Tag Archives: integrity

Ravi Zacharias and Christian Integrity

Jesus Among Secular Gods, by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. One of Ravi Zacharias’ wonderful books….(just, please, do not call him “Doctor”)

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

I made contact with someone at RZIM (Vince Vitale) to discuss the academic credential issue. I report on this really good conversation, as an addendum, to a related post, published earlier this year.

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?

“Evidence does not provide basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy.”

Selma, 1965: Where Were the Followers of Jesus?

It was March 7, 1965, a day remembered in the civil rights movement as “Bloody Sunday.” A group of African Americans were planning to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand that they be given the legal right to vote without any unnecessary encumbrances. Six hundred men and women began their march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only to be greeted by a line of state troopers waiting for them with billy clubs and gas masks, and members of an all-white county posse, composed of men who had been deputized to participate only the night before. The non-violent marchers were told to go back home or “go to your church.”  Television cameras, such as these scenes from CBS, were broadcast around the world showing how the marchers were run over and beaten by “law enforcement.”

In the 2014 film by Ava DuVernay , Selma, the general outline of the story is depicted, showing how the marchers were eventually able to complete their march to Montgomery, which resulted in President Lyndon Johnson urging Congress to pass the Voters Rights Act of 1965. Critics have made much of DuVernay’s negative portrayal of President Johnson as being directly antagonistic towards the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., so one might complain of the tendency to oversimplify the narrative regarding what happened in Selma, and King himself was far from perfect.

Nevertheless, as I was watching the film, I kept thinking to myself, where were the followers of Jesus on that “Bloody Sunday” morning? As the state troopers were putting on their gas masks, they acknowledged that among the marchers were many Christians. And yet, I wonder where were the white Christians? Were the white Christians of Selma all in their churches that morning worshipping God? Upon hearing the television reports, did they come out and lend a hand to their African American brothers and sisters in the Lord as they were bleeding in the streets?

There were many who saw the events of “Bloody Sunday” unfold before them on their television sets across the world, and some responded by traveling to Alabama to participate in a future attempted march. One of these was a Unitarian Univeralist minister from Boston, James Reeb. Much like the Samaritans in first century Palestine, who were viewed in John 4:19-25 as theologically suspect with their call to worship on Mount Gerizim instead of the correct place, Jerusalem, Unitarian Univeralists fifty years ago as well as today are viewed as being theologically suspect among evangelicals. Yet why was it that someone like James Reeb became a martyr for the civil rights movement when he was beaten to death by white supremacists in Selma, and not a more theologically-sound born again Christian? Is it fair to say as in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, that James Reeb was like a modern day “Samaritan?”

Much has changed in fifty years, but it is the silence of the predominantly white, evangelical church during those tumultuous years that most disturbs me. In light of the teaching of Scripture, the silence is deafening. How was it that the evangelical church had became so complicit in the sin of racism, compromising their witness for the Gospel?

They had their Bibles. They had the message of truth and reconciliation.

Where were these “followers of Jesus?”

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