Ravi Was My Hero. Now What?

The recent revelations about the immoral behaviour of the now deceased speaker, author, and apologist Ravi Zacharias have shocked, angered, and grieved many. This is especially true for those whose Christian lives have been profoundly shaped and influenced by his speaking and teaching. Some who are reading this may even attribute their conversion in some measure to
his ministry.

This provokes an unsettling question for some: If Ravi Zacharias has had such a profound influence on my Christian life, what do these revelations about him mean for my Christian life? Or, to state it more generally, if the person who has led me to faith or has shaped my faith proves unfaithful, does that somehow call into question the validity of my faith?

This question is not new. In the fourth century, the Donatist controversy (named after the bishop Donatus Magnus) dealt with this very issue. The Donatists argued that if a minister renounced Christ or became disqualified from ministry, it would invalidate that ministry. One implication of this teaching was that if the minister who performed one’s baptism later fell away from the faith, the baptism itself was no longer valid, thus requiring one to undergo another baptism by a minister in good standing.

Thankfully, Augustine led the church to condemn Donatism as an unbiblical heresy. He affirmed that baptism is not rendered valid or invalid based on the presence or absence of holiness in the minister overseeing it. This makes good biblical sense. To say otherwise would make too much of the minister, and too little of the power of the gospel itself. And this same reasoning would apply to other aspects of ministry as well, like preaching, prayer, and pastoral counsel.

When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Philippi, he was fully aware of the mixed motives of some gospel preachers. Some were motivated by love, others by envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition. Yet Paul declares, “What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Paul could rejoice because the gospel is true even if the preacher’s motivations are false. And it would be consistent with Paul to say that the gospel is powerful to save, even if the preacher of that gospel is later exposed as a fraud and a scoundrel.

There are many lessons to be learned from the tragic news of Ravi Zacharias. Pastors like me ought to tremble. Christians everywhere should mourn, not only for the victims of such immorality, but for the ways such behaviour has damaged the witness of the gospel.

However, those that have benefitted from Ravi Zacharias’s ministry need not doubt the good they have received from it. If you were saved through Ravi’s teaching, know that it was Jesus that saved you, not Ravi. If you were blessed by Ravi’s ministry, know that it was the Holy Spirit that blessed you, not Ravi. And if you were strengthened or equipped or encouraged in your faith from Ravi’s ministry, know that this was not ultimately the work of any man, but the work of God, who alone does all things well.

Ravi may have been your hero. He no longer is. But that might not be such a bad thing, if it means setting your hope elsewhere, on the only true and perfect Hero that will never let you down.

By Pastor Jonathan Kroeker