I recall, more than 20 years ago, walking out of the SS2 Evangel bookshop holding a book which had this grand-sounding title, “Can Man Live Without God?” It was written by an Indian author, Ravi Zacharias, whom I’ve never heard before. One of the blurps called him the “new CS Lewis” or something to that effect.
A couple of weeks later, I swear my hair was blown back by the wisdom and logic of the writing. Zacharias’ writing sounds like his preaching: bold, confident, serious about truth and falsehood, relentless when it came to logic and the internal consistency of truth-claims.
Which brings me to Zacharias’ apologetics method. His MO was chiefly about exposing the self-stultification (or logical hypocrisy) of many skeptics on truth, morality and so on. It was a combative form of apologetics which sought to show how God has ‘pre-built’ a system of truth into the universe such that attempts to defy it tend create its own havoc.
The below gives you five examples of Zacharias’ style. Imagine a Christian declaring that there is absolute truth and absolute morality, after which a skeptic responds (in bold):
- Skeptic: “There is no Right and Wrong”…”There is no Absolute Truth”…”We can’t be DOGMATIC about anything”
RZ: People who say this never stop to ponder the fact that they obviously believe they’re correct in making these statements — they’ve surely taken that for granted.
We could ask, “Is it absolutely true that there is no absolute truth? Or is what you say only relatively true?” Or perhaps: “Are you right when you say there is no right and wrong? Or could you be wrong as well?”
Finally, how come we’re so dogmatic about not being dogmatic?
2. Skeptic: “It all depends on perception”…”Everything is subjectively interpreted” …”We can never be sure of anything”
RZ: This is a variant of the first one. Here the objection against Absolute Truth is ‘toned down’ and at least some alternative ‘explanation’ is proposed in the form of perception, interpretation, etc.
But it’s clear that it still self-destructs somehow.
Because if EVERYTHING depends on perception, then even my belief that ‘everything depends on perception’ will itself depend on perception(!).
And is our certainty that ‘everything is subjective’ a result of our own subjective interpretation as well? Or did we get that from some Absolute Source? And why are we so sure that we can’t be sure of anything?
It should be clear by now that the very saying of these sentences destroys their validity.
3. Skeptic: “Religious beliefs and truth are all conditioned by culture, history, society, evolution___(insert whatever you like)”
RZ: Every time you hear someone say that absolute truth and belief is conditioned by anything, be always careful to see if the speaker himself is similarly conditioned as well. In other words, is he himself affected by the condition which he speaks so confidently about?
If he is, then why should we listen to him? If he isn’t, then maybe he should explain how come this is the case.
Like in the above statement, we could ask if the speaker is himself conditioned by culture, society, last night’s pizza, etc. He will HAVE to say he’s differentiated somehow (unless he doesn’t mind people calling him a fruitcake for contradicting himself), requiring some explanation of how come he — unlike the mass of humanity — possess some ‘window’ to truth which we all apparently don’t.
4. Skeptic: Truth is about BOTH/AND, not EITHER/OR.
RZ: Let me ask you, are you saying that EITHER “Truth is about Both/And” OR nothing else?
(I recall a video where Zacharias said even in India it’s not both you and the bus — it’s one or the other).
5. Skeptic: “Everything is an illusion”
RZ: Including the speaker and what was just spoken?
Note that the above by no means ‘prove’ that God is real or that Jesus is God or that the Bible is true or whatever. What it does, however, is to force skeptics to confront the fact of their own inconsistencies. If nothing else, Zacharias forces us to face the absurdity of claiming we can “believe whatever we want” or that “all religions are the same” or that “good and evil are all relative”, etc.
Even now there are many people who deny absolute truth or absolute right and wrong, yet feel they have the right to be angry at others who hurt or cheat them. But think about this: If you hold that right and wrong is whatever people say it is, then why can’t I cheat you and claim I’m doing “right”? Am I not merely being consistent with your philosophy?
After that first book, I did what every impressionable college kid did. I subscribed to the RZIM newsletter (which came in physical mail, okay?!). I read almost everything Zacharias wrote, bought every new book which came out and — of course — I had the pleasure of seeing him preach at a local church.
Well, the years “went by” and eventually I moved on to other writers and even dabbled with the very philosophies that Zacharias spent many years attacking in many universities (i.e. post-modernism). But, as life would have it, things went full circle because some time in late December last year I was experiencing a very low period in my life. I happened to be browsing the stores in Canaanland and (for the first time in at least fifteen years) bought my first Zacharias book.
It was his auto-biography which detailed his up-bringing, his abusive dad, his gifting as a preacher (and even won a preaching contest!), his meeting his wife, his life in danger whilst evangelising in warzones, how RZIM began, etc. Check it out:
Little did I know that only a few days after purchasing this book, a) my family would face a whirlwind of a crisis (right before Christmas Eve itself), and b) I’d be breaking down whilst reading about God saved Zacharias from his suicidal tendencies.
Why, it’s almost if God foreknew the storm was coming so he ensured one of his old ‘generals’ was around (in print) to bring a touch of hope and strength.
So it’s with no small amount of sadness that I read about Zacharias’ diagnosis and, last night, his passing away. This was a good man. A caring man. Someone passionate enough for God’s truth and love that he risked so much in his life in the hope that God will use him mightily.
Mightily? Yes, but (and to conclude for now), Zacharias did remind everyone:
“(If) you have not learned to pay the smaller prices of following Christ in your daily life, you will not be prepared to pay the ultimate price in God’s calling” (God in the Shadows, p.92)
Without a doubt, Ravi Zacharias has given all he has for God, as a consequence of giving everything he had little by little everyday. He’s enjoying his heavenly rewards now and, as his daughter noted, is more alive than he’s ever been.