• J.L. Gill

On the Death of Ravi Zacharias

The world-renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias died today. It makes me sad for a number of reasons that I wanted to talk about. Some having to do with his ministry others having to do with the Church.

I had a number of issues with RZIM personally. Last year, they started a new podcast with people other than Ravi answering questions that people sent in. I didn't enjoy it at all. There was a deep lack of biblical-mindedness in those answering the questions. So I couldn't endorse it or be edified by it. That seemed to be the case for me about RZIM. I tried listening to some of their other people and never got the same sense of when I listened to Ravi Zacharias himself. I don't know why that is the case, and I don't pretend that I knew everything about their ministry or apologists.

But Ravi Zacharias was one of the rare laborers who could stand on a platform at a university campus, in front of a crowd of Muslims, or anywhere he could really, and speak about how Jesus Christ was the way, the truth, and the life and that no man can come to the Father but by Him. In addition to that, he would also field questions from these very hostile crowds for two hours without losing his temper. He was a good example of "in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves peradventure God would grant them repentance to life". There are many things that I disagreed with Him about, especially people he shared a platform with. I myself point these things out to people any time I mention him, but I also don't leave out the good things that were done in spite of this. Yes, truth matters, but don't forget mercy.

In regards to this latter point, I wanted to share my thoughts on another issue: the mindset of the church. Everywhere on social media today there were posts either praising Ravi Zacharias or shouting that he was a false teacher. I even was engaged with a few people about the issue--and I won't go into that further here. I am deeply disturbed though by how professing Christians engage each other when in disagreement. We can't even say that these people were engaging with another Christian in this instance because the person in question has died! This brings several things to my mind.

Have these people labored for Jesus even half as much as Ravi Zacharias?

Have these people studied half as much about answering unbelievers half as much as Ravi Zacharias?

Isn't Ravi Zacharias just a man like every other believer?

It is very easy to criticize other people's decisions. It is very easy to point out flaws. It is very difficult to do so with understanding.

There is an arrogance abounding in churches today. I don't mean the confidence that we have in knowing that we have the Word of God, and the truth, that Christians are accused of by unbelievers. The arrogance that I am referring to is the kind of arrogance that is really just a lack of humility. "We believe these things, and every one else is wrong." That's a very true statement for Christians toward the world, and entirely incorrect among Christians.

When I was a new convert I was led to an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. I am no longer a part of that group. I openly speak against their doctrine. But when I was discipled I came to think (unconsciously) that I knew a thing or two. I got the kind of arrogance that I mentioned. When a young woman--who later became my wife--discussed the issue of cessationism with me I lumped in David Wilkerson with Kenneth Copeland simply because he wasn't a cessationist! To anyone who knows the ministries of these two men you know how vastly different they are! Wilkerson was wholeheartedly against the Positive Confession movement and Copeland is the pope of the positive confession movement. Because I didn't take the time to understand the issue, but out of a knee jerk reaction to a different view, I said they were equally bad because they were continuationists!

This is what happens every day in Christian circles. This person is a Calvinist/Arminian, therefore they are not a true Christian! This person is a pre/post tribulationist, therefore they are not a Christian! This person is a cessationist/continuationist, therefore they are not a Christian! That line of reasoning is simply unbiblical. A person is a Christian based on the gospel of Christ, and continuing belief therein, and nothing else. Yes, there are some clarifications and caveats to be made in that conversation, but none of these things can be said unless you are willing to say that they are necessary for salvation.

Why am I bringing this up? Because some people are referring to Ravi Zacharias as "ecumenical" or "dangerous". The first is objectively false, and the second requires clarification.

To be ecumenical someone must believe that all religions should come together under a common banner. Usually the reason stated for this is because the person believe that all religions worship the same God but in different ways. There are many problems with this idea. But Ravi Zacharias openly published books on the subject of why Jesus is the ONLY way to God. He even edited Dr. Walter Martin's book "The Kingdom of the Cults" which exposes the errors of groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. It is simply incorrect to accuse Ravi Zacharias of being ecumenical. Most of these accusations are based either on blogs or articles on the internet criticizing Zacharias for speaking at the Mormon Tabernacle or for not saying the words "in Jesus' name" at the prayer breakfast.

Regarding these two things: (1) Ravi Zacharias was an apologist and spent his time in nothing else generally but speaking in places that are non-Christian. He even publicly stated that he didn't agree with them and they were not Christians. (2) In all actuality, praying "in Jesus' name" according to the scriptures did not mean just tacking the words "in Jesus' name" on the end of your prayer. The Greek word "onama" which underlies the translation of the word "name" is much more akin to the idea of the reputation of the person. We are to pray on the basis of the person of Jesus and all that He has accomplished and done and not our own works. Is there anything wrong with using those three little words in that way? Of course not. Would I have just defied the prayer breakfast officials and done it anyways? Of course. But just because I disagree with how something was done does not make Ravi Zacharias dangerous or ecumenical.

Some will then say, what about him speaking well of Joyce Meyer or Rick Warren? I entirely agree that he shouldn't have spoke well of them or their ministries. In all likelihood though, I probably know more about their ministries that Zacharias did. Those of us who have taken the time to deeply examine these ministries know that they are not good ministries. Nevertheless, these two are not as obvious wolves in sheep's clothing as others. Rick Warren is ecumenical and Joyce Meyer is a true positive confession person and all that that entails. But even sound ministries who have spoken to Rick Warren personally have said that he is just a sincere guy who is hard to pin down. When John Piper (who has his own problems) spoke to Rick Warren he said that he was reading the works of Jonathan Edwards!

My point is this: things are not so easily categorized as some make them out to be. I myself have been called a cult leader because I don't believe in "once saved always saved". I've been called a false prophet for referencing the Greek text of the Bible by a KJV-only person. And I've been considered a heretic for not believing in a pre-tribulation rapture. Add to that that I'm not a cessationist and the majority of professing Christians would consider me to be "dangerous". But the dividing lines of the doctrine and salvation are not determined by these things. They are solely based on how someone responds to Jesus Christ. Ravi Zacharias was an avid speaker about Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.

Many people criticize people today without taking the time to understand opposing viewpoints. They skip ahead to saying "I disagree" before they can say "I understand". There is absolutely nothing wrong about calling out false teachers and false doctrines. But these lines must be drawn strictly from a correct exegesis and application of the scriptures within their proper context.

Simply put, if a man or woman is a Christian they are entitled to be treated as one even though they may be in error.


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