation for those who are spiritually seeking.

These spiritual practices and questions are where the rubber hits the road for Christians and church groups in today’s world. That is why we wrote Taboo Or To Do?

Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson co-founded the Community of Hope which pioneered ministry into Mind.Body.Spirit lifestyle festivals. They have co-written a number of internationally published books on contemporary spirituality, including Jesus and the Gods of the New Age and The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection.

Ross is the Principal of Morling Theological College (University of Divinity and Australian College of Theology) and Philip is an adjunct lecturer. They both teach on New Spirituality and Missional Engagement.

Ross is past President of the Baptist Union of Australia and President of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, and Philip continues to explore marketplace theology.



Baptist Times, 17/10/2016
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