EN interviews a giant among contemporary defenders of the faith
Ravi Zacharias is one of the world’s leading Christian apologists and was in Britain for the Keswick Convention.
en: Tell us a little about your worldwide ministry.
RZ: Thirty years ago, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries began with a handful of friends and a specific calling: to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We now have offices in 12 countries with a speaking team of 30. Our vision is to continue to build a global team with a five-fold thrust of evangelism, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, training, and humanitarian support (through our outreach of Wellspring International). We accomplish this through a variety of resources and venues, including the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, where we train and develop future apologist-evangelists.
en: What do you hope to speak on at Keswick this year?
RZ: We are living in a time when there has been a direct assault upon the Christian faith in ways that are very disturbing. It is as if all the forces allied against belief have come together to mount a co-operative and methodical assault. From the arts to the media and the academy, the Christian faith is caricatured and mocked. I would like to get to the basics of why our faith bridges the greatest chasm between the head and the heart. The explanatory power of the gospel in facing life’s questions is both beautiful and persuasive.
en: As you travel the world can you put the church in the West in perspective for us? What are its best and worst points?
RZ: Wherever we go, it is thrilling to see every venue packed with young people. There is deep hunger for meaning and for answers to their questions, and most are eager to listen. I am continually struck by the eagerness of so many young people who take their faith seriously and who want to be able to respond to their critics.
At the same time, we are precariously at risk of losing our young people. Many are walking away from the church and their faith, disappointed that no one is addressing their honest questions and doubts. Many of them are hanging onto their faith by a thread. This increased scepticism and hostility toward Christianity is compounded by the inability of so many in the church who are unable to articulate what they believe. Sceptics hurl questions or accusations in the public square, leaving many questioning the validity of their faith. We see it especially on the university campuses where young professing Christians are struggling. Their beliefs are under attack, and so many simply walk away from their beliefs, feeling unsure how to respond to the claims of atheism or other challenges.
So we have erred in not answering these questions and not responding to the issues, and I think that’s why there is such a resurgence of interest in apologetics. The church is awakening to the need, but I believe if we do not reach them at an earlier age, the Christian message will be totally foreign to the Western world and totally mythical in the next generation.
en: As a Christian apologist, what do you think is the atheist’s best argument and how do we begin to answer it?
RZ: The most obvious one is the problem of evil and suffering. But I have often noted that I believe that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a close Hindu friend. He was questioning the experience of conversion as being supernatural. He absolutely insisted that conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that, in most cases, it was not any different from other ethical religions. I had heard his argument before. But then he said something I have never forgotten: ‘If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?’. His question is a troublesome one. In fact, it is so disturbing a question that I think of all the challenges to Christianity, this is the most difficult question of all.
The moral argument in defence of the Christian faith is a powerful one – but notice that it also cuts both ways. The atheist who challenges the Christian must also give an answer to where the standard of good originates. That is because when you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.
Additionally, I offer these four points. One, no matter how we section physical concrete reality, we end up with a quantity that cannot explain its own existence. If all material quantities cannot explain their own existence, the only possibility for self-explanation would be something that is non-material. Two, wherever we see intelligibility, we find intelligence behind it. Three – and back to the original challenge – we intuitively know that our moral reasoning points to a moral framework within the universe. The very fact that the problem of evil is raised either by people or about people intimates that human beings have intrinsic worth. Four, the human experience in history and personal encounter sustains the reality of the supernatural. These combined factors point to God, the nonphysical, intelligent, moral first cause who has given us intrinsic worth and who we can know by personal experience. And, ultimately, only in the gospel do we find that Christ alone responds to the deepest questions of our hearts and minds.
en: What is the best approach for Christians to take in witnessing to Muslims?
RZ: The challenge of Islam is real, but even with its stridency, many within the heartland of this religion are becoming disillusioned. We must respond by seeking to understand their faith and culture and to truly love them as our neighbour. We must also be prepared to disciple those who come out from them to faith in Christ – this is utterly crucial. We hear story after story of God intervening in their lives through visions and dreams. God in his sovereignty is using their worldview by which to reach them. That is why discipling will take on such great importance.
en: How can people pray for you and your ministry?
RZ: Please pray for our families. As itinerants, we miss our children and they are our most important trust. Pray also for our need to balance work with replenishment and restoration. Finally, pray for our own integrity of life and character. Without living out the gospel, our words will sound hollow. Thank you for praying for us and thank you for staying the course. The Keswick movement has truly been a long obedience in the same direction.
Find out more at www.rzim.org