Ravi Zacharias
Ravi Zacharias Preaching.jpg
Born
Frederick Antony Ravi Kumar Zacharias

(1946-03-26)26 March 1946
Died19 May 2020(2020-05-19) (aged 74)
CitizenshipCanada
United States
OccupationChristian apologist, founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
Spouse(s)Margaret Reynolds (m. 1972–2020)
Academic background
Alma materTrinity International University
Academic work
Era21st-century philosophy
School or traditionChristian philosophy
Main interestsPhilosophy of religion, Christian Apologetics, Worldview
Notable ideasFour Criteria for a Coherent Worldview
Websitehttp://rzim.org

Ravi Zacharias (26 March 1946 – 19 May 2020) was an Indian-born Canadian-American Christian apologist.[1] Zacharias was the author of more than 30 books on Christianity,[2] including the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's Gold Medallion Book Award winner Can Man Live Without God? in the category "theology and doctrine"[3] as well as Christian bestsellers Light in the Shadow of Jihad and The Grand Weaver.[4] Zacharias was the founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and host of the radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking.[5][6]

Early life and education

Zacharias was born on 26 March 1946 in Madras, India. His family moved to Delhi when he was quite young and he grew up there.[6]

His family was Anglican,[7] but he was a "skeptic" until the age of 17 when he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison.[6][8] While he was in the hospital, a local Christian worker brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14, which contains Jesus' words to Thomas the Apostle.[6][9] Zacharias said it was John 14:19 that touched him as the defining paradigm, "Because I live, you also will live", and that he thought, "This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life." He committed his life to Christ, praying that "Jesus if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth."[10]

In 1966, Zacharias immigrated with his family to Canada,[6] earning his undergraduate degree from the Ontario Bible College in 1972 (now Tyndale University) and his M.Div. from Trinity International University in 1976.[6]

In 1990, he participated in guided study at Ridley Hall, a Church of England theological school in Cambridge.[6]

Career

Ministry

Ravi Zacharias talks to pastor Joe Coffey at Christ Community Chapel about answering objections to Christianity.

Zacharias spent the summer of 1971 in South Vietnam, where he evangelized US soldiers, as well as imprisoned Viet Cong members.[8][11] After graduating from Ontario Bible College, he began an itinerant ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada.[12] In 1974 the C&MA sent him to Cambodia, where he preached only a short time before its fall to the Khmer Rouge.[8] He was later ordained by the C&MA in 1980, and between 1980 and 1984, he taught at the C&MA-affiliated Alliance Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of evangelism.[6][13]

In 1983, Zacharias spoke in Amsterdam at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists.[14] After Amsterdam, Zacharias spent the summer evangelizing in India, where he continued to see the need for apologetic ministry, both to lead people to Christ and to train Christian leaders. In August 1984, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was founded in Toronto, Canada, to pursue his calling as a "classical evangelist in the arena of the intellectually resistant."[15] Today its headquarters are located in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.[6]

In 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Zacharias spoke in Moscow with students at the Lenin Military Academy as well as political leaders at the Center for Geopolitical Strategy.[16][17] This was the first of many evangelism events in the political sphere. Future events included one in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1993, where he spoke to members of the judiciary on the importance of having a solid moral foundation.[18]

In 1990 he wrote his first book, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism.[19] In 1992, Zacharias spoke at his first Veritas Forum at Harvard University,[8][20] and later that year was one of the keynote speakers at Urbana.[21] Zacharias continued to be a frequent guest at these forums,[22] both giving lectures and answering students in question and answer sessions at academic institutions including the University of Georgia,[23] the University of Michigan,[24] and Penn State.[25]

Zacharias attracted media attention when in 2004 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) opened its signature pulpit at the Salt Lake Tabernacle to him for a series of messages. Zacharias delivered a sermon on "Who Is the Truth? Defending Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life" to some 7,000 lay-persons and scholars from both LDS and Protestant camps in an initiatory move towards open dialogue between the camps.[26] Some evangelicals criticized Zacharias' decision not to use this opportunity to directly address the "deep and foundational" differences between the historic Christian faith and that of the teachings of the LDS Church. He responded by asserting that Christians should not immediately condemn Mormonism's theological differences but "graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction". He said this is just as effective as showing someone the faults of their faith.[27] The speaking engagement was nearly sabotaged by an allegation by event organizer Greg Johnson, president of Standing Together, that Zacharias had nothing to do with editing the book The Kingdom of the Cults and had only loaned his name to the latest edition. Johnson later apologized for his comment.[28]

Zacharias was a frequent keynote lecturer within the evangelical community at events including the Future of Truth conference in 2004,[29] the National Religious Broadcasters' Convention and Exposition in 2005,[30] the National Conference on Christian Apologetics in 2006.[31] On successive nights in October 2007, he addressed first the students and faculty of Virginia Tech, then the community of Blacksburg, Virginia, on the topic of evil and suffering in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.[32] Zacharias has represented the evangelical community at occasions such as the National Day of Prayer in Washington, D.C., the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations, and the African Union Prayer Breakfast in Maputo, Mozambique, and was named honorary chairman of the 2008 National Day of Prayer task force.[33] He also participated in the ecumenical Together 2016 meetings in July 2016, which Pope Francis addressed, describing the event as a valiant effort.[34][35]

Zacharias was interviewed in Focus on the Family's Truth Project. In November 2009, Zacharias signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration which affirms the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and freedom of religion, as foundational principles of justice and the common good.[36]

In 2014, Zacharias republished his book The Lamb and The Fuhrer, an imaginary conversation between Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and Dietrich Bonhoffer, as a graphic novel.[37] In 2016, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio appointed Zacharias to his pro-life "Dignity Of Life" advisory panel.[38]

In 2015, according to the public Form 990 tax return, Zacharias and his wife reported earning a combined total of $523,926 from his non-profit Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).[39]

Worldview

Zacharias argued that a coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning of life, morality, and destiny. He said that while every major religion makes exclusive claims about truth, the Christian faith is unique in its ability to answer all four of these questions.[40] He routinely spoke on the coherence of the Christian worldview,[41] saying that Christianity is capable of withstanding the toughest philosophical attacks.[42] Zacharias believed that the apologist must argue from three levels: from logic to make it tenable; from feelings to make it liveable; and from whether one has the right to use it to make moral judgements.[43] Zacharias' style of apologetics focused predominantly on Christianity's answers to life's great existential questions with defense of God.[6] He argued that the dominance of the visual in modern communication systems has impacted people's capacity for abstract reasoning altering their way of perceiving things; however, the integration of abstract reasoning into one's worldview is important to have its base grounded in absolutes rather than on relative feelings and fads.[44]

Use of Doctor title

In 2017, Christianity Today reported accusations that Zacharias had exaggerated his academic credentials; for instance that he had referred to himself in multiple articles and videos with the title "Doctor" or "Dr.", despite lacking a PhD qualification. In response, Zacharias said he had been "conferred ten honorary doctorates" and said further that "in Ravi's homeland of India … honorific titles are customary and are used frequently out of respect for elders, including by the RZIM India team when addressing Ravi." The veracity of Zacharias's purported academic positions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was also questioned.[45]

In a statement, RZIM indicated that "[in] earlier years, 'Dr.' did appear before Ravi's name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates. However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it." Christianity Today reported that Zacharias' online biography was edited following the accusations regarding his credentials.[46]

Impropriety accusations

Canadian ministry supporter Lori Anne Thompson accused Zacharias of impropriety involving sexting and exchanging inappropriate emails with her. Christianity Today reported that Zacharias filed a RICO suit against Thompson in response to a demand letter containing explicit allegations against Zacharias.[47] The case was settled in November 2017.[47] In a 3 December 2017 statement,[48] Zacharias said, "Let me state categorically that I never met [Thompson] alone, publicly or privately. The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to [her]—I did not, and there is no evidence to the contrary—but rather, whether I should have been a willing participant in any extended communication with a woman not my wife. The answer, I can unequivocally say, is no, and I fully accept responsibility." Zacharias added that he had been "absolutely faithful" to his wife Margie throughout their marriage, but acknowledged that he "failed to exercise wise caution and to protect [himself] from even the appearance of impropriety…"[47][48] Zacharias declined to comment on the alleged suicide threat he made to Thompson, citing the terms of his non-disclosure agreement with Thompson.[45]

Personal life

On 7 May 1972, Zacharias married Margaret "Margie" Reynolds, whom he met at his church's youth group.[49] They had three children, Sarah, Nathan and Naomi.[50] He lived in Atlanta, Georgia.[6]

In March 2020 Zacharias was diagnosed with a malignant and rare cancer within his spine,[51] and on 19 May 2020 he died at his home in Atlanta at the age of 74.[52] Following his death, a number of high-profile Christians posted messages online detailing Zacharias's influence upon them.[53]

Bibliography