Category Archives: Apologetics

Were Ravi Zacharias’ Accusers Lying?… (Were the Apostles Lying About the Resurrection?)

About a week ago I wrote a blog post about the Ravi Zacharias scandal. Most reactions to the news about Ravi have been understandable: a mix of shock, anger, dismay, empathy for the victims, and a call to self-reflection and greater accountability. However, some reactions have been in the extreme.

On one side are those who will use the Zacharias scandal as yet another reason why Christianity can not be true, and Christians can not be trusted. There will always be people in this category, it seems.

On the other side are those who profess to be Christians, but who have come with a variety of reasons why one should be dismissive or skeptical about the findings of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)’s internal report. Here are the most common reactions I have seen:

  1. We are all sinners. Why all of this focus on what Ravi did?
  2. Why bring all of this up after Ravi has died?  The man can not defend himself.
  3. Why did these women witnesses not come forward until after he died? How trustworthy are they? Ravi was a great man of God!”

What am I going to do with my Ravi Zacharias books?  Read my answer here.

I want to briefly address each one of these responses/reactions, before I get to my parenthetical question: “Were the Apostles Lying About the Resurrection?

The first reaction has definitely truth to it. But while it recognizes a particular Scriptural truth, that all of us fall short of the glory of God, the tendency here is to forget that Ravi’s sin went far beyond your “average sin.”

We are not talking about a pornography addiction here, that vacillates between shame and repentance, that may or may not have a direct impact on others. What we are talking about is a repeated pattern of behavior, over many years, with no evidence of repentance, that subjected harm and deception upon multiple, vulnerable women. These women were taken advantage of by a stronger, more powerful man, a man claimed to be the “greatest Christian apologist of [the 21st] century,” who further abused them spiritually.  But the objection is right to protest the focus upon Ravi. Instead, we should be remembering his victims, and pray for them.

The second reaction is peculiar, as though it assumes some sort of statute of limitations. Perhaps this reaction is made, as a way of defending Ravi’s family, so there might be some understandable motive here. But as apologist David Wood argues, if he were to die tomorrow, and then someone found 20 bodies buried beneath his house, would you not want to know how those 20 bodies got there?

Ravi Zacharias is in many ways like Amnon, David’s most favored, first-born son, a man of great “integrity”, who in 2 Samuel 13 abused his sister Tamar. Amnon has been dead long ago, but God saw fit to preserve this story in our Bibles. I believe, part of the reason, for preserving the story, is to help us all to remember the Tamars of the world. Even though Ravi is dead, the Tamars in the Ravi story are still living.

The third reaction is meant to test the credibility of the female witnesses. If you have the time, you might want to view the YouTube video below, an interview conducted on the Capturing Christianity YouTube channel, with female Christian apologists Alisa Childers and Dr. Liz Jackson, who tackle this reaction in more detail.

What I want to highlight here is the nature of cognitive bias, and how it can so easily trick us into believing something that lacks evidential support. As I mentioned in my earlier reports about Ravi, I really did not want the negative stories about Ravi to be true. Ravi was not my most favorite Christian apologist…but he still seemed like a genuine, reputable guy, with the most winsome, popular appeal, having a positively great impact on many of my Christian friends. I really wanted to believe that there was some good explanation for what had happened. Sadly, the evidence points to the reality that the situation with Ravi was far, far worse than anyone could have imagined (see apologist Mike Winger’s video).

I had some serious doubts about Ravi, when the first set of allegations about him came forward THREE YEARS AGO. But after having talked with someone at RZIM, I was given assurances that RZIM was serious about the matter and that everyone in RZIM’s top leadership was being held accountable, and that everything would be OK.

But the funny thing about evidence, is that when you begin to take a serious look at the available evidence, it can have a serious impact on how much you trust your previous assumptions. It can challenge your wishful thinking. If substantial evidence is analyzed, that refutes your wishful thinking, then you have to make a choice. Either you revise your cognitive bias, and rethink your wishful thinking, and follow the evidence wherever it leads….. OR you will choose to continue believing what you want to believe, and simply ignore the evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

So, were Ravi Zacharias’ accusers lying? The problem with assuming that these women were lying is that they all gave the same type of testimony, despite being independent of one another. First, we have the Canadian supporter of Ravi’s ministry, who first challenged Ravi, in the 2017 sexting controversy, Lori Anne Thompson. She is the only named witness, but prior to RZIM’s internal investigation, there were at least three other witnesses, involved in Ravi’s spa business. RZIM’s internal investigation revealed five other witnesses to Ravi’s behavior. Then there are about 200 women, with photos solicited by Ravi Zacharias, on the phones that he had, over the past 7 years or so, which in some of those photos, the women where naked. With such independent, multiple witnesses (8 thus far, by my count), along with the evidence from the cell phones, this makes for a substantial case against Ravi (None of this even touches on the academic credentials controversy, or the report that while Ravi was a younger preacher, he pressured his brother’s girlfriend to get an abortion).

Is it possible that all of these women just happened to give very similar stories that were all fabricated? Were all of these electronic photos on Ravi’s phones fakes? Possibly. But how plausible is that? Even more so, how probable is that?

Compare all of that to the evidence we have for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul reports some 500, unnamed witnesses to the Risen Lord. We have four, different Gospel testimonies, that all feature the Empty Tomb. The New Testament tells us numerous stories of those who saw the Risen Jesus. Interestingly, the first witnesses to the Resurrection were those who were most suspect in terms of giving an accurate testimony: they were women.

Consider this: We have more substantial evidence that demonstrates that Ravi Zacharias was a sexual predator than we have for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Think about that for a moment.

Nevertheless, there are many Christians out there, apparently, who still believe Ravi to be completely innocent, and who buy into Ravi’s own rhetoric, which calls the critics of Ravi to be “demonic,” or otherwise, “tools of Satan,” or other sayings like that.

It really makes me wonder why so many Christians call themselves Christians. If the evidence against Ravi can not be believed, why do such people believe that Jesus really rose from the dead?  What type of cognitive bias is in play here? What type of wishful thinking keeps folks from accepting evidence that runs counter to what is believed?

The same can be said for non-believers, who reject the Resurrection of Jesus. Though the evidence for the Resurrection is not as clear-cut as the case against Ravi, the evidence for the Resurrection is still very, very good. So, if you easily accept the verdict against Ravi, as a “no-brainer”, what is it that is preventing you from accepting Jesus as the Risen Lord? What type of cognitive bias is in play here? What type of wishful thinking keeps folks from accepting evidence that runs counter to what is believed?

Something to think about.

Oh, one more thing, before I close out: REMEMBER THE VICTIMS AND PRAY FOR THEM.


A Call to Repent Internally at RZIM

Truth-telling is essential to the cause of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus. For if an unbelieving world can not regard Christians as trustworthy people, why would they even bother to listen to us, when we speak about Jesus?

Events of late in the Christian world have brought me much despair. But some recent news have given me a ray of hope.

This past weekend, an apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) wrote an internal letter to RZIM’s leadership, calling upon RZIM for more transparency regarding the controversies regarding some of Ravi’s actions, while he was living and leading the RZIM ministry. The letter was leaked out from RZIM, and published at Julie Roys’ website, where Julie describes the letter’s content as “stunning.” The fact that such a letter was even “leaked” out from RZIM is stunning in and of itself. Interestingly, the letter calls for RZIM to rebrand itself, something that I made a case for several months ago, after a new series of allegations were disclosed. The author of the letter, Dr. Max Baker-Hytch, a senior tutor with RZIM’s  OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and a lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, a private hall of the University of Oxford, urges that the corporate culture at RZIM is due for an overhaul.

In response to the letter, several apologist associates, working with RZIM, have decided to sever their ties with the organization. One of those associates, John Dickson, believes the ministry of RZIM to be in “grave peril.

Serious accusations against Christian leaders should not be taken lightly. We should uphold the reputations of leaders, as best as we can, and not jump to conclusions. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that all of us have skeletons-in-the-closet, that we need not always publicize. Everyone falls short of the glory of God, and we should extend grace towards others, as much as possible, so that relationships can be healed and integrity maintained.

But that being said, when a Christian leader or organization presents a story, that does not jive with the available evidence, then that warrants a measure of skepticism. An initial act, that might lead to disgrace is one thing. But when a concerted effort is made to cover-up such an act, the lack of trust associated with the cover-up effort is infinitely more damaging than the original transgression itself. When this type of behavior is exhibited by Christian leaders, and the organizations that support them, then this is a clear case where the celebrity cult of personality has eclipsed whatever good the ministry might be doing.

It took courage for Dr. Baker-Hytch to write such a letter, and that courage gives me some hope that integrity is still something to yearn for. Let us pray that RZIM will make good on their promise to pursue truth, take Dr. Baker-Hytch’s letter to heart, and do the right thing immediately. 

A broken trust can be hard to rebuild and repair.


Confronting Old Testament Controversies, by Tremper Longman. A Review

As a Christian, do you tend to ignore the Old Testament? Do the topics of evolution, Israelite history, violence, and sexuality, with respect to the Old Testament tend to freak you out, due to all of the controversies, surrounding these topics?

Dr. Tremper Longman, professor emeritus at Westmont College, who specializes in the Old Testament, tackles these tough topics in a respectful manner in Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence. Most Christians have probably not heard of Dr. Longman, yet he has typically operated in “stealth mode,” for ordinary Christians. They are probably unaware of Longman’s pervasive influence in the world of Bible translation. Nearly every major contemporary English Bible translation in use by evangelicals today bears some influence of his. So, when professor Longman stepped in and wrote a book about the toughest controversies in the Old Testament, I knew I that must read it and offer a review.

Do you desire to know and love God’s Word, as found in the Old Testament, but wrestle with some doubts, as to how to read it? Dr. Tremper Longman offers some vital assistance in Confronting Old Testament Controversies.

 

Helping Christians to Better Navigate Controversies, to Encourage Christians to Read Their Old Testament

Reading the Old Testament is sadly neglected by many Christians today, but Dr. Longman makes the Old Testament a lot less intimidating. Longman addresses the “hot potato” issues that have surfaced in popular culture, since the arrival of the “New Atheism,” in the wake of 9/11. Voices like that of Richard Dawkins have dismissed the God of the Old Testament as vindictive, capricious, and violent.

The Old Testament has taken quite a beating in public debates, in the wake of 9/11, and a number of evangelical and “progressive Christian” scholars have sought to answer such critiques. However, while Tremper Longman is sympathetic with these recent attempts to somehow “improve” the Old Testament’s reputation, he carefully shows how some of these re-examinations of the Old Testament fall short of accurately reflecting the actual message of the Old Testament, suggesting better ways to move forward.

Confronting Old Testament Controversies is therefore an engagement with contemporary scholars, who have made an impact on popular publishing regarding Old Testament difficulties, over the past ten to fifteen years or so. A number of these books look at the Old Testament with some sense of embarrassment, sort of like portraying the Old Testament as that crazy uncle of yours, who says wild and outlandish things at your Thanksgiving dinner. You sort of tolerate your uncle, but you manage to find a nice way to shift the conversation. However, Tremper Longman’s main audience is evangelical Christians, who hold to a high view of Scriptural authority, and who want to take the whole of the Bible seriously, but who find themselves troubled at times, with what they read in the Old Testament.

Longman is basically a theological conservative-moderate, when it comes to understanding the Old Testament. He does not find compelling highly-conservative views of the Old Testament, such as Young Earth Creationism, that tend to sidestep the Ancient Near East worldview of the Old Testament writers. But on the other hand, Dr. Longman does not buy into the more critical, revisionist views of the Old Testament, ranging from liberal mainline Old Testament scholars, like a Walter Brueggeman, to “post-evangelical” or “progressive Christian” scholars, who claim at least some partial affinity with evangelical thinking, like Peter Enns.

Here is a summary of Tremper Longman’s approach: Dr. Longman suggests that the scientific theory of biological evolution is fully compatible with the Old Testament’s teaching on God’s creation of the world and the fall of humanity into sin. He fully supports the traditional positions Christians have held, regarding human sexuality, for the past 2,000 years. Dr. Longman does not shy away from the charges levied by the “New Atheists,” regarding claims of genocide and child abuse being sanctioned in the Old Testament. But he does encourage the reader to better understand the Ancient Near East context, in which the Old Testament was written, as being the key to better interpreting such tough passages in the Scriptures. God is a God of judgment against evil, and not a perpetrator of genocide or child abuse.

Digging into Old Testament Controversies

Taking a closer look at Dr. Longman’s treatment of the creation vs. evolution controversy, he argues that there is a basic historicity, even of the earliest parts of Genesis, but he contends that the literary genre of texts, like Genesis 1-11, and the extensive use of metaphor in such texts, makes it difficult to nail down specific historical claims. He acknowledges, for example, that the New Testament does assume a degree of historicity, such as with the Flood of Noah, though the particular details of that historicity are difficult to determine. Longman contends that the primary concern of the New Testament writers is to make certain theological points, such as God’s universal judgment against human sin with respect to the flood, and less on the concrete details of the historical event.

He is also prepared to say that an historical Adam and Eve is not necessary in order to retain the fundamental theology, associated with the creation texts. This does NOT mean that Adam and Eve did not exist, as two historical persons. Rather it is to say that the truthfulness of the Bible does not hinge on demonstrating the historicity of Adam and Eve. Contrary to a certain group of scholars, who in recent years have had a pronounced voice at BioLogos, an evangelical think-tank seeking to find harmony between the Bible and science, Longman firmly believes that humans are created in God’s image and that there was an historic, cosmic Fall. It follows from these fundamental biblical teachings that sin, and the effects of sin, have permeated humanity, thus setting up the need for human salvation, that Christ came to accomplish. Attempts to diminish humanity’s fall into sin, by claiming evolutionary science as an ally, are wrong-headed ways of reading the Old Testament, and should be rejected. In this approach, Dr. Longman fits within an interpretive tradition that goes back to earlier generations of thinkers, such as C.S. Lewis.

Though not a scientist, Tremper Longman is willing to accept the current genetic and biological thinking, that would rule out a single human couple as the sole progenitors of the entire human race. He finds no need to look for concordist solutions, like that of a Glenn Morton, that might find concrete agreement between the Bible and modern science, as he contends that the Bible does not purpose to reveal the intricate details of a scientific approach to the world. It is unfortunate that Dr. Longman published his book before Joshua Swamidass published The Genealogical Adam and Eve. It would have been interesting to see how Dr. Longman might have modified his view, upon interacting fully with Swamidass’ thesis (see my earlier review of Swamidass).

Longman’s treatment of the controversies concerning the historicity of the Exodus and Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, are generally aligned with most other evangelical approaches to such controversies, though he does not envision the traditional calculation of 2-4 million Israelites wandering through the Sinai desert. Instead, Dr. Longman is content to say that the biblical record suggests a smaller force of former slaves, making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, numbering in the tens of thousands, as opposed to the several million (this view concurs with my reading of the relevant texts). Longman suggests that such a reading of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land is fully consistent with Scripture, as well as modern archaeology.

Longman argues against certain “progressive evangelical” attempts to dehistoricize Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, advanced by scholars, such as Kenton Sparks,in his Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (see my review of Sparks from another book he helped to write on the historicity of Genesis). Sparks, along with others, like Eric Seibert, in his The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy, believe that the claim of the God of the Old Testament, as being a god of violence, is without warrant, because there was no such violent conquest of the land of Canaan to begin with. Essentially such revisionist reviews contend that the narrative of the Book of Judges best describes how the Israelites arose within the land of Canaan. The conquest view, as detailed in the Book of Joshua, was basically made up in the mind of the Scriptural author, a fictionalizing of ancient Israelite history meant to address concerns in the minds of Jews during and after the Babylonian Exile.

Yet Dr. Longman is unconvinced by such reasoning, as he contends that the warrior status of Yahweh, the God of Israel, is fundamental to the Israelite conception of God. However, the warrior nature of Yahweh is not one of genocide, or unwarranted violence, but rather that of a God of judgment, who punishes wickedness and fights against evil. Therefore, Longman sees no compelling need to try to de-historicize the basic contour of the Joshua conquest.

Longman also engages perspectives that align towards more classically-oriented evangelical views of Scripture, such as scholars like Paul Copan, John Walton, Preston Sprinkle, and Gregory Boyd (follow those links to see some relevant book titles), particularly when it comes to the question of divine violence in the Old Testament. Reading the works of these other authors should be balanced alongside Tremper Longman’s nuanced critiques of these works. The differences between Longman and these other authors are relatively minor (as compared to the vast differences between Longman and writers like Seibert and Sparks). But as Copan, Sprinkle, and Boyd are probably more familiar to evangelical readers, Tremper Longman’s engagement with the details are very helpful.

Longman resists the current trend towards rejecting a traditional Christian view of marriage and human sexuality, a trend that is taken up by more progressive thinkers. For example, he believes that while Christians need to do a better job of reaching out to same-sex attracted persons, he nevertheless concludes that same-sex relations are not within the scope of God’s purposes for human sexuality, per the teaching of both Old and New Testaments. Longman makes specific recommendations that Christians should be more intentional in making room for single people, including those who are same-sex attracted, in the the life of the church, while still affirming the biblical teaching of marriage between a man and a woman.

Tremper Longman’s position upholding the concept of marriage, solely between a man and a woman, is surely not popular within the larger cultural conversation during today’s era. But he advises that Scripture urges believers to live at peace among our non-believing neighbors. As one notable expression of this, he recommends that Christians back off from attempts to get the state to pass and enforce anti-homosexuality laws, as he sees that such legislation is counterproductive to maintaining a positive Christian witness in our postmodern, secular society.

Having personally wrestled with such interpretive Old Testament issues over the years, I have appreciated Dr. Longman’s fresh approach to deal honestly with the challenges of the Old Testament, while still encouraging his readers to avoid a kind of “practical Marcionism,” as Longman puts it, that would lower our confidence in the Bible.

Marcion was a 2nd-century Christian who advocated getting rid of the Old Testament. Marcion’s views were soundly rejected as being heretical by the early church. A better way to deal with a “practical Marcion” approach is to appreciate a more robust understanding of progressive revelation. Once we see that the teaching of the New Testament completes the job of what was started in the Old Testament, it puts the Old Testament in a more proper perspective.

One particular benefit in Confronting Old Testament Controversies is how carefully and generously Dr. Longman interacts with the writings of his former student, Pete Enns, another Old Testament scholar, the author of The Bible Tells Me So, who runs the “The Bible for Normal People” podcast, that is very popular among more liberal-leaning, “progressive” Christians. Dr. Longman is strongly opposed to some of the readings that Pete Enns gives to certain parts of the Old Testament, but he does so in such a friendly manner, that it is truly a model for good, irenic conversation, despite having fundamental disagreements. I wish I could be that charitable towards others, when such theological disagreements come up.

I had read Pete Enns The Bible Tells Me So about five years ago, and I was quite disappointed to see how far Pete had moved beyond his position, as expressed earlier in his 2005 Incarnation and Inspiration. In many ways, Confronting Old Testament Controversies is the book I wish Pete Enns would have written, as a followup to Incarnation and Inspiration, so I am very glad that Tremper Longman, as a longtime friend, former teacher, and cheerful critic, wrote what he wrote. Dr. Longman works out a view of biblical inerrancy, by developing a very helpful approach to biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), that takes the challenges offered by the Old Testament with seriousness, while not being totally drawn into unwarranted skepticism.

One unresolved area for me, when reading Longman, has to deal with God’s commands for Joshua and the Israelites for them to destroy the Canaanites, including young children.  In Joshua 6:21, we read, “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys,” and in Deuteronomy 20:16-17a, “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction.” Christian apologist and philosopher Paul Copan regards this type of language as hyperbole, thus avoiding the claim that bothers many Christians, that God is somehow endorsing infanticide, or even, indirectly, abortion, by silently including pregnant women and infants in with the command to completely destroy the Canaanites. Yet Longman suggests that this type of reading by Copan is really wishful thinking: “As much as we might want to believe that God did not command the death of women and children, such a view finds no support in the relevant texts” (Longman, p. 169).

Tremper Longman’s view of divine violence was probably the weakest part of the book for me. My concern in Tremper Longman’s critique is that I am not entirely convinced that Copan’s view is completely subject to the criticism of being mere wishful thinking. God’s treatment of such classes of vulnerable human persons, and subjecting them to death, would surely be the case in the story of Noah’s flood, which made no distinction when the flood waters presumably killed small children and pregnant women, as part of God’s judgment against humanity’s sin. We have no Scriptural text that indicates that small children and pregnant women were somehow secretly snuck onboard the ark, to avoid the terrors of the floodwaters. The possibility of a large local flood, as opposed to a global flood, offers some leeway here where some humans might have found sanctuary in some unknown manner. 2 Peter 2:5 does say that the flood came upon the “world of the ungodly,” thus suggesting a possible, more limited scope of the flood, but such a conclusion would still be pure speculation. Nevertheless, with respect to Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, the use of hyperbolic and exaggerated language, a common characteristic of ancient writings of all kinds, lends some credibility to Paul Copan’s viewpoint.

Framing Old Testament Controversies within the Context of the New Testament… and Doing So Responsibly

Thankfully the vast bulk of the Old Testament is not fraught with such theological difficulties. Nevertheless, there are topics like these in Scripture that grate against modern sensibilities, for which wishful thinking does not always successfully erase. To pretend that these difficulties are not there is dishonest. We just simply have to acknowledge the presence of such difficult texts in the Bible, accepting their authority, and try to make sense of how such teaching is to be applied in the post-New Testament era. Vigorous debate still continues concerning what applications of certain Old Testament teachings and principles have been superseded under the New Covenant. Yet ultimately, the Old Testament needs to be read within the light of the New Testament, as the New Testament stands as the definitive commentary on the Old Testament.

That being said, the presence of God-ordained violence in the Old Testament is problematic for many evangelical Christians today, who without hesitation condemn all sorts of abortion and infanticide, as being contrary to the revealed plans and purposes of God. As I have not read Paul Copan extensively on this topic, I will reserve further judgment on Longman’s critique until I have looked more at Copan’s argumentation in greater detail.

Thankfully, the progressive nature of God’s revelation in Scripture need not deter us from saying that the New Testament emphasis on giving everyone the opportunity to have faith in Christ, including the unborn and infants, supersedes any possible ethical difficulties found in the Old Testament. For God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NIV). Nowhere do we read in the New Testament that infants and the unborn are not to be included by the “all people” mentioned in this text. Christians are called to be “prolife,” for at least that one reason.

It is as though there is a tension in the Old Testament, contrasting God’s judgment against evil and sin, that pertains to all of us, while still yet another theme that emphasizes God’s universal love for all that God created. The story of Jonah preaching to those wicked Ninevites, where Jonah complains about God’s compassion and mercy towards the enemies of Israel, is a good example of this universalistic theme. This does not mean ultimately that all will be saved in the end, nor does it mean that God will wipe out all of humanity, or close to it, as was done with the flood of Noah. It is by looking at the message of the New Testament whereby we begin to see how this tension might be resolved.

There are few cases where I would take issue with Longman on certain interpretations of particular passages.  For example, he favors the New Living Translation (NLT) reading of Genesis 3:16, “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (p.214-215).  I am not convinced that the translation of the Hebrew word behind “desire” necessarily implies the concept of “control.” It could simply mean a sense of “longing,” as opposed to a concept that implies some sort of power struggle between man and woman (See my engagement with this text, along with Wendy Alsup’s research and exegesis). However, such criticisms of Confronting Old Testament Controversies need not override the overwhelming positive tenor and aim of Longman’s helpful book.

Not everything in the Bible is neat and tidy. There are clearly moments I wish it was, but to be honest, that probably would not be a good idea. Having a stock of answers that can not be questioned is a recipe for spiritual pride. I would rather have some unsettled questions in my mind than I would having pat and easy answers to difficult questions, that tend to paper over and hide the difficulties. Thankfully, there is more to the story than getting stuck on difficulties in the Old Testament. The good news to be found in the Gospel is that the New Testament completes the story that the Old Testament started.

I would recommend Confronting Old Testament Controversies for anyone who struggles with doubt regarding what they read in the Old Testament, even if one is not convinced by every position that Longman ultimately lands on. Along with Wheaton College’s John Walton and Dr. Michael Heiser, at Celebration Church, Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Tremper Longman joins my list of perhaps being among the best living Old Testament scholars, who write specifically for a non-academic audience.

For a couple of excellent interviews with Dr. Tremper Longman, about important topics in the book, you should view the following two interviews, on Preston Sprinkle’s video podcast:


Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland. An Extended Review

Where did “secularism” come from? Are secular values at war with Christianity?

The late venerable statesman for Protestant evangelical Christianity, J. I. Packer, remarked that the greatest threat to evangelical faith today comes not from the so-called “religious” world, such as the revival of a resurgent Roman Catholicism, bent on undercutting the principles of the Reformation. Neither does it come from an amalgamation of Eastern religiosity, as in the New Age Movement, and perhaps not even from Islam, despite its rapid growth. Rather, the “Great Tradition” of Christianity, the triad of evangelical Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, share a common adversary: a relentless and pervasive secularism. The various strands of Christianity have their profound differences, but they all face together a common challenge: Secularism is the acid that corrodes Christian belief.

Originally, the English word “secularize” came into use during the period of the Protestant Reformation, when lands owned by the church were confiscated and placed in the hands of the state. To make something secular in the 16th century was not an attack on Christianity, but rather, a means of empowering the state to limit the influence and power of the Roman Catholic Church.

But what drives the ethical and worldview imperatives of a secular view of reality in the 21st century? Today, many contend that secularism owes its origins to classical, ancient Greece, only to be pushed aside by the rise of the Christian church, in the Roman empire. Centuries later, by at least the 18th century, secularism was revived through the narrative of Enlightenment, with the triumph of a scientific approach to the world, over and against the superstitious outlook of Christianity, whereby slavery was eventually eradicated, human rights celebrated, and the shackles of repressive sexual restrictions removed…. so the story goes.

Tom Holland, a leading popular historian from the U.K., who has written top-notch histories of the ancient world, once embraced this dominant, contemporary secular perspective (this Tom Holland is not to be confused with the Spiderman actor!). Holland had grown up in the Church of England, but his fascination with dinosaurs as a child triggered his eventual move away from the Christian faith towards atheism. Sunday School depictions of Adam and Eve running around with dinosaurs, merely a few thousand years ago, effectively caused this young boy to doubt his tender faith in the God of the Bible. The glamorous romanticism of the ancient Greeks caught his imagination instead, which has inspired his writing career.

Yet years later, Holland’s latest book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, dismantled his own earlier thesis, of a secular view of the world superseding Christianity. Now Holland believes, despite the loud appeals otherwise, that it is Christianity that has made the modern world what it is. Christians should take notice of Tom Holland’s revisionist perspective of history, as he has given us a helpful framework for understanding where the Christian church is, in this current cultural moment, resulting from decades of social change.

The Christian roots of our growing secular world has created a crisis, that few secular intellectual elites have been willing to accept, up until recently. A liberal secularism embraces human rights, the equal dignity of all persons (except, apparently, in the case of the unborn), a desire to rid the world of poverty, and the responsibility to care for the weak and the sick. But as Holland makes his case in Dominion, these are all essentially Christian values, an embarrassment for those who wish to see orthodox Christian faith cast upon the dung heap of forgotten human history.

Dominion is equally a fascinating, entertaining read, as well as being a deeply and intellectually stimulating read, that fills the mind with challenges. The thesis being proposed in Dominion, that of a self-confessed secularist critiquing secularism, deserves a careful in-depth review, which I will currently explore.
Continue reading


Ravi Zacharias Update: Celebrity and the Psychology of Trust

We are learning more about the accusations against Ravi Zacharias, since I posted about the newer developments a few weeks ago.

Ravi’s relationships with some female employees at a spa he owned, that Christianity Today reported, has triggered Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) to hire a legal firm to investigate the claims. Ravi’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, also announced that they would open yet a second investigation of Ravi, since the one that they conducted several years ago. To complicate matters, the woman who was involved in a sexting controversy with Ravi several years ago, and her husband, have come forward to tell their side of the story, despite the fact that both parties had signed an NDA. The couple have done so claiming that Ravi and RZIM had already violated their side of the NDA, through a previous published Christianity Today article (which was updated this past week). The couple has hired Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer and grandson of Billy Graham, as their legal adviser.

I do not see a need to rehearse the specifics of the accusations. You can follow the links above to learn more.

What I want to do here in this post is to analyze some of the responses on social media, regarding how these accusations about Ravi have been received by Christians, and the general public. Vice President Michael Pence, at Ravi’s memorial service, called Ravi “the greatest Christian Apologist of this [the 21st] century.”  There is no doubt that Ravi Zacharias has been one of the most well-known Christian celebrities in the contemporary era.

Many, like me, are grieved about these accusations. As someone who has taught Ravi Zacharias material in adult Bible classes, and who has appreciated a few of his books, I have looked up to Ravi, just as others have done. Ravi’s ministry has benefited my life and the lives of others that I know, and students I have taught. So, I would naturally want to defend Ravi’s reputation here.

At the same time, truth must prevail above all else. Some who have stepped forward with their accusations have been hurt very deeply by all of this, and have seen their reputations tarnished (rightly or wrongly). Others have remained anonymous, due partly to the embarrassing nature of the accusations. Such voices need to be heard, and taken seriously. An independent analysis of the evidence needs to be made, and so it is troubling that a journalist like Julie Roys is skeptical that the investigation sponsored by RZIM will truly be independent. I sincerely hope Julie is wrong about this, and that the truth will come out. Regardless of what happens, we should not be fearful of the truth, recognizing even that if Ravi is shown to have been clearly in the wrong, that this only demonstrates that all of us are sinners, who stand in need of the grace of God to set us free from our sin. YouTube apologist Whaddo You Meme?? has the right perspective here.

But not everyone responds this way. The double-downing effect that some have, in defense of Ravi, is expected to a certain degree. We are called to uphold the reputation of Christian leaders. “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1 NLT).

Sadly however, some who have rallied to Ravi’s defense have done so in a manner that is greatly troubling, that takes the teaching of Scripture and turns it on its head, completely upside down. Here are some examples that are disturbing:

  • Some have defended Ravi by questioning why such accusations have only emerged after Ravi died, this past May, thus raising suspicion. But in cases of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, it is very rare for victims to come forward right away, out of fear of repercussion against them. Trauma from abuse can take years and years to overcome.
  • Some have defended Ravi by assaulting the character of the accusers, claiming that the accusers are “in it for the money,” for example. True, there are cases where false accusations are made, in order to cause great harm on Christian leaders, etc. Nevertheless, everyone needs to be fairly heard. The problem with the Christian celebrity syndrome is that we are typically more inclined to trust the famous and powerful celebrity and dismiss the less well known, and less powerful person.
  • Some have made some completely outlandish claims, that Christian journalists at Christianity Today have adopted a compromising, liberal attitude towards evangelical faith, and therefore, they have used that liberal distrust to attack a good man. I then wonder what such folks think when other Christian news outlets, like WORLD News Group, ChurchLeaders.com, and the Roys Report, also report the same story, and even bring out new points of data. Is every Christian journalist out there who investigates a Christian celebrity simply a tool for the “far left,” “liberal” biased media?? Really??

While I am surely grieved about the accusations against Ravi, I am probably more grieved by supposed defenders of Ravi who are willing to risk tarnishing other people as merely “pawns of Satan” in an effort to make an idol out of a Christian celebrity. Christians sometimes overuse the language of “tools of Satan” and the “demonic” to attack other people, and avoid the hard work of listening. Yes, Satan is at work to tear down what God is building. But when we attribute “Satan” wrongly to the pursuit of truth, no matter how painful it is, we only do tremendous harm. Any sort of ad hominem attack against a person is no substitute for an honest look at the evidence. Instead, we are called to worship Jesus, and not any fallen man.

Granted, most people have neither the time nor the energy to do full blown investigations themselves. When it comes right down to it, we all have to trust other people to a certain degree. Most of the time, we simply have to defer to trusting in some other authority, believing that such authority is speaking truth and willing to do the hard work of investigation, sorting fact from fiction, on behalf of others occupied with the many other aspects of life.

It interesting to observe how when trust is broken that it is almost impossible to rebuild that trust. For example, there are Christians who have already prejudged Ravi to be completely at fault, simply on the basis of believing that Ravi had long been a false teacher. Some still have not forgiven Ravi for having spoken at the Mormon Tabernacle, the first high-profile evangelical preacher to have done so since Dwight L. Moody was invited to speak there, over a century ago. Such Christian critics of Ravi contend that by preaching at the Mormon Tabernacle he was giving tacit approval of Mormonism. So, for such critics, who believe that Joseph Smith was an unrepentant adulterer, they have already concluded that it is no surprise to them that Ravi Zacharias fell into the same kind of sin.

On the other side, many critics of the Christian faith conclude now that Ravi Zacharias is just another in a long line of hypocrites: Just another reason why the Christian faith should be rejected. For many of such critics, if you dig deeper, it comes down to broken trust. Why trust what a Christian says about the Gospel when they speak lies about other matters?

But the Gospel tells us that we need not be fearful of the truth, as even with hypocrites, Jesus had them among even his “elite” group of followers: Peter promised to defend Jesus to the uttermost, but he denied Christ three times, did he not?

Hopefully, Christians will be known as truth-seekers, even when certitude on certain things remain elusive. My confidence in Christ is strengthened, but not entirely built on, the testimony of others, including Christian leaders like Ravi Zacharias. The argument for the truth of Christianity is based on an aggregation of different evidences, of which the personal life and testimony of others is but one component of a much larger mosaic of realities, that point to Jesus. If one component is shown to be unreliable, or at least somewhat shaky, it need not cause us to reject the whole.

According to this Julie Roys’ podcast, it was Ravi Zacharias’ teachings about prophecy fulfillment in the Book of Daniel that first drew skeptic Steve Baughman to consider Ravi’s arguments in defense of the faith. But Baughman was not entirely impressed with Ravi’s treatment of Daniel, which led him to look more closely at Ravi’s ministry, which eventually led to the disclosure of how RZIM did not properly represent Ravi’s academic credentials, in RZIM’s promotional materials. As it turns out, RZIM’s failure to address the academic credentials issue in a more timely manner was but the first in what has now become a series of far more damaging allegations. Why it took an “outsider,” like Steve Baughman, to force RZIM to begin to address these matters in the first place, instead of some hard looks within RZIM itself, still boggles my mind.

I am not sure if Steve Baughman will ever read this, but if he does, I hope he knows that there are still some Christians who value truth above celebrity-Christianity.

It is quite possible that we may never know the full story here, this side of eternity. Ravi Zacharias is no longer here to defend himself. To repeat, I do hope for the best outcome for Ravi’s reputation from the impending investigations. If such is not the case, for which the mounting evidence points more and more towards, then it would be good for Christian parachurch organizations, like RZIM, and the local churches that care for Christian celebrities, like Ravi Zacharias, to do some serious soul-searching. If all, or even some, of the accusations do turn out to be true, it looks like we are dealing with a man who had immense pressure placed on him to perform in a such a way, that he himself could never achieve. His way of relieving the pressure placed upon him, and his own depression and doubts, sadly impacted the lives of others in a hurtful way (listen to the WORLD News Group broadcast on October 15, 2020, starting about at the 27 minute mark to the 30 minute mark for more). Ravi’s own testimony indicated that he wrestled with suicidal thoughts on at least one occasion, as part of his conversion experience as a young man.

Was Ravi really healed from these suicidal thoughts after his conversion? Was there sufficient accountability at RZIM? What was really going on at the RZIM board? Was there sufficient accountability at Ravi Zacharias’ local church? These are difficult questions that probably deserve concentrated attention.

All in all, even if Ravi Zacharias is exonerated, I stand by my original plea from several weeks ago: For the sake of those fine apologists who have risen to take the baton from Ravi, to uphold the message of Jesus Christ for a new generation, RZIM should change the name of their organization, in order to more properly reflect the purpose and vision of the ministry, instead of clinging to a legacy of a manLet us encourage the Vince Vintale’s, the Abdu Murray’s, the Amy Orr-Ewing’s, the Sam Allberry’s, and many other fine apologists at RZIM to flourish in their ministry efforts, without having some dark cloud hanging over them, resulting from any possible reproach, driven by controversies surrounding Ravi, that might impede their work for the Gospel. Let us encourage this new generation of apologists to be set free to boldly spread the love and truth of Jesus across our world today!!


%d bloggers like this: