As you will know, if you've read part 2 of my story on this blog, I went through a crisis of faith in high school as a young Christian. This crisis of faith led me to investigate the reasons for and against Christian theism. As most in my generation do, this meant learning from YouTube, and it was such a blessing that there were Christian apologists who, for years, had been building a platform on the site. Billy Graham's famous crusades could, for the most part, only reach those in attendance. With the internet and the ability to spread one's platform across the globe relatively easily, one could touch millions of lives with one talk or lecture.
Ravi Zacharias did exactly that for me in high school. As I began this search for truth, I found more than one influential apologist. Names such as William Lane Craig (of course), Frank Turek, J. Warner Wallace, and Norman Geisler all come to mind. All of these great men have left their mark on my life and faith, and God used them powerfully to shape who I am today. Among them, however, I'd place William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias at the top. William Lane Craig's approach to apologetics showed me that a brilliant but concise defense of the faith could be made in such a way as to be intellectually satisfying. Ravi showed me that those intellectual issues nonetheless touched the heart, penetrating us in those areas of greatest longing in our souls.
This is because Ravi had a way of speaking about complex topics in a simple but profound way. Let me share some quotes gathered by a blogger from some of his books:
"Truth that is not undergirded by love makes the truth obnoxious and the possessor of it repulsive."
"I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him."
"One of the most staggering truths of the Scriptures is to understand that we do not earn our way to heaven. …works have a place–but as a demonstration of having received God’s forgiveness, not as a badge of merit of having earned it."
If this ability rang true in Ravi's writings, then it was even truer in his speech. Ravi preached and lectured all over the world on a wide range of topics, from the meaning of life to God's existence and much more. What so compelled me about him in high school was that he was both uncompromising about the truth and full of love. He spoke with firmness but gentleness. He represented conviction in a way that made it look sort of like a journey. Every time he spoke, it was almost like he invited you into a journey and led you down this path. The path wasn't easy, but he guided in such a way that you would come, smoothly, to the end of the path and realize that the position that you might have resisted, Jesus on the cross, was always the natural stopping point. Rhetoric and intellect met in Ravi.
Of course, this is all by the grace of God in him. As of May 19, 2020, Ravi Zacharias died of cancer in his spine. He leaves behind RZIM, the organization that he started and the countless lives that, in one way or the other, he touched by his teaching and life. While I am saddened by his death, I rejoice that He has entered into the rest of our Lord and waits for the resurrection and glorification of his body at the return of Christ, cancer-free and without pain. His life will be remembered for that faith and fervent love for Jesus.
For young defenders of the faith like me, we must honor and remember those who came before us. One of the enduring legacies of the history of the Church is those giants of the faith whose work leaves an enduring mark. We still read the earliest Christian apologists, such as Justin Martyr, Mathetes, St. Augustine, and others. With another giant with Christ, we look to a growing number of men and women that God has used to transform the world for His Kingdom.
The picture above is of me, a senior in high school, beside Ravi Zacharias. That Sunday morning was an honor, to be there and to listen to this man I respected so much. As I reflect on Ravi's life and legacy, I'm struck by two things. First, God is using his life and teaching to influence the next generation of Christian scholars and apologists. Second, his life is evidence of the vast and incredible work that God can do in and through one man.
First, as a young man (only 22 years old), I cannot imagine doing ministry for as long as Ravi did. As I despaired over my own crumbling faith, I didn't think at the time that God would call me to philosophy. But I've been influenced greatly by those who came before me. Unfortunately, the previous generation of apologists is beginning to die out. In the last four years, we've lost three massively influential apologists: R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and now Ravi Zacharias. Those who remain are aging. This is the natural way of things in a fallen world until the return of Jesus, but I firmly believe that God is raising up a new generation of apologists and scholars who fervently love Him and others with their minds. In that sense, I look at the life of Ravi and am convicted. Does my life display the character and discipline of one who wants to see His Kingdom bolstered and advanced? If He is calling me (and I believe that He is), then am I on my knees, fervently praying for His will to be done on earth as in heaven? I could always love God and others more and want that more fervently. The apologists of my generation should acknowledge the men and women who influenced them and strive to display the same character and discipline.
Second, if you don't know Ravi's testimony, then you need to know it. We often look at these great apologists as if they were just born this way. Ravi Zacharias was the son of an influential and affluent father when, at the age of 17, he attempted suicide. A man brought him a New Testament, and Ravi was transformed by reading John 14. He was almost just another tragic suicide in Delhi, India but God powerfully transformed him through Scripture. Truthfully, that's how it is for every great story of God's work through someone. God always redeems a life in order to use it. That should humble each of us. Most of us won't have the influence of Ravi Zacharias, but we can all trust that He will use us for His glory and Kingdom.
As for me, I hope to reflect even a small bit of Ravi Zacharias's wisdom and winsomeness in my work as an apologist. I thank God for working through him to rescue my faith, and I'm thankful to have a small part in His Kingdom work in helping others defend their faith. #ThankYouRavi