Ravi Zacharias: A Tribute
By Dr. Gary S. Smith
The apostle Peter instructs Christians: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Beginning with the disciples and the apostle Paul, countless Christians throughout church history have explained and defended the gospel message to win converts and strengthen the faith of believers. Patristic writers, most notably Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine, Scholastic theologians including Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham, and modern authors such as G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Cornelius Van Til have been among the leading apologists for Christianity.
In recent decades, numerous Christians have put forth an intellectual case for their faith and answered the objections of critics. Theologians John Warwick Montgomery, R. C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and Richard John Bauckham, journalist Lee Strobel, scientists Francis Collins and Hugh Ross, philosophers Alvin Plantinga, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig, evangelist Josh McDowell, and homicide detective J. Warner Wallace have all cogently defended Christianity.
Arguably, however, no one has done more to advance Christian apologetics during the last fifty years than Ravi Zacharias. Through founding and directing Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), writing 30 books, preaching in more than 70 countries, speaking at many important forums including four times at the United Nations, hosting a radio program, and training hundreds of apologists, Zacharias who died on May 19, played a major role in promoting the Christian faith.
Zacharias was born in Chennai, India in 1946 and reared in New Delhi by an Anglican mother who was a teacher and a father who was a civil servant. As a youth, he excelled in cricket but performed poorly in the classroom. Embarrassed by his academic failure, Zacharias took poison at age seventeen to provide, as he explained, a “quiet exit” to save his family “from further shame.” A family servant, though, rushed him to the hospital, and he recovered. While he was there, a Youth for Christ director gave him a Bible, and before he left the hospital, Zacharias committed his life to Christ.
At age 20 Zacharias immigrated to Canada. He graduated from Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) in 1972, received an M. Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1976, and was ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1980. Speaking to 3,800 evangelists from 133 countries at Billy Graham’s inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983 brought Zacharias notoriety, and the next year he founded RZIM. The organization furnishes arguments for God’s existence and the reasonableness of Christianity, hosts forums on college campuses, holds conferences for Christian leaders, and sponsors scores of itinerant preachers and apologists who work in numerous nations.
In the 1980s, Zacharias also began his radio ministry, which brought the Christian message to many people around the globe for the first time. In a weekly half-hour program called “Let My People Think,” Zacharias discussed the credibility of Christianity, the reliability of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the weaknesses of contemporary intellectual movements. Today, this program is syndicated to more than 2,000 stations in 32 nations.
In 2004 Zacharias established the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) with the assistance of Oxford University professor Alister McGrath, launched Wellspring International, and spoke at the United Nations Annual International Prayer Breakfast. Zacharias was also an honorary Senior Research Fellow at Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall from 2007 to 2015.
Since its founding, OCCA has educated more than 400 students from 50 countries who have proclaimed the gospel throughout the world. Some have worked as evangelists and apologists, while others have sought to reach people for Christ through their jobs in academia, the arts, the media, business, and politics.
Wellspring International, which was inspired by his mother’s compassion for the destitute and is led by his daughter Naomi, is based on the concept that loving actions provide the most powerful witness for Christianity. The ministry expresses love through its humanitarian aid to vulnerable women and children throughout the world.
In 2014, Zacharias created the RZIM Academy to provide online apologetics training. Thousands of people in 140 countries have taken the academy’s courses, which are available in multiple languages.
Throughout his life, Zacharias participated in many other important events including the National Day of Prayer in Washington, D.C. and the African Union Prayer Breakfast in Maputo, Mozambique. He was the keynote speaker at the first Veritas Forum held at Harvard University in 1992, the Future of Truth conference in 2004, the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention in 2005, and the National Conference on Christian Apologetics in 2006.
Zacharias’ books include “A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism” (1990), “Can Man Live Without God?” (1995), which has sold more than 500,000 copies, “Jesus Among Other Gods,” (2000), “The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us through the Events of Our Lives” (2007), “The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind” (2019), which won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2020 Christian book award in the Bible study category, and “Seeing Jesus from the East” (2020).
In his numerous books, hundreds of radio programs, and dozens of lectures on college campuses and to religious organizations, Zacharias insisted Christianity provides the most compelling explanation of the origin of the universe and humanity, the meaning of life, morality, and human destiny. He used arguments drawn from logic, emotions, and morality to cogently defend God’s existence and respond to the most challenging philosophical attacks against Christianity.
Through his well-reasoned defense of Christianity and training of other apologists, Zacharias significantly advanced the gospel. His legacy will live on.
Gary Scott Smith is Professor of History Emeritus, Grove City College. He is the author with his wife Jane Smith of Suffer the Children: How We Can Improve the Lives of the World’s Impoverished Children (2017).