Tag Archives: Ravi Zacharias

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!!


Why Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Should Change Their Name

The recent allegations of inappropriate sexual activity, dating back several years ago, by the late apologist Ravi Zacharias, are heartbreaking. I discovered this latest news several weeks ago about the spa workers on Julie Roys’ blog, which now is news at Christianity Today magazine. I corresponded with the “whistle blower,” Steve Baugham, several years ago, and you can read some of my interactions with him on the Veracity blog.

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, 2000. Perhaps my favorite Ravi Zacharias book.

My main interest with Ravi Zacharias from several years ago was over the inaccurate promotion of Ravi’s academic credentials by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). I was aware of a sexting controversy involving Ravi as well, but felt like I had nothing to say about it, as the exact details were unknown, due to a non-disclosure agreement that Ravi had with another party.

I personally reached out to a member of RZIM’s team that year, and received a personal phone call, for which I was grateful. My concern back then was that RZIM had delayed in resolving the academic credentials, a matter which should have been resolved within a matter of weeks, but that actually took about 2 years to get rectified. I received assurance that RZIM was doing their due diligence and doing the right thing. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in many of the persons who do great apologetic ministry work with RZIM, so I was grateful that RZIM was taking the steps to put these matters behind them.  May their efforts in building the Kingdom increase.

However, in view of the recent allegations, I believe that now would be a good time to take an additional step, and rename Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, to honor and respect the new generation of Christian apologists, many of whom were personally discipled by the late Ravi Zacharias (Frankly, I think that a name change would be a move that even Ravi would applaud!).

According to the CT article, RZIM has engaged a law firm to investigate these new allegations. I would sincerely hope that these allegations could be proven false, and Ravi’s full legacy could be restored. As a long time enthusiast of Ravi Zacharias, having taught several adult Bible classes using his teaching material, I would greatly welcome that outcome.

Nevertheless, it has bothered me for several years now that Ravi Zacharias had been wrongly put on a pedestal, by many of his supporters. Sadly, I have known of several admirers of Ravi who have doubled-down in defending certain aspects of Ravi, when they really have not done the hard work of actually listening to different points of view, and investigating different perspectives, that conflict with the narrative that Ravi portrayed in his public ministry…. and I am not just talking about the scandals, I am also talking about sincere criticisms of certain apologetic methods and arguments used by Ravi.

On the one hand, Christians should do their very best to defend the honor and reputation of their leaders. The Gospel does cause an offense, and so, we should not be surprised when the Enemy sows seeds of distrust by making false accusations against Christian leaders.

At the same time, Christians should be seekers of the truth. We should be willing to admit when we are wrong, when presented with convincing evidence. We should embrace the truth, even when it might be painful to do so.

The line between defending the reputation of Christian leaders and the pursuit of truth can be sometimes difficult to find. I wrestle with this a lot. Yet President Ronald Reagan’s adage offers some sound wisdom here, “Trust, but verify.”

Some of us can become overly skeptical and fail to trust anyone, other than themselves, which is not the best path to take, considering that we as humans have the unavoidable tendency to deceive ourselves immensely. Christian doctrine has another name for this: it is called “original sin.” Nevertheless, others of us can be so trusting that we fail to take the necessary steps to verify that what our leaders are telling us is indeed truthful and reliable. We need discernment. We need more concentrated study into God’s Word to gain wisdom.

So, what if the latest accusations against Ravi hold true? It would not mean that everything about Ravi’s ministry should be invalidated. If we were to judge everyone on this type of standard, then our Bibles would become very small indeed. Abraham pimped his wife. Moses killed a man in cold blood. David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband killed. These are patriarchs of our faith. The Bible is quite clear that all of us have skeletons in our closet, that we would prefer would just remain there.

Ravi’s career as a Christian apologist offered a display of a number of good arguments for the Christian faith, that personal failings themselves can not undo. The many gifted students of Ravi’s, who are now leading RZIM, need not be lumped together and taken down by any of Ravi’s supposed failings.

Would I continue to recommend Ravi’s books to others?… Mmmm… I am not sure about that….. No matter what, the failures of Ravi’s life should serve as illustrations for up and coming apologists to take heed, and learn some tough lessons, and engender a better sense of accountability.

Let us pray for Ravi’s family and RZIM that things will turn out for the best. Until the investigation makes a conclusion, hard though it will be, I want to do my best to prefer to honor the tradition commonly upheld in American jurisprudence, “Innocent, until proven guilty.”

However, even if Ravi is exonerated from these latest accusations, I am afraid that his legacy has been sufficiently tarnished, that it would not be good for RZIM to continue their work, with the name of Ravi Zacharias so boldly displayed on the masthead. Ministries like RZIM should be focused around a common vision statement, statement of faith, and a shared covenant held by staff/supporters, and not around a particular personality. When a ministry becomes solely attached to the name of a famous, yet ultimately flawed person (which we all are!!), it can easily sink the reputations of others who are not associated with lingering scandal.

Sadly, Protestant evangelicalism has developed a reputation of promoting a type of “celebrity pastor” culture that does more harm than good.  It harms those who follow after such “celebrity pastors.” It reinforces the skepticism and distrust of those who stand outside of the church. Furthermore, the pressures of trying to fit into the role of the “celebrity pastor” is an impossible task for that “celebrity pastor” to fill, which if the CT story is correct, goes a long way in explaining the current controversy involving Ravi Zacharias.

Therefore, changing the name of RZIM to something that more reflects the common vision of purpose of the band of apologists that Ravi once mentored, and who now lead the ministry, would be the prudent thing to do.  Let us not attach ourselves to the legacy of sin-prone human, failing persons. Instead, let us refocus on lifting up the unfailing name of Jesus. To God be the glory.


Impact: Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias died May 19, 2020, after a short battle with bone cancer.

Ravi Zacharias was born and raised in India, coming to Christ as a cricket-playing teenager, after a failed suicide attempt in a hospital, where he read a Bible. In the coming years, he spoke at countless university audiences across the world, taught on a radio program Let My People Think, and engaged in evangelistic conversations with numerous civic and political leaders, all over the globe.

His greatest impact was through the establishment of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), where Ravi built a network of young Christian apologists, that carry on the legacy of providing sound, intellectual reasoning, in support of defending the Christian faith. This newer generation of Christian apologists includes the voices of Vince Vitale, Abdu Murray, Amy Orr-Ewing, and Sam Alberry.

Even though RZIM has not always been without controversy, RZIM has sought to continue the work that Ravi Zacharias began decades ago, through extensive speaking engagements, and a growing Internet presence.

I taught several Adult Bible Classes, based on his book Jesus Among Other Gods. I even got a chance to meet Ravi, when he spoke at my church, a little over a decade ago. He will be sorely missed.


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.”


Remembering Nabeel Qureshi

Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi died on September 16, 2017. As reported earlier on Veracity, Nabeel had been wrestling for the past year with stomach cancer. Veteran Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has a very moving eulogy for his “nephew” Nabeel in the Washington Post. Apologist Michael Licona gives us some added insight into Nabeel’s conversion to Christ on a Facebook post.

His best friend, David Wood, who led Nabeel to Christ, when both were students at Old Dominion University, has put together some interesting photos of Nabeel, on his Twitter feed.

David and Nabeel loved putting together YouTube videos, in a rather poking fun, and often sarcastic, manner, that were intended to prod and encourage Muslims to reconsider their faith and investigate the Christian faith. Ah, these guys, were a bit younger then, and it shows. The first video below is the final product of one of their sessions, but if you want a good chuckle, you should take a peak at the second video, with the blooper outtakes. Go to the 4:30 minute mark, for the handshake part, if it gets to be too much for you. What a couple of knuckleheads, but I appreciate their desire for Muslims to come to know the Truth. Be sure to view their last YouTube sessions together, filmed this past summer, with some excellent teaching. Nabeel Qureshi will be sorely missed.


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