Two tributes: how Ravi Zacharias impacted my life
Former Deputy PM John Anderson and RZIM Asia Pacific rep Jordan Thyer reflect
Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson (click here) and RZIM Asia Pacific’s Jordan Thyer reflect on the personal and public legacy of Ravi Zacharias.
Finding new life and purpose by Jordan Thyer
Ravi Zacharias is now home with the Lord he loved and served. Born and raised in India, Ravi experienced first-hand the impact worldviews have on a society as he saw both beauty and brokenness around him.
Ravi had a nominally Christian upbringing but came to hear about Jesus in his teenage years through Youth for Christ. Christianity, however, didn’t make sense to him or answer his deeper questions as he tried to make sense of life. His love for sports, especially cricket, and dreams of playing professionally led to his frequently skipping school to pursue that dream. His neglect of schooling was infuriating for his father and caused much grief in their relationship.
A strained relationship with his father, a sense of inadequacy and confusion over life having any purpose drove young Ravi at 17 years of age to attempt to end his life. Fortunately, his attempt wasn’t successful and while recovering in hospital he heard the words of Jesus from John 14:19 read to him by his mother, “Because I live, you also will live.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit must have been speaking to Ravi and moving in him through these words, and he was never the same.
After committing his life to Christ with this new sense of identity, purpose and meaning, Ravi began to serve more and more through Youth for Christ (YFC) while devouring Christian literature to deepen his understanding of the Christian faith. Shortly after his move to Canada in 1966 at 20, Ravi went on to study in Canada at Ontario Bible College and then graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under Christian philosopher and theologian Norm Geisler.
Ravi’s preaching across a war-torn Vietnam in 1971 solidified his calling to evangelism as it was clear to him and those who heard him speak that a persuasive style of preaching was his gifting.
“Dr Geisler inspired me with the confidence to walk into any lion’s den and believe I would come away victorious for the gospel.” – Ravi Zacharias
Ravi commented in his autobiography, Walking from East to West, that “Dr Geisler inspired me with the confidence to walk into any lion’s den and believe I would come away victorious for the gospel.” By God’s grace it would be Ravi’s voice over the airwaves that would instil that confidence in the hearts of thousands more.
After trying to balance itinerant evangelism and a teaching post at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, he was invited by Billy Graham in 1983 to speak at a conference for evangelists in Amsterdam (this message can still be viewed on YouTube and is a must watch). It was this event that solidified in Ravi’s mind the need for evangelism undergirded by apologetics in order to reach the ‘happy pagan’ and utilise his gift to reach the sceptic.
However, God not only used Ravi to reach the sceptic, but also put steel in the doubting believers’ heart that the gospel was rationally defendable.
An unexpected and generous financial gift from David Dale (“D. D.”) Davis enabled Ravi to establish Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in 1984.
Ravi’s ministry has impacted countless numbers of people through radio, podcasts and YouTube.
Listening to Ravi filled people with a sense of confidence in Christ; not an arrogance that Christianity was right, but a deep awe for God’s work in Christ.
The personal impact Ravi had
I first came across Ravi when I was 18 and in my first year at university studying chemical engineering. I was wrestling internally with whether I could maintain my Christian faith in an intellectually credible manner while being aware that there were also self-indulgent motivations to stray from following Christ.
Hearing Ravi’s voice unpack the uniqueness of Christ and the rationality of the Christian faith filled me with confidence that Christianity was not only good, but also true. His ability to demonstrate how Jesus makes sense of life’s big questions—the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny—was both poetic and intellectually robust.
“You always left a conversation with Ravi feeling valued.” – Jordan Thyer, Itinerant Speaker, RZIM Asia-Pacific
In addition to his speaking ministry Ravi wrote many books such as Can Man Live Without God (1994) and Has Christianity Failed You (2010) that further demonstrated Christianity’s intellectual credibility and ability to offer satisfying answers to these big questions.
A particular feature of RZIM has been the ministries involvement in campus outreach, engaging inquirers with the gospel and placing an emphasis on answering people’s questions with gentleness and respect. As John Anderson pointed out, Ravi led the way by example in the manner in which he responded to people’s questions with empathy and conviction.
Many still refer to his Veritas Forum address on the campus of Harvard University in 1992, or his talks at the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) in the early 2000s, as the beginnings of their own Christian journey.
Full of grace, seasoned with salt
I met Ravi in person while studying at OCCA, the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, which he helped establish, and was continually amazed at his warmth and humility.
You always left a conversation with Ravi feeling valued.
For such a “giant” in the Christian world you would never have known it from his disposition and approachability. Since first meeting Ravi and having been on team with RZIM for the past four years as an itinerant speaker, this impression of Ravi has not diminished.
I was continually amazed at Ravi’s care for the questioner behind the question and how one is always left with a deeper appreciation for Christ and the beauty of the gospel after hearing Ravi speak — in intimate settings or to thousands. He demonstrated the words of Colossians 4:6 by his tone and content; we as Christians must let our “conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
At 17 years of age, Ravi was lying on a bed with no hope until he heard the words of Jesus.
In God’s amazing grace he took that young life devoid of meaning or purpose and gave him a calling and a voice that would bring the hope of the gospel to millions of people.
I am one of the many that have benefitted from Ravi’s obedience to this calling which gave me and countless others confidence to continue trusting in Christ and living for him above all else. I will be forever grateful for Ravi’s voice and influence on my life. But even more than each of our thankful expressions to Ravi, he would want that we direct our thanks to God who abundantly provided for us in Jesus Christ so that all people might find eternal life in him.
Jordan Thyer worked as a chemical engineer before moving to the UK to study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). Returning to Australia, Jordan completed a MDiv at Trinity Theological College while working as a youth minister. Jordan now works as an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
A big believer in God’s open invitation by John Anderson
It may well be that not many Australians have heard of Ravi Zacharias, the Indian-born America-living Christian apologist. However, those who have would know him as a man that had a superb and gracious mind and that had helped an extraordinary number of people – including countless Australians – ‘find’ themselves.
I came to become both a friend and supporter of him and his team over the past eight years. I saw the great need that he fulfilled – sharing, defending and explaining truth in a post-truth world that is losing its way.
Recently diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive cancer, Ravi passed away on 19 May 2020, at least physically. His vast writings and teachings in this age of YouTube and social media will remain, of course, and will continue on the tradition of his mission, as he had it: “Helping the thinker believe and helping the believer think.”
I was always struck by his ability to unpack worldviews and to explain the Christian faith.
As a gifted observer of cultural trends, he will be greatly missed as a brilliant critic of poor and misleading thinking, the flows of which show no signs of slowing any time soon, and which visit untold trouble on our world.
Growing up in India in a nominally Anglican family, Zacharias came to personal faith after an attempt to take his own life at the age of 17. He committed himself to “leave no stone unturned” in his pursuit of truth. As his public life unfolded and he became a Canadian, then American (and in reality a global) citizen, his capacity to engage his listeners became outstanding.
I was always struck by his ability to unpack worldviews and to explain the Christian faith and its relevance clearly and winsomely.
I found powerful his belief that a worldview, if it is to meet our needs, must answer the questions of “where did I come from, is there any meaning to my life, what is right and wrong, and what is my destiny.”
I was always impressed, too, by his politeness, and refusal to take offence even when it was intended that he should. One sensed that winning the soul was more important than winning the argument – not that I could ever fault his logic or knowledge! He was gentle, warm and personally engaging, which meant that he had a wide circle of friends and admirers; it is not only his family who will miss him. He touched countless lives including my own.
But he would argue that his separation from his family and friends is but temporary. He is confident that he goes to be with Jesus, who invites us all to join him, saying of himself that “because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). He believed that he was unconditionally loved and forgiven and that, in fact, God stands at every person’s door and knocks, and that if we open it, He will enter.
If you’ve not heard of him, or heard what he has said, I cannot recommend his books and talks too strongly!
John Anderson is Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister.