At our event How can we form a wellness plan?, the following question was asked:
Is there really such a thing as Christian wellness because of its Eastern religious techniques?
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to discuss it during the session.
At first pass, it seems to me that we are all products of our cultural context. I know there are millions upon millions of faithful Christians who are following the way of Jesus in an Eastern context — as there are in a Western context.
So I am hearing this question as asking about the wisdom of appropriating religious practices that may have originated in or become prominent through Hinduism or Buddhism.
What insight can you share with this person?
I think this is such an important question as many health traditions from the East are quite accessible and popular in the West. Eastern approaches are touted for a more natural, holistic, integrative approach to healing and studies on the scientific basis of these therapies are gradually growing in number. Besides the usual questions that come with any therapy on the effectiveness and risks involved, as Christians we also have the question of discernment on how compatible a particular therapy is with our faith. A 1978 article by Julia Tsuei in the West J Med on “Eastern and Western Approaches to Medicine” describes the difference this way – “ The Western approach clearly divides health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state….The same terminology may apply to entirely different facts, the teaching and learning methods are quite different, and the evaluation and treatment is almost not comparable”. Some concepts that are used for evaluation of the presence of a disease in Eastern medicine are ideas such as yin and yang, the balance of the five elements or blockages of flow to vital energy and treatment is correction of these imbalances. This however does not rule out the possibility that eastern therapies may also have more natural scientifically verifiable explanations especially if there is consistent reproducible effectiveness. One book that I read recently on this topic is, “Taboo or to do? – Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson”. The authors examine the origin, history, of some such practices and how they may relate to biblical and historical theological understanding. The key question is - Can we take up the practice and still stay committed to the Christian faith? I appreciated some of the criteria I read in the book for helping a Christian evaluate an eastern approach and some of these are below–
- What is the philosophy behind the discipline? What is their underlying view of reality?
- How does that philosophy compare to the Christian view of life?
- Is the philosophy communicated essential to the practice?
- Is the philosophy communicated directly or indirectly by the practice?
- How would you describe the feelings you derive from the experience? Are you left with a sense of oneness?
- What are the outcomes of this discipline for Christian spiritual growth and discipleship?
- Is the training practiced overtly linked to Eastern spiritual beliefs in the worldview of the practitioner and how does the practitioner see their role in relation to clients and the community?
- Is experience taking priority over the place of scriptural authority and reasoned reflection about teachings and practice?
- Is the effectiveness a matter of pure science or are there associations being made to ideas such as spiritual energy or occult practices like astrology?
- Is there a need to ponder whether the practice may be separated from its origin? Has the practice evolved so much from its roots that it is neutral?
Even after a careful detailed reflection and study of a particular eastern approach and consideration to Christian doctrine, Christian communities may respond differently to these approaches. In those situations, we can still listen to each other and understand why we arrived at different positions and continue to embrace one another as a brother and sister in Christ. May the Lord guide us all to a place of spiritual wellness as we each try to do the best with the experiences and knowledge we have.