Ravi Zacharias is an Indian-born Canadian-American Christian apologist.
He is the founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, host of the radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking
A defender of evangelical Protestantism, Ravi is the author of numerous Christian books, including the Gold Medallion Book Award winner – Can Man Live Without God? in the category “theology and doctrine” and Christian bestsellers Light in the Shadow of Jihad and The Grand Weaver. He has had six honorary doctoral degrees, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology.
Evangelical Christian leader Chuck Colson referred to Zacharias as “the great apologist of our time.”
Born 26 March 1946 in Madras, India, to a woman of the Nambudiri Brahmin caste and a Christian man of the Boatman caste. His mother was from Madras while his father was from Kerala. He grew up in Delhi.
According to Zacharias, before her marriage, Swiss German missionaries had spoken to his Brahmin ancestor about Christianity and she had converted and had been made an outcast by her Brahmin family and community.
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Zacharias grew up in a nominal Anglican household, and says that he was an atheist until the age of 17 when he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While in the hospital, a local Christian worker brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14. Zacharias says that it was John 14:19 that touched him and meant to him as the defining paradigm: “Because I live, you also will live.” He said that he thought, “This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life.” and that he committed his life to Christ praying, “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.” In 1966 Zacharias emigrated with his family to Canada, earning his undergraduate degree from the Ontario Bible College in 1972 (now Tyndale University College & Seminary) and his M.Div. from Trinity International University.
When former skeptic and seventeen-year-old Ravi Zacharias heard the words of Jesus in John 14:19, “Because I live, you also will live,” the trajectory of his life changed forever. In a time of helplessness and unbelief—when he was on a bed of suicide—the truth of Scripture brought hope to Zacharias, and he committed his life to Christ, promising, “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.” Earlier in John 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” This verse has become the cornerstone of Zacharias’s ultimate mission as a Christian apologist and evangelist: to present and defend the truth of Jesus Christ that others may find life in Him.
Zacharias’s calling to preach was first confirmed when he was awarded the Asian Youth Preacher Award at the international Youth Congress in Hyderabad at the age of nineteen. Years later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association invited Zacharias to be a plenary speaker at the inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (“Amsterdam ‘83”) to address a gathering of 4,000 other speakers. It would be another turning point for him, as he began to seriously consider the critical need of apologetics to remove the intellectual and existential barriers that kept many skeptics from considering the truth claims of Christ. A year later, in 1984, he founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).
Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2014. Dr. Zacharias has spoken all over the world for over 43 years in scores of universities, notably Harvard, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Cambridge. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. At the invitation of the President of Nigeria, he addressed delegates at the First Annual Prayer Breakfast for African Leaders held in Mozambique.
Mr. Zacharias has direct contact with key leaders, senators, congressmen, and governors who consult him on an ongoing basis. He has addressed the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Texas and Louisiana, and has twice spoken at the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations in New York, which marks the beginning of the UN General Assembly each year. As the 2008 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer, he gave addresses at the White House, the Pentagon, and The Cannon House. He has had the privilege of addressing the National Prayer Breakfasts in the seats of government in Ottawa, Canada, and London, England, and speaking at the CIA in Washington, DC.
Zacharias was invited to spend the summer of 1971 in Vietnam, where he evangelized to the American soldiers, as well as to POWs and Viet Cong. After graduating from the Ontario Bible College, he began an itinerant ministry with theChristian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. In 1974 the C&MA sent him to Cambodia, where he preached only a short time before its fall to the Khmer Rouge. In 1977, after graduating from Trinity, Zacharias was commissioned to preach worldwide
In 1983, Zacharias was invited to speak in Amsterdam at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s annual evangelists’ conference. It was here that he first noticed a lack of ministry in the area of Christian apologetics. After Amsterdam, Zacharias spent the summer evangelizing in India, where he continued to see the need for apologetics ministry, both to lead people to Christ and to train Christian leaders. In August 1984 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was founded in Toronto, Canada to pursue his calling as a “classical evangelist in the arena of the intellectually resistant.” Today its headquarters is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and has offices in Canada,India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Romania, Turkey, Austria, Spain, and South Africa. He was later ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance and commissioned as an international evangelist.
In 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Zacharias was invited to speak in Moscow. While there he spoke to students at the Lenin Military Academy as well as political leaders at the Center for Geopolitical Strategy. This was the first of many evangelism opportunities towards the political world. Future events included an invitation to Bogota, Colombia in 1993, where he spoke to the judiciary committee on the importance of having a solid moral foundation.
In 1990 he wrote his first book, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism. In 1993 Zacharias was invited to speak at his first Veritas Forum at Harvard University, and later that year was one of the keynote speakers at Urbana. Zacharias continues to be a frequent guest at these forums, both giving lectures and answering students in question and answer sessions at academic institutions such as the University of Georgia, the University of Michigan, and Penn State.
Zacharias attracted media attention when in 2004 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) opened its signature pulpit at the Salt Lake Tabernacle to him for a series of messages. Zacharias delivered a sermon on “Who Is the Truth? Defending Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life” to some 7,000 lay-persons and scholars from both LDS and Protestant camps in an initiatory move towards open dialogue between the camps.
Some evangelicals criticized Zacharias’ decision not to use this opportunity to directly address the “deep and foundational” differences between the historic Christian faith and that of the LDS church. He responded by asserting that Christians should not immediately condemn Mormonism’s theological differences but “graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction”. He said this is just as effective as showing someone the faults of their faith. The speaking engagement was nearly sabotaged by a claim by event organizer Greg Johnson, president of Standing Together, that Zacharias had nothing to do with editing the book The Kingdom of the Cults and had only loaned his name to the latest edition. Johnson later apologized for his comment.
Zacharias is a frequent keynote lecturer within the evangelical community at events such as the Future of Truth conference in 2004, the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention and Exposition in 2005, the National Conference on Christian Apologetics in 2006. On successive nights in October 2007, he addressed first the students and faculty of Virginia Tech, then the community of Blacksburg, Virginia, on the topic of evil and suffering in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. Zacharias has represented the evangelical community at occasions such as the National Day of Prayer in Washington, DC, the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations, and the African Union Prayer Breakfast in Maputo, Mozambique, and was named honorary chairman of the 2008 National Day of Prayer task force. He also participated in the ecumenical Together 16 meetings in July 2016, which Pope Francis addressed, describing the event as a valiant effort.
Zacharias was interviewed in Focus on the Family’s Truth Project. In November 2009, Zacharias signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration which affirms the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good.
In 2014, Zacharias republished his book The Lamb and The Fuhrer, an imaginary conversation between Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and Dietrich Bonhoffer, as a graphic novel. In 2016, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio appointed Zacharias to his anti-abortion “Dignity Of Life” advisory panel.
In March 2020 Ravi announced that he was diagnosed with a type of cancer called sarcoma. Doctors discovered the malignant tumor on Zacharias’ lower back during a reconstructive spinal surgery, he said in a statement.
In May 1972, Zacharias married Margaret “Margie” Reynolds, whom he met at his church’s youth group. They have three children: Sarah, Naomi, and Nathan.
In November 2019, a few months after his last visit to Angola, Zacharias stepped down as President of RZIM to focus on his worldwide speaking commitments and writing projects. He passed the leadership to his daughter Sarah Davis as Global CEO and long-time colleague Michael Ramsden as President. Davis had served as the ministry’s Global Executive Director since 2011, while Ramsden had established the European wing of the ministry in Oxford in 1997. It was there in 2018, Zacharias told the story of standing with his successor in front of Lazarus’s grave in Cyprus. The stone simply reads, “Lazarus, four days dead, friend of Christ.” Zacharias turned to Ramsden and said if he was remembered as “a friend of Christ, that would be all I want.”
Ravi Zacharias, who died of cancer on May 19, 2020, at age 74, is survived by Margie, his wife of 48-years; his three children:—Sarah, the Global CEO of RZIM, Naomi, Director of Wellspring International, and Nathan, RZIM’s Creative Director for Media; and five grandchildren.
Zacharias states that a coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning of life, morality and destiny. He says that while every major religion makes exclusive claims about truth, the Christian faith is unique in its ability to answer all four of these questions. He routinely speaks on the coherence of the Christian worldview, saying that Christianity is capable of withstanding the toughest philosophical attacks. Zacharias believes that the apologist must argue from three levels: the theoretical, to line up the logic of the argument; the arts, to illustrate; and “kitchen table talk”, to conclude and apply. Zacharias’ style of apologetic focuses predominantly on Christianity’s answers to life’s great existential questions with defense of God.
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