Ravi Zacharias is no longer with us. But his legacy has impacted, and will continue to impact, the faith of many. This is how Ravi influenced my own journey; from a bereaved and bewildered teen to an active Apologist in Africa.
Questions and More Questions
In 2012, while studying Christian Apologetics at seminary, Ravi Zacharias’ book entitled Why Jesus was part of the recommended literature for my assignment on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Before that, I knew nothing about apologetics. Reading Why Jesus, I marvelled at Ravi’s intellectual rigour and academic prowess. Even as I found answers to long held questions, more questions welled up. This started me on the long journey towards ministry in apologetics, which is the defence of the Christian faith.
Having grown up in a culture where questioning is frowned upon, apologetics was music to my ears
Having grown up in a culture where questioning is frowned upon, even in the church, apologetics was music to my ears. For it attached weight to the yawning questions that plagued my Christian walk. With Ravi’s help, I learnt that my – and other people’s – questions mattered. So too, even more than the questions themselves, the questioner matters. For it is possible to answer a question yet leave the questioner hanging. “Gentleness and respect” are prerequisites to Christlike apologetics (1 Peter 3:16; Colossians 4:6).
Making Sense of Life and Death
Ravi’s testimony is gritty and real. Aged 17 he was hopeless and suicidal. But God met him there. This story took me back in time to when I was a hopeless, bewildered 13-year-old who had lost his father and was desperate to find meaning in that devastating turn of events. Undeterred by the lack of a personal computer and my awful internet connection. I immersed myself in the RZIM online content, particularly on YouTube. At that time Ravi’s books were nowhere to be found in our local bookshops! I deeply admired Ravi Zacharias’ modest yet challenging approach to apologetics.
I was a hopeless, bewildered 13-year-old who had lost his father and was desperate to find meaning in that devastating turn of events
He was authentic in responding to complex questions and adept at deep philosophical thought. Yet he was also benevolent in his evangelistic efforts while boasting a rib-cracking sense of humour. All of this made him one of the most remarkable evangelists of our time. Above all, his love and passion for Christ shone through in his speech and actions.
Studying Under Ravi Zacharias
Towards the end of 2016, I enrolled for the Core Module (An Introduction to Worldviews) under the RZIM Academy. Ravi Zacharias delivered the opening lecture. I listened in anticipation as he taught that “the task of Christian apologetics––whether it be in debate, argument, defense, or confirmation––is ultimately to present the person of Jesus Christ and who he is”. The cross of Christ was the crux of his apologetic ministry. His academic prowess, eloquence and argumentation were simply tools to preach the gospel. His desire was always to reach people with the gospel.
As a theological student at the time, Ravi’s caution that Christian apologetics did not stand alone rang true. For it must be grounded in the understanding of theological disciplines, church history and – ultimately – a contextual hermeneutic of the inerrant and full counsel of God. In his Why Jesus class, Ravi stated that “all the experiences in the world, as good as they may be, ultimately diminish in the light of the authority of the Scriptures.”
Discovering The Meaning of Life
In one lecture, the Meaning of Life (2012), he said, “It is funny how in the 21st century, we do not know ‘what it means to be human’. If we don’t know, then what does humanism really mean? Is it just an –ism to a term we don’t understand? You know, dogs really don’t get together for a conference to discuss the meaning of ‘dogginess’. It’s not an issue to them. By instinct they just live out ‘dogginess’. As the smart ones on the planet, we don’t know what we really are. However, the terms keep getting bigger.”
Ravi taught that to be human is to be fully dependent on God, and to live a life entirely devoted to Christ
In essence, Ravi taught that to be human is to be fully dependent on God, and to live a life entirely devoted to Christ. This enables us to live with true meaning and purpose. Sin disorients us. It violates and undermines our purpose. For only in, through and for Christ is man aligned to his ultimate and created purpose. But this cannot be known outside of knowing God.
For Ravi did not only preach the gospel, he lived it out. Like the apostle Paul, Ravi courageously, confidently and passionately shared this message with skeptics, atheists, agnostics and everyone who would listen (Acts 17:17, 22; 18:25; 19:8).
Bridging the Gap Between Head and Heart
This was Ravi’s famous maxim: ‘helping a thinker to believe, and a believer to think’. To put it differently: ‘listening to the person and finding that bridge between the head and the heart’. This, Ravi regularly said, was ‘the longest distance’. In Africa, particularly my country Uganda, reason and preaching have a distant, strained relationship. But this is to neglect the words of Christ, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Ravi’s teaching demystified the false dilemma that pits faith against reason. As a matter of fact, faith has always walked hand in hand with reason.
Ravi’s teaching demystified the false dilemma that pits faith against reason
Since I started following Ravi Zacharias, both reading his books and listening to his talks, his consistency with the gospel message struck a chord in my heart. He challenged me to follow suit.
Ready to Reason
Through the platforms God availed him, Ravi resolutely reminded his listeners about the importance of knowing why and what they believed. In Ravi’s words, “The task of the apologist is the apologist himself.” This begins with “honouring Christ as Lord in our hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). Then the chronological and logical result is “always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The former is an apologetic assumption that undergirds the latter. He did not merely implore evangelists to teach their faith. For he knew the faith must also shape believers.
Ravi resolutely reminded his listeners about the importance of knowing why and what they believed.
Ravi Zacharias ran the race with his eyes firmly set on the prize. Now he has handed the torch to us. On his grave will be these words, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). As Christians, our grief is not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Our victory over death is in the cross and the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Thus, the death of the body is not the end. As Michael Ramsden recently wrote, “Ravi Zacharias knew that he was not simply running a race for Jesus, he knew ultimately that he was running a race to him.”
Farewell Ravi Zacharias. You will surely be missed. My prayers to family and friends.