I have been an enthusiast for the apologetics ministry of Ravi Zacharias for several years. So, I feel compelled to respond to recent allegations of impropriety, as reported in ChristianityToday magazine.
Ravi Zacharias, his radio program Let My People Think, and his ministry, RZIM.org, have blessed the church with excellent materials in Christian apologetics. Our church was edified when Ravi came as a guest speaker several years ago, and I personally have taught several Adult Bible Classes, using Ravi’s material. Long-time Veracity readers will observe that we link to RZIM resources multiple times. I am still encouraged by the quality of Ravi’s work and ministry, for the sake of the Gospel.
I am therefore disappointed to learn of the recent allegations, that Ravi has misrepresented his academic credentials, over the years. I knew that Ravi had a Master of Divinity degree, but that he never has pursued an academic doctoral program, of any sort. However, he has received “Honorary Doctorates”. What I did not realize, is that this has led a number of Christians to mistakenly refer to Mr. Ravi Zacharias as “Dr.” Ravi Zacharias.
RZIM has responded that it has been customary, in certain cultures, where Ravi goes, that they refer to him as “Doctor,” out of a sign of respect for elders. This is evidently so. But it is inappropriate to go by the status of “Doctor,” in all cultural contexts. This may not be a big deal for some people, but I would disagree.
Truth matters, folks.
In an American context, calling someone “Doctor” gives the mistaken impression that the individual has earned an academic degree, when it was actually only an honorary degree. The two are not equivalent. If someone practicing medicine claims to be a “Doctor,” but has not an earned degree, this would be misleading. The same standard ought to apply to Christians who pursue academic work, to further a ministry. So, it is disturbing to learn that RZIM itself did not immediately and thoroughly self-correct this issue, when it was first raised two years ago, in 2015.
There are a few other issues, brought out below, in the video by the Steve Baugham, who describes himself as the “Friendly Banjo Atheist.” You can read RZIM.org’s response to some of the allegations (noted also in the Christianity Today article), Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton’s research, and Mr. Baugham’s video and other materials, and make your own assessments. As to the allegations with respect to the Canadian couple, there is just something weird going on there, that I can not fully grasp. I find there are several lessons to be learned from this most unfortunate situation:
- First, Christian leaders should stop the continued practice of accepting the title of “Doctor,” when it is only honorary degrees that have been conferred, and not PhDs. This practice is misleading, and Christian leaders should act in a manner that is above reproach. Politely demurring is good, but insufficient. Public, academic records should be set straight.
- Secondly, as the Scriptures teach (Romans 3:23), all of us have failed at different points in our lives. Ravi Zacharias is no exception. Neither am I. Neither are you.
- Thirdly, Christians should be on the forefront of telling the truth. Waiting for critics, like the “Friendly Banjo Atheist”, to point out our faults, is not good enough. Waiting two years before fully addressing problems with claims of misrepresentation and fact-checking issues, even if it was inadvertent, is not good enough. As apologist Randal Rauser writes, “When it comes to effective apologetics, it is important to have clear, concise, and logically valid arguments with plausible premises. It’s also important to have good rhetoric, a touch of humor, savvy cultural awareness, and a dollop of self-deprecation….While that is all important, the most important aspect of any effective apologetic is credibility. Credibility depends on demonstrable integrity. And integrity depends on conduct that is absolutely above reproach.” An apologetics ministry, no matter how good it is, that raises questions regarding personal trust, actually undermines itself.
- Fourthly, the whole business of admirers calling Ravi “Doctor,” has been completely unnecessary. The effectiveness of Ravi’s ministry stands on the quality of his arguments, reasoning, and rhetoric, not by misleading claims of holding certain academic credentials, that he never did. Ravi has his own issues, yes. But I find it disturbing that a radio listening and book reading Christian audience lacks the basic skills of spiritual discernment, that should insist on fact-checking sources and upholding standards of accountability.
I had the privilege of meeting Ravi Zacharias, when he visited Williamsburg, and our church, those few years ago. I found him to be a most gracious, genuine, and caring man. He is on the “front-lines” for the Gospel, so it comes as no surprise that he would have critics.
Steve Baugham may have an axe to grind, but nevertheless, the grist for the mill has at least some substance. The current crisis Ravi Zacharias is experiencing is surely painful, and those who have benefited from his work should earnestly pray for him, and the rest of the RZIM ministry team. This is not an unrecoverable situation. Contrary to Baugham’s conclusion, at the end of his video, I personally believe that this is an opportunity for RZIM to make something right out of this. Let us pray that Ravi, and those who work with him, will learn these painful lessons and do the right thing.
UPDATE: December 7, 2017. RZIM’s public statement on the federal lawsuit.
ANOTHER UPDATE: December 7, 2017
Also, if you check the Wayback machine, for June 26,2016, for the Oxford Centre, an Christian study center in Oxford, England, you will see that under endorsements, it lists “Dr. Ravi Zacharias” and “Revd Professor Alister McGrath.” This is altogether strange, as Ravi has no PhD, and Alister McGrath has several. RZIM helped to start the Oxford Centre. Why would Ravi be listed as “Dr.,” but not Alister McGrath? Thankfully, the Oxford Centre has since fixed the issue. But it leaves open the question as to why the folks at RZIM, who probably were the ones who put up the website, let this error go unnoticed and uncorrected, for so long? Ah… this is frustrating!
A BETTER UPDATE: December 8, 2017
UPDATE: March 17, 2018
Ravi Zacharias carries ministry credentials from the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). The C&MA recently concluded their investigation into the controversy. Their conclusion?