Over the next several blogs I will post a tribute to Ravi Zacharias which I gave when he was honored at the Centre for Theological Mentoring and Reflection at Tyndale University College, Toronto.
Centre for Theological Mentoring and Reflection
June 10, 2010
I have had the privilege of knowing Dr. Zacharias for much of my life. He was wrapping up his time at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school while I was doing an M.Div. at Wheaton Graduate School. I remember preaching in the evening service at an Alliance Church and he and his wife were there. Ravi and I have also sat together on an airplane and discussed C. S. Lewis and since been on various platforms together. I always felt that our mutual background in Youth For Christ and our admiration for – as I have just mentioned – C. S. Lewis have created a certain bond. Underlying that is Ravi’s choice to begin with the Alliance in Canada and to continue as an official worker of the Alliance, something that cannot but help to please denominational types like myself.
In Ravi we meet a person who has given the total energy of his life to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a young man he became well known for his powerful preaching which sought to bridge the gap between the man on the street and the great philosophic currents of the day. He expanded his outreach in 1992 with the VERITAS FORUMS, the first held at Harvard University. The mission statement for these forums:
We create forums for the exploration of true life.
We seek to inspire the shapers of tomorrow's culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.
As we bring Ravi before us tonight we should give special attention to his extensive writing. Over the past two plus decades he has written many books, with each and every one aimed at bringing the full force of the Gospel into the arena of intellectual as well as existential encounter. Let us briefly survey Ravi’s writing project.
The Writing Project
Ravi began his evangelism career in India, his native land, and what we might describe as the cry of India has shaped his preaching and writing in ways that few of us can fathom, but which we sense in his abiding concern for the questions of suffering and pain. As well, he began his preaching as post-modernism was just beginning. Ravi’s apologetic project seeks a two pronged thrust at post-modernism.
First, we notice that the modernistic reliance on arguments for the existence of God is by and large passed over. However, he continues to critique both left-over modernism and post-modernism with logic. Logic requires that if we complain about injustice that we actually have a transcendent standard of justice. His direct assault on atheism is found in …
A SHATTERED VISAGE: THE REAL FACE OF ATHEISM; WOLGEMUTH & HYATT, 1990
There are few books like this either in scope or depth. In a way it reminds me of some of the early enlightenment projects in that it maps out the ground that apologetics needs to cover and gives guidance as to how that ground should be covered. The first five chapters sketch out the growth of late nineteenth century atheism fed by Darwin and Nietzsche and its overflow into the sewer of twentieth century totalitarianism and the fields of western academia, both of which have dedicated themselves to the proposition that man is the measure of all things.
It is true that the tracing of this journey has been done before, but what Ravi brings is the call of the evangelists, a call issued continually with a certain existential angst. Where does atheism leave us? He answers in reference to morality:
… we are devoid of moral assumptions and responsibilities, we have bankrupted ourselves, so that honor, truth, and morality have been sacrificed at the altar of autonomy and self-worship.” In reference to meaning: “[T]he delights of love, the loveliness of a baby, the wonder of a mother nursing a child, the exquisite strains of majestic music—all these transcend reason yet have real meaning in our lives. What meaning do they have if life itself is meaningless?”
And when facing death, poets and scientists who deny God still seem to exhibit what Ravi calls “Grave Doubts.”
In response to all the devastation of the death of God and the birth of man as the measure of all things, Ravi again preaches, not the abstract God of the philosophers, but God who is the treasure of life, the one whose love “gave us life in creation” (p. 133), whose love calls for a response of gratitude which will be shown in a commitment to morality, a life of meaning suffused with divine and human relationships, a life that answers to Jesus promise that he is not like the thief that has come to kill and to destroy, but that he has come “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (p.151).
Thus, in Shattered Visage the apologetic program is laid out. Pascal said that inside of every human there was a God-shaped vacuum, and I might say that Ravi is seeking to describe that vacuum, or to raise consciousness so that we might know that in fact the vacuum is God shaped.
To be continued....