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Mar 26 The mixed legacy of Ravi Zacharias

Today in 1946 in Madras, India controversial Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias was born. He inspired a generation of apologists and founded the RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry). The author of more than 30 books on Christianity and the host of multiple radio shows, he was widely esteemed in the Evangelical Community. However, in his final years and after his death, multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct emerged, from different countries. RZIM issued an apology and subsequently announced that it would undergo a name change and remove all material related to Zacharias.

They also apologised to an earlier complainant for not taking her allegations seriously and slandering her. RZIM is now based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where the evangelical community is growing rapidly. However, the Canadian branch of RZIM has already closed down. The story in the church of a similar dynamic had recently occurred in the Catholic community with the much-loved founder of the L’Arche movement, Jean Vanier. Zacharias was the author of more than 30 books on Christianity, these scandals caused some distress in the evangelical community- with some debating about whether or not to burn his books, and many websites removing them from sale. What is notable about the Zacharias case is what was discovered on his smartphone after he died. The digital footprint that he left indicated how he had used sexting and his smartphone to extort women. The scandal of people abusing religious authority sadly runs through all denominations and faiths, it also a test of the institutions ability to live forgiveness and heal. In the age of Me-Too, there is an accountability now that should make people safer, but also poses profound question about our cultures ability to forgive and heal.

Zacharias’ family was Anglican, but he described himself a sceptical until the age of 17 when he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While he was in the hospital, a local Christian worker brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14, which contains Jesus' words to Thomas the Apostle. Zacharias said it was John 14:19 that touched him, "Because I live, you also will live", and that he thought, "This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life." He committed his life to Christ, praying that "Jesus if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth."

He was ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Keswickian denomination. Evolving out of the Wesleyan-Holiness movement which focused on his doctrine of Christian perfection or what is sometimes called entire sanctification. Put very simply, the idea was that once someone had been born-again, you had to keep working at it, something that proponents of the Reformed idea of Solo Fides - ‘Faith Alone’ sometimes underplayed. An American Evangelist called William Boardman, had published a book called the Higher Christian Life, in 1858, which came to have international influence. This is how Zacharias Anglican family in India would have come across it. The movement seemed especially to take route in Keswick in the Lake District in North West England. A Higher Life Movement emerged and was first promoted in Kewsick in Conventions and tent revivals. The first large-scale Higher Life meetings took place for students at Cambridge University in the Broadlands estate of Lord and Lady Mount Temple, and soon encompassed Oxford too. As it spread around the world, the annual conferences in Keswick took on a more Calvinistic tone. Keswickian preachers started to distance themselves from the Wesleyan doctrine of eradication (the doctrine that original sin could be completely extinguished from the Christian soul prior to death) and they began using the term "counteraction" to describe the Holy Spirit's effect on original sin, often comparing it to how air pressure counteracts gravity in lifting an airplane. Coming out of this tradition is Zacharias’ most influential book Can Man Live Without God? It won the Gold Medallion Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's. The World Alliance is a denomination within the Keswickian Higher Life movement of Christianity, its headquarters is in São Paulo, Brazil, and has 6million members with 22,000 congregations in 88 different countries. They posthumously revoked Zacharias’ ordination after conducting their own investigation.


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