I’ve been following the unfortunate case of Ravi Zacharias for a couple years now (thanks to Steve Baughman). Now that case has finally been reported in the mainstream Christian media. You can read about the case at Christianity Today here.
The scandal includes two parts. Part 1 involves an unseemly online relationship between Zacharias and a married woman. You can read legal documents relating to that case here and here. I’ll let those documents speak for themselves. In the remainder of this article I want to address the second part which moves us from Zacharias’ own poor judgment into the conduct of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) on the whole.
Part 2 of the scandal involves Zacharias and his ministry falsely representing his academic credentials. Zacharias is not an academic and he has no earned PhD. His highest earned degree is an MDiv (a ministerial degree).
Zacharias does have several honorary doctorates. But of course an honorary doctorate is not an earned doctorate, and it is fundamentally dishonest — and thereby immoral — to blur the distinction for personal gain.
Despite this fact, RZIM has repeatedly used promotional language which falsely suggests that Mr. Zacharias is an academic. And one can reasonably infer that they have done so at least in part because of the authority that comes with the completion of terminal academic degrees.
Here is an excerpt from the Christianity Today article:
Up until earlier this year, the RZIM bio had not used the phrase “honorary doctorates;” instead, it had stated that Zacharias had been “honored with the conferring of six doctoral degrees.” The site also previously referred to him as “Dr. Zacharias” through 2014, as did multiple press releases, news features, and event postings.
“In earlier years, ‘Dr.’ did appear before Ravi’s name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates,” stated RZIM in its own statement, also issued Sunday. “However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it.”
It’s worse than that. In this 2015 article Steve Baughman provides additional evidence of dishonesty including Zacharias’ own false claim that he was a “visiting scholar” at Cambridge University. Add it all together and one begins to see a systemic pattern of significant misrepresentation.
Now is the point where I sermonize. When it comes to effective apologetics, it is important to have clear, concise, and logically valid arguments with plausible premises. It’s also important to have good rhetoric, a touch of humor, savvy cultural awareness, and a dollop of self-deprecation.
While that is all important, the most important aspect of any effective apologetic is credibility. Credibility depends on demonstrable integrity. And integrity depends on conduct that is absolutely above reproach. By misrepresenting Mr. Zacharias’ credentials, RZIM has called its own integrity into question. This regrettble action thereby undermines its credibility. And that, in turn, undermines the value of the apologetic that RZIM seeks to present to a skeptical world.