It’s Current Events week on the blog. For the past year, one week per quarter I pause whatever blog series we’re in, and I scan the news on Monday morning to see what headline I’ll write about that week. My goal is that we learn how to engage what is happening in our world. We do not want to be people who bury our heads in the sand, unaware of what is going on. But we can be confused by or uncertain of how to process the latest news. So, as one person famously said, we need to be people who hold a newspaper in one hand and our Bible in the other. Or maybe nowadays I should say it this way: on our devices, we have a news app open side-by-side with a Bible app. In other words, we study scripture and theology, and we apply it to the world around us. We are trying to answer the question: “What does God say about things that are going on?” I want us to learn to think Christianly about our culture.
There were certainly a lot of headlines to choose from as I started looking through the news this past Monday, but the news about Ravi Zacharias struck me personally, and I thought it was important we talk about it.
I have mentioned Christian speaker and writer, Ravi Zacharias, in my sermons over the years. I did a search on my computer through my sermons since I started at Faith Church in 2002, and I found that I’ve mentioned Ravi Zacharias at least ten different times. I did so because he had such a wonderful way of explaining things. He had a combination of intellect and humor grounded in biblical truth, with the ability to speak in a compelling way.
I would say that as a public speaker, and as a preacher, though I never met him, Zacharias was one of my mentors from afar. I first learned about him at the Urbana student mission conference in 1993 which I attended on winter break of my sophomore year of college. It was awesome. 20,000 college students learning about how God’s Spirit was at work around the globe. Then Zacharias spoke at a main session one evening, and it seemed the entire crowd in the University of Illinois basketball arena was mesmerized. When he got to the end of his sermon, he asked the organizers of the event for a bit more time, because he had more material he hadn’t covered, and the crowd cheered like wild. We wanted more! Even then he only summarized a few of his closing points, and we wished he could keep going.
I bought the cassette of that sermon and listened to it frequently in the months and years to come. It is still my favorite sermon of all time. At some point I lost the cassette, so I bought the DVD, and then the digital recording. I wanted to learn to communicate like Zacharias.
As I continued my college career, I took a philosophy class in the spring semester of my junior year. Maybe it was because it was early in the morning. Maybe it was because philosophy can be dry. I hated it. At that point in my life, I was a bit of a missionary elitist, thinking that studying philosophy was a waste of time when I could be out there doing ministry. In fact, I was getting excited about my upcoming summer as I was traveling to Guyana, South America, for a 13 week-long missionary internship. Philosophy seemed pointless when there were so many that needed to hear about Jesus. As I was packing for Guyana, I brought along some books to read in my free time, including a brand new purchase: my first Ravi Zacharias book, Can Man Live Without God? I read it that summer, as I ministered in Guyana, and just like his Urbana sermon, the book was compelling. Interestingly, in the book, Ravi Zacharias engages with philosophy the whole way through. All of a sudden I had a new vision for how Christians can appreciate philosophy. In fact the book opened my eyes to how vital it is that we think deeply about God, and that belief in God is rational. I went back to college that fall and took an apologetics class, which is basically using philosophy to show that Christianity is rational, and I loved that class and it strengthened my faith. Thanks to Ravi Zacharias.
Over the years, I listened to many, many more of Zacharias’ talks and sermons online. I also read a bunch of his books, and watched as the evangelistic organization he founded, and which bears his name, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, grew and grew. I heard him speak again in person at Lancaster Bible College. If I ever started doubting this whole Christian thing, all I needed to do was go on YouTube and watch more Ravi Zacharias videos. I found his Q & A sessions to be especially fascinating. Many times after a talk, he would answer questions from the audience. Often the questions were really intimidating, as people raised objections that make Christians cower and feel immature about our faith, as if we are just believing fairy tales. Zacharias, without missing a beat, would have amazing answers to the questions. Often he would even be able to take apart the questioners’ questions, showing how their question had false assumptions or inconsistencies. Certainly I did not watch every Q & A session, but I never saw him interact aggressively with the questioners. Instead he answered calmly, with kindness and humor, inviting the questioner to talk more in person afterward.
Then a couple years ago, a story broke with accusations against Zacharias. A woman said he had an abusive relationship with her. Not what you want to hear about one of the people who influenced your faith so positively. It didn’t make major news, but Christianity Today certainly reported it, so it was out there in evangelical Christian circles. Zacharias adamantly denied the charges, saying instead that the woman was aggressively pursuing him. He claimed he was being attacked, and people including his ministry board strongly came to his defense. He ended up settling the case in court with a non-disclosure agreement. That means case closed, and details were kept under lock and key.
Ravi Zacharias continued his ministry, and it grew even more. Then in 2019 he broke the news that he had cancer. It was fast-moving, and he passed away in early 2020. Many in the evangelical community around the world were grief-stricken and numerous people shared stories about how Ravi Zacharias impacted their lives. Loads of people shared their favorite Ravi Zacharias videos online.
Just a couple months after his passing, though, the adulation and praise turned to more accusation. New stories started coming out about Zacharias. Stories about massage parlors and inappropriate relationships. Christianity Today reported again. This time his ministry, the large international organization that still bore his name, commissioned a law firm to independently investigate charges. That was about six months ago.
Their report was published this past week. What they uncovered was horrible. Now it wasn’t just Christianity Today reporting the news. It was all over the media. Ravi Zacharias had maintained numerous extra-marital sexual relationships in which he manipulated and abused women. It was spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse, including rape. The report is very hard to read, especially because of the excruciating pain Zacharias caused to so many women. While this five-part blog post will examine Zacharias’ failure and what we can all do to avoid such failure in our lives, let us remember the women, the vulnerable hurting ones, because of the evil inflicted on them by a powerful persuasive abuser.
How did this happen? Check back in to the next post, and I’ll try to begin to answer that question.