[PROFILED]: Ravi Zacharias – Preacher Who Used Reason to Defend Faith
Ravi Zacharias was an evangelist and author who became an important voice for Christians by making a rational argument for the existence of God and vigorously defending the faith against atheists, relativists, Buddhists and other challengers.
Unlike other influential evangelists such as Billy Graham, Mr Zacharias did not have an outsize public persona, court politicians or host revivals in stadiums around the world. Rather, he practised an intellectual form of Christian theology called apologetics that dates back to the Apostle Paul.
Mr. Zacharias believed the way to counter an increasingly secular culture was to make a logical case for theism, and to explain why Christianity above all other religions is best equipped to answer life’s fundamental, existential questions. His ministry’s motto is: “Helping the thinker believe. Helping the believer think.”
Mr. Zacharias laid out his arguments in more than two-dozen books, including “Can Man Live Without God?” (1994) and “Why Jesus?” (2007), through his radio program, “Let My People Think,” and in speaking appearances around the world.
He rose to prominence in 1983, when Mr Graham invited him to speak at a conference for evangelists in Amsterdam. His non-Western background (he was born in India) set Mr Zacharias apart from American evangelical preachers and gave him a certain authority as someone exposed to religious pluralism.
“Ravi was a kind of philosopher for the church,” said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College, a private Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “His primary audience was conservative evangelicals with college degrees who wanted to give some kind of rational, empirical defense of their faith in the workplace, at the water cooler, with the people they sat next to on the plane.”
Soft-spoken, with a rhetorical style based on the Socratic method, Mr Zacharias could appear like a college professor. But he also took hard-line positions against abortion and gay marriage and was more than willing to step into the debate ring at colleges and elsewhere to match wits with challengers to Christian orthodoxy.
During one exchange at a live Q. and A. that went viral in evangelical circles, an audience member who described himself as “a scientist and an atheist” told Mr. Zacharias, “The Bible has been scientifically disproven.”
Though Mr. Zacharias believed the Bible was inerrant, he didn’t reply to the skeptic with Scripture passages.
Rather, he quoted David Berlinski, a physicist and secular Jew who published a defense of religious thought, “The Devil’s Delusion” (2008), and by citing a lecture given by Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University in 1990, where Mr. Zacharias said he witnessed the famed physicist lament the tragedy of scientific materialism.
“HE WAS A WORLDVIEW THINKER,” MR. FEA SAID. “RAVI BELIEVED IF YOU CAN GET PEOPLE TO QUESTION THEIR PRESUPPOSITIONS OF HOW THEY APPROACH THE WORLD, YOU’RE ONE STEP CLOSER TO GETTING THEM TO ACCEPT THEISM.”
Ravi Zacharias was born on March 26, 1946, in Chennai, India, and raised in New Delhi in an Anglican family. In an article he wrote for Christianity Today, Mr. Zacharias said his ancestors belonged to the highest caste of Hindu priests, but somewhere along the way, his family was converted to Christianity by German-Swiss missionaries. Still, he was not very religious growing up.
He preached in more than 70 countries and authored more than 30 books in his 48-year career, teaching Christians to engage with skeptics and arguing that the Christian worldview has robust answers to humanity’s existential questions.
According Mr. Zacharias, his road to Damascus moment came when he attempted suicide at 17 by swallowing chemicals. He had felt shame and anguish over being a poor student. While recovering in the hospital, a youth pastor brought him a Bible.
He recounted that his conversion to Christianity came while reading the Bible in the hospital.
“FIVE DAYS AFTER BEING WHEELED INTO THE E.R., I LEFT A CHANGED PERSON,” MR. ZACHARIAS WROTE.
He immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.
After he moved with his family to Canada in the 1960s, Mr. Zacharias enrolled at Ontario Bible College, where he earned a bachelor of theology.
He later received his master of divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. It was at Trinity that Mr. Zacharias studied under two leading apologist thinkers, John Warwick Montgomery and Norman Geisler, and came to believe “the importance of trying to connect the gospel with the life of the mind,” as Alister McGrath, a Northern Irish theologian, wrote in an online tribute.
Zacharias started his ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). A graduate of Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) and Trinity International University, he was commissioned as a national evangelist for the United States in 1977 and ordained in the CMA in 1980.
After teaching at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, N.Y., Mr. Zacharias established Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, or RZIM, in 1984, with financial support from a wealthy businessman, David Dale Davis.
The ministry, which is headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., with offices around the world, raises millions of dollars each year to further its mission and the has grown to about 200 employees in 16 offices around the world, with more than 70 travelling speakers.
His best-selling book, Can Man Live Without God?, sold about 500,000 copies in 1995. His most recent book, The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind, won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2020 Christian book award in the Bible study category.
In 2017, Mr. Zacharias, who for years went by Dr. Zacharias on his website and in publicity materials, was accused of exaggerating his academic credentials. His doctorates were honorary, he later acknowledged, and stopped referring to himself with the title.
Zacharias was also involved in a legal dispute over “sexually explicit” communication with a woman he met through his speaking ministry. Her lawyer said Zacharias had groomed and exploited her. Zacharias sued, and the lawsuit was settled out of court with a non-disclosure agreement.
Last year, Mr. Zacharias named his eldest daughter, Ms. Davis, chief executive of the ministry, in a transition of leadership to the next generation. “RZIM’s mission, vision and intention to serve God will not change,” he wrote.
Ravi Zacharias died on May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74. He suffered from cancer, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries said.
He is survived by his wife Margaret Reynolds Zacharias; two daughters, Sarah Zacharias Davis and Naomi Zacharias; a son, Nathan Zacharias; and five grandchildren.
High-profile followers include Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and professional baseball player.
He formed a friendship with Mr. Zacharias, and in early May, as the preacher battled cancer, posted a tribute on Instagram, saying, “I think it’s really important in life to have heroes, and especially in the faith, and one of my heroes of the faith” is Mr. Zacharias.
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