Question: "Who was Ravi Zacharias?"
Answer: Ravi Zacharias was an influential speaker, writer, and evangelist. Born in India, Zacharias considered himself an atheist until a suicide attempt at age 17. While in the hospital, he encountered the gospel of John and became a Christian. Over a period of nearly fifty years, he travelled and spoke worldwide in defense of the Christian faith. Zacharias also wrote numerous books and founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He was also well-known for his radio programs Just Thinking and Let My People Think. Sadly, his final years were marked with accusations of abusive behavior. After his death, investigation found proof of sexual misconduct, lying, and spiritual abuse.
A hallmark of Ravi Zacharias’ ministry was his emulation of 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” His ministry focused on the critical need for a Christian worldview, with special emphasis on how only biblical faith can provide suitable answers to the deepest questions of human existence. Among evangelists and apologists, Zacharias was noted for his approachable style and ability to confront without being confrontational.
Among the more celebrated books written by Ravi Zacharias are Can Man Live Without God?, Jesus Among Other Gods, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists, and Has Christianity Failed You? He also co-wrote a well-received series of books imagining conversations between Jesus and other major figures of world religion and history, such as Buddha, Muhammad, Adolf Hitler, and Oscar Wilde. Thanks to the impact of his speaking, radio, and writing ministries, as well as the training and humanitarian efforts of RZIM, Zacharias has been described as one of the most influential Christian figures of the twentieth century.
During his life, Zacharias’ public career was relatively free from scandal or other failures. As with any long-standing public figure, he experienced moments of controversy. His use of the honorific “Doctor,” based on conferred rather than earned titles, was criticized by some in the academic community. A 2004 invitation to speak at the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City resulted in complaints from some evangelicals who felt Zacharias did not use the opportunity to aggressively counter false doctrines of the LDS.
In 2017 accusations emerged that Zacharias had a sexually inappropriate relationship with a younger woman, mostly via text and email. That dispute ultimately resulted in a non-disclosure agreement. Most of Zacharias’ co-workers and supporters assumed the emails were a lapse in judgment, at worst, and that the situation was likely exaggerated by the accuser. Leaders at RZIM strenuously denied there was wrongdoing at the time.
However, further accusations came to light shortly after Zacharias’ death of cancer in 2020. These came from multiple sources, with common themes and extensive collaboration. RZIM hired an independent team to investigate these allegations. Their efforts uncovered evidence of serious hypocrisy: beyond a doubt, Ravi Zacharias had engaged in a decades-long pattern of inappropriate behavior, spiritual abuse, sexual sin, and cover-ups. The report also determined that those close to Zacharias drastically failed to provide proper accountability or oversight, which might have prevented or revealed these abuses earlier.
The truths that Ravi Zacharias preached in his books and speeches are exactly that: truth, grounded in Scripture and the nature of God. Unquestionably, his private actions were deeply contrary to those ideals, and there’s no excuse for his transgressions. It’s inevitable that some will dismiss every product of his work due to those moral failures. Even for those who still recognize objective value in his material, resources associated with Zacharias will be difficult to recommend or distribute for years, even decades to come.
Believers ought to condemn the sins of Ravi Zacharias—yet it would be irrational to hold every word he wrote or spoke in contempt. Many who made great strides for godly truth also suffered from their fallible sin nature: notably men like Moses, Noah, David, Peter, and post-biblical figures such as Luther and Calvin. Modern readers rarely think of Luther, Calvin, or more recent writers such as Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as persons so much as categories. In time, and at best, the speeches and writings of Ravi Zacharias may retain value, but only so far as culture and memory become separated from the pain caused by his hypocrisy and sin.
The downfall of Zacharias should provide motivation for Christians to hold leaders accountable. It should spur Christian leaders to all-the-more carefully and humbly submit to scrutiny, to avoid falling into the same mistakes.
Tragically, Zacharias’ decades of positive impact for the sake of the gospel—despite secretly harboring abuse and immorality—are further proof that God, not men, makes preaching effective (1 Corinthians 1:20–27). It is necessary to condemn Zacharias’ sin, but reasonable to separate his errors from the message he betrayed. His example provides lessons from which we ought to learn. For now, those will mostly come in the form of bitter warnings. Christian believers, no matter what their role in the church, desperately need to grasp the dangers of lust, abuse, self-delusion, hero-worship, celebrity, and lack of accountability.