“What do you think of Ravi Zacharias and his ministry of Christian apologetics?”
Given the esteem that Mr. Zacharias generally has in evangelical circles, it is important to note that any answer critical of him or his Christian apologetics offered to evangelicals will need to navigate between two poles, as steering too close to either may appear to discredit the response.
On one hand, by simply voicing critiques about Ravi Zacharias, his ministries, and Christian apologetics in a rather direct but general way I may be seen to be making comments “out of court.” In other words, being perceived to be critical without offering enough substantiation.
On the other hand, however, taking a very research-based approach to the matter may be seen as heavy-handed and unfair. In other words, by marshaling sources and presenting arguments in an academic fashion I may be perceived as approaching the discussion “in the wrong way” (i.e., on terms other than those used by Mr. Zacharias).
My response to this dilemma:
These matters are both complicated and important. As a result of being complicated they require sufficient research to bring as much clarity as possible. As a result of being important (by which I mean, how Christians understand these matters will have profound impact on people’s lives) they require that we be as thorough as possible in order, quite literally, to “love my neighbour as myself” (and to love God in the process).
Given this need for sufficient research and a thorough approach I’ve elected to make this series of posts more academically focused than most.
As such, I ask for your patience in reading this material such that you will be willing, where necessary, to re-read a given post. Further, I ask that you see the abundance of references and citations in these posts in the most charitable way: they are not an attempt to discredit Mr. Zacharias’s perspective (who offers little or no reference / citation) but an attempt a) to demonstrate the reasoned and well-researched approach of Christian scholars on these matters and, by extension, b) to offer you sufficient evidence to persuade you that the view I espouse on this matter is the better one.
In other words, my hope in offering this type of response is to avoid the error that I believe Mr. Zacharias himself has committed: misunderstanding the perspective that he is considering, such that he mischaracterizes those who hold that perspective, and thereby offers a response to the issue / its adherents that is in fact more of a problem than a solution.
That said, I have two main difficulties with Ravi Zacharias’ views and Christian apologetics:
First, from listening to his videos1, reading his articles2, and exposure to him in other sources3, I find that his views, although articulate, do not show sufficient understanding of the matters that he is arguing against. Consequently, by failing to present these matters accurately his responses to them are neither valid nor viable.4
A key example is postmodernism.5
Postmodernism is a key notion for Mr. Zacharias given that his chief goal is to persuade non-Christians of the validity of Christianity and, logically, the effectiveness of any apologetic depends on understanding one’s audience. So as Mr. Zacharias rightly notes, Western non-Christians are decidedly postmodern. Yet from my own research, informed by experts in this field of study, I believe that Mr. Zacharias has not only misunderstood postmodernism but consequently mischaracterized those who are postmodern.
And this leads to my second concern.
Second, Christian apologetics itself (as an epistemologically focused, “question and answer” enterprise is one that) I find questionable to the point of being counterproductive in presenting Christianity well. This is because postmoderns live in a post-Holocaust, post Rwanda world, and so they are far too aware that the reality of evil trumps any “grand ideas” (such as the ideal of progress, the virtues of modern science, or Christian ideals such as forgiveness and reconciliation). In a very real sense, these amounts to only “words, words, words.”
So where Mr. Zacharias and other Christian apologists approach postmoderns with their rational arguments and emphasis on biblical truth claims, postmoderns instead require the proof that would validate those reasons—the truth value that corresponds to those truth claims—while being thoroughly sceptical about such claims to such validation (and suspicious of those who are offering it). Where such is the case, any approach that offers truth claims without providing the appropriate truth values is deemed useless.
- Including “Postmodernism & Biblical Absolutes,” 2010 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwAD8FaOHgs); “Postmodernism and Philosophy,” 2007 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAwyIDKoXYY) 2007. ↩
- “An Ancient Message, Through Modern means, to a Postmodern Mind,” 1998 (http://rzim.org/just-thinking/an-ancient-message-through-modern-means-to-a-postmodern-mind); “Learning to Think Critically,” 2012 (http://rzim.org/just-thinking/learning-to-think-critically); “Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias Answers: What Is the Greatest Lie Facing Today’s Culture?” 2013
- The Truth Project, 2006 (http://www.thetruthproject.org/). ↩
- “Not valid” in the sense that they are not addressing the issue that they claim to, “not viable” in the sense of not actually furthering Mr. Zacharias’ greater cause—offering a persuasive presentation of Christianity. ↩
- In addition to the above, I am also reading two of Mr. Zacharias’ books that deal with postmodernism: Beyond Opinion and Why Jesus? ↩