The Ravi Zacharias Scandal
Apologetics-based faith isn’t enough; we need to be radical Jesus followers
Back in my evangelical days, I used to listen to Ravi Zacharias’ radio show, “Let My People Think.” I used to think I was so intellectual. I loved apologetics. And, of course, Ravi’s Indian accent. But, I was the person who wanted to think my way into faith.
As a teenager, I did Evangelism Explosion (a course that taught us to explain our faith to other people using simple arguments) so I could explain to someone exactly how they could get saved right that minute. It was all extremely logical. And once you did the deed and prayed the prayer, everything would be just great! Right?
In my naivete, as a teen and young adult, I thought all adults who were Christians were great people who never did anything really bad. But, I’m the adult now and I’ve lived a fair amount of life. I’ve seen that claiming the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily mean that you act like it.
Apologetics is nice, but it doesn’t really get you very far. Apologetics is just assenting to a set of facts. Christianity, though, requires faith and repentance and following Jesus. And I saw people, sometimes my friends, mess up with the whole following Jesus thing.
About Ravi Zacharias. I outgrew the apologetics. I knew what I believed, so I didn’t listen to him anymore. He was getting older and grayer while evangelicalism was having more than its share of scandals. Tullian Tchividjian had an affair, got divorced, etc. The whole Sovereign Grace Church child sexual abuse scandal hit the reformed side of evangelicalism hard. And #metoo came to the Southern Baptist Convention. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Evangelicalism was reckoning with sexual abuse issues on a wide scale.
Ravi Zacharias died in May of 2020. And women started to speak out. Ravi Zacharias owned a chain of day spas mostly in the state of Georgia, but also some overseas. He used the massage services himself for relief of back pain. However, the massage therapists also alleged that he sexually abused and even raped them.
RZIM did a full investigation and the full results were released today. The report showed that over a long period of time, Ravi Zacharias had engaged in sexual misconduct. In 2017, he had an inappropriate relationship over email with a woman and she sued him but they settled out of court with a non-disclosure agreement.
Ravi was often sexually inappropriate with his massage therapists, to the point of abuse. He had massage therapists that he hired in several places in Southeast Asia as well as the US. He funneled funds from the RZIM to pay for some of his massage therapists to continue their education.
But, Ravi had never been an honest man. Raviwatch documents that Ravi Zacharias has been bending the truth since he left college. He has been calling himself Dr. Zacharias despite the fact that he has no earned doctorate degree, only a bachelor’s degree, and that his doctorates are honorary. (It is not customary to use the honorific if the degree is not earned.) Ravi claimed to be Cambridge educated when he just attended a couple of lectures there. And at one point he claimed to be a lecturer at Oxford.
Ravi’s life seems to have been one big lie/scandal. Ravi knew all the facts about the Christian faith. I imagine that he “led people to Jesus” all the time. But, did Ravi understand repentance and Jesus’ love?
Deep, Authentic Christianity
Ravi’s life shows that he was probably a really good Christian on the outside. You’d have liked him if you met him at church. And I’d have really enjoyed theology talks with him.
Ravi knew the plan of salvation, but it appears that he didn’t really know or understand the Gospel, the true meaning of God’s love. Christianity is more than assent to a set of propositions. Christianity is acceptance of God’s love and grace and following Jesus. Following Jesus means daily repentance and living in God’s love.
The last ten years have shown us through the large number of scandals in evangelicalism that the shallow faith of intellectual assent to the facts of Christianity does not change lives and leaves us vulnerable to overwhelming sin. We need more. We need the deep faith of repentance and grace that comes from living in community with other Christians and following Jesus with all of our lives. We need to let ourselves be accountable and vulnerable to others. It may not stop us from sin and scandal, but it might let in some light before so much damage is done.
God loves us too much to let this continue. Let’s move beyond intellectual faith and into a radical, Jesus-centered faith. Let’s let God’s love transform us into people who truly love others.