Should We Cancel Ravi Zacharias?

I did not know Ravi Zacharias, but I esteemed his worldwide ministry and have been impressed by the organization he founded and led. He was a winsome and eloquent advocate for Christianity, especially in public lectures. My appreciation only grew when I recently read a chapter about his life and ministry in a reference work called The History of Apologetics. Ravi was a consummate evangelist who employed apologetics to trouble “happy pagans” with truth and to bring Christianity to cultural influencers around the world. He said that “Apologetics is the seasoning; evangelism is the meal.” I agree. I prayed for his recovery from cancer and was saddened by his passing. Now I am concerned about his legacy.

I fear that Evangelicals may follow unwise cultural trends in light of the new allegations of serious sexual impropriety made against both apologist and evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, and allegations about how Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) may have handled these and other financial matters. If these are substantiated (or even if they aren’t), some may be tempted to cancel Ravi and his ministry. Many today want to cancel—meaning destroy or dismiss—aspects of American history they reject. Yes, there is much about America that needs to be repented of and replaced by something better. But the cancelation spirit is dangerous when its zeal for absolute purity leads it to ignore the good that is so often mixed with the bad in a fallen world. We don’t burn down the house to disinfect the shower, and we should not cancel Ravi. Nor should we cancel or ignore any women whom he may have hurt. If there are victims, they need love, support, and perhaps compensation. Nothing I will write minimizes the significance of the charges made or the consequences that might follow if the charges are substantiated against Ravi or against RZIM.

However, we should not make irresponsible accusations, as seems to have been done by some in the #MeToo movement. We should not commit false witness against Ravi or anyone else (Exodus 20:16). It is better to apply Paul’s counsel about evaluating prophecies to this scandal: “Test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NIV). Or as Jesus commanded, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24. NIV).

Canceling Ravi Zacharias could mean that publishers take his books out of print, that readers no longer read them, that contributors withdraw their support from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and that Christians generally disparage or disregard his half century of apologetics and evangelistic ministry. Before going that far, let’s think things through.

I am not taking sides or casting stones. I hope and pray the truth will emerge and that right actions be taken by the right people at the right time. But however things shake down, prurient interests should not be satisfied, since it “is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12, NIV). RZIM is investigating the charges against their founder through a law firm. Zacharias’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, is looking into matters as well. I have no association with these investigations and no relationship to RZIM. Rather, as a journeyman Christian philosopher and apologist, I write to issue a warning. Before that, we should review biblical ethics concerning ministry, since any scandal is a cautionary tale.

Paul admonished Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV). True doctrine and godly living are equally necessary for ministry. Paul further stipulated that an overseer must be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6-7, ESV). That applies to all Christian leaders.

Those with high callings need high standards, lest the messenger discredit the message and the messenger lose integrity. Christians continue to sin, but no Christian should be controlled by sin (1 John 1:8-10; 3:6). High profile leaders fall hard when they fall and often drag down many others with them. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, KJV).

Since we are vulnerable to immorality, we should heed Jesus’ words: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV). Paul paid close attention to his own integrity. “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NIV). Christian ministers should fear being disqualified and take radical measures to defend themselves against it. We do so by guarding our hearts and being accountable to wise friends, counselors, and leaders (Proverbs 1:7; 4:23-27; 27:17; Matthew 5:27-32).

When Christian leaders fall and are exposed, they can repent and be restored—or they can run or dissemble. This scandal has surfaced after Ravi’s death, so that is impossible. He has faced his Master, who knows all things and judges righteously. We only know in part and often judge wrongly. How might we discern the matter as it stands?

First, whatever the verdict on Ravi, nothing should discredit the value of his apologetics or the fruit of his ministry, which brought many thousands to Christ and encouraged many others to do apologetics (1 Peter 3:15). Paul rejoiced when the true Gospel was preached even out of false motives, since the gospel will have its effect (Philippians 1:15-18; see also Romans 1:16-17). I have no evidence that Ravi had bad motives in ministry. However, Paul’s point stands: Irrespective of the faults of the preacher (or apologist or evangelist), the gospel will do its work, and for that we should rejoice. Ravi’s ethos may be tarnished, but his logosshould not be. 

Second, arguments are good or bad apart from the character of the arguer. To think otherwise, is to commit the ad hominem fallacy. Ravi’s apologetic method, called “The 3.4.5 Grid,” was sound. In a nutshell, this grid tests a worldview logically (Is it consistent?), factually (Is it empirically adequate?), and existentially (Is it livable and meaningful for life and death?). This agrees with my apologetic method I articulate in Christian Apologetics. Ravi used the 3.4.5 grid to great and global effect. We dare not discount that.

Third, without excusing sin, we might remember “the weakness of God’s servants,” as Francis Schaeffer wrote in No Little People. Moses, “the man of God,” murdered an Egyptian. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba’s and had her husband killed. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times. No one is sinless except Jesus. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV).

Fourth, when a high-profile leader is accused of wrongdoing, it raises concerns about ministry culture. Is every ministry leader held accountable to his or her organization? Will the organization fairly investigate charges? Are prestigious leaders held to a lower standard because of their significance in an organization? If wrongdoing is found, will organizations repent and clean house? It’s time to examine ourselves and our ministries. “The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).

In 1983, Ravi Zacharias prayed for $50,000 to start a ministry aimed at the thinking skeptic. He told no one. Not long after, a stranger gave the $50,000 that marked the beginning of RZIM. When Ravi asked the man what he would like in return, he said, “All I want is your integrity.” That is what God wanted from Ravi and is what God wants from us.