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Ravi Zacharias and Problems with Apologetics

Ravi Zacharias was one of my early introductions to Christian apologetics. He was formative in how I approached some ideas, and his way of turning a phrase still sticks in my mind. Ravi Zacharias was also a fraud and a repeat sexual abuser. Christians need to deal with this. Apologists like me need to with this. We need to do it in a way that does not excuse but rather acknowledges this and works to ensure systems are in place to prevent it from happening in the future.

Early on, I was a bit off put by some of his examples. I cannot recall the exact book–it may have been Jesus Among Other Gods–but he used a story of a man propositioning a woman who sat next to him on a flight for a large sum of money. Eventually he admits he doesn’t have a lot of money, and the woman, horrified, asks what kind of woman he thinks she is. He cynically responds that she already established that by accepting his larger offer. It’s an off color story, but one that targeted women in a way that made me pretty uncomfortable. I wish I’d paid more attention then. I continued to buy and read his books until I started to move on to more intensive apologetics training and hone in on topics that moved beyond what he wrote about.

It came out some years ago that Ravi Zacharias inflated his credentials. There’s not really any way around this. He claimed to be a professor at Oxford. He claimed to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. These and several other claims which were false and admitted in writing to be false by him at various points demonstrated a clear and substantial case that he had inflated his credentials on purpose to lend himself credibility. This was enough for me at the time to immediately stop citing and recommending his works. I didn’t do enough. I should have done more to warn others about the problems then, because even this was a severe problem for someone at the front lines of apologetics–defending the truth while deceiving.

More recently, severe allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse were leveled against Ravi Zacharias. And, in the last few weeks, the independent firm hired by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to investigate these claims confirmed that they are, in fact, credible. It was more than once, a pattern of planned and sustained abuse across multiple victims. It’s horrifying and unimaginable the damage that Zacharias did. It must be condemned in the strongest of terms, and it must lead to broad change across apologetics organizations and individuals.

There are some things Christians can and even must do to in order to prevent things like this happening again. Unfortunately, too few Christians and especially apologists are stepping up to do so. I remember being told time and again when I was taking graduate level courses on apologetics that “the Gospel is offensive enough.” The point was that, as Paul wrote, the Cross seems like foolishness to those who don’t believe. It’s enough for apologists to contend for the faith. To put up additional barriers, like backing unconditionally those celebrity Christians accused of wrongdoing, is to make the Gospel offensive. By our works we will be known, and too many Christians and even–perhaps at times especially–apologists have sullied the name of Christ with covering wrongdoing and siding with the oppressor, the abuser, and the wealthy over the oppressed, those harmed, and the needy.

The first thing Christian apologetics organizations must do is have outside accountability. I do not know all the details of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, but from those who have spoken out, it sounds as though there was very little accountability within the organization. Christians must do things openly and with all willingness to show accountability, paper trails, and willingness to change when needed.

A second thing that can be done is to stop lionizing individual apologists. Too many Christian apologists make their name into a selling point. I have long observed and tried to focus efforts into encouraging apologists to work to be experts in a few select areas and rely upon each other when other issues come up. This helps avoid the pressure to “know everything,” to inflate credentials, and perhaps most importantly, to make apologists into celebrities. When we decide that a single name–like Ravi Zacharias–is worth hitching our wagons to, it becomes much more difficult psychologically to acknowledge any possibility of that name being wrong. I’ve seen it with other apologists as well. Too often, we apologists are willing to defend the person and even the errors of that person because of their name, whether it’s Christological errors, inflating credentials, or even, horrifyingly, abuse. I use my name on my blog, and I have to confess it was in part because of my own aspirations to be one of those names. I hope that my efforts in the past few years to reconstruct my faith have shown that is not my goal going forward.

Third, we need to listen to those outside our circles. I am in a lot of apologetics groups, and I often see the same topic over and over again with the same people and web sites cited. When someone comes along with an outside voice, our tendency is to circle the wagons and shout them down rather than listen to and acknowledge their concerns. This applies to arguments related to the existence of God, but it also applies to broader theological topics, ethics, and, unfortunately, to covering up mistakes made. The latter easily turns into being willing to be apologists for abusers. We cannot let that happen. It must never happen.

Finally, we need to act swiftly and decisively in the face of credible accusations. It’s easy to appeal to court language like “innocent until proven guilty,” but that is not how the body of Christ ought to work. We need to work to protect victims as quickly as possible and speak up for those who are silenced. This is a fine line, and one that I myself am still figuring out, but we are far, far too often on the wrong side of this line. We, again, circle the wagons rather than listening to critique of someone we have lionized. We need to stop. I stated above that I stopped citing Ravi after I came upon evidence he had inflated his credentials. This evidence was put forward by an atheist, and simply because of that too many Christians dismissed it and my own concerns. A better approach would be to investigate and act upon that evidence. Going alongside this, with Zacharias specifically, we ought to immediately stop citing his works, using his examples, sharing any videos of him, or recommending him in any way whatsoever. To do so damages our witness going forward.

I hope this post will be taken to heart and start some discussion. We need to change. As Christians, and as apologists, we need to change.

SDG.

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What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I ask questions and offer answers regarding what I believe is wrong with apologetics generally.

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