During my Thanksgiving break, I saw a post from Amy Smith (Watchkeep) regarding Ravi Zacharias. She labeled him a “con-man”, linking to this article, which–among other things–highlights a sex scandal as well as what appears to be his false representation of his academic background.
Warren Throckmorton–who has done a good job exposing such fraudulence at Patheos–also weighed in on Zacharias’ claims of having a terminal degree (i.e. a PhD or equivalent doctoral degree).
Here are my thoughts on the matter:
(1) While I did not follow Zacharias, I occasionally read some of his work. And, to his credit, his writing appeared generally solid, and he is–irrespective of his pedigree–what I would call a good public apologist for the Christian cause. As a public speaker, he is telegenic and appealing, and he tends to be, at face-value, very persuasive.
I use the term public apologist to delineate between folks like Zecharias and Vox Day (author of The Irrational Atheist, tour de force against Dennett/Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris), who appeal to the masses outside of academia, and the academic apologists, like Norman Geisler and John Lennox, who provide strong academic, peer-reviewable materials on the subject. The latter are credentialed whereas the former may or may not be academic specialists.
What bothers me here is not the quality of Zacharias’ work; on its face, that is actually, from what I have seen, very good. He does not seem to promote false doctrine and in fact appeals to skeptics in ways that few others have.
And that is what makes his academic misrepresentation so galling: he has discredited himself by claiming a pedigree that was not even essential.
As Vox Day has shown, you don’t need to be a credentialed apologist to score a knockdown against the High Church Atheists; in The Irrational Atheist, he steamrolled Dawkins & Co. by simply testing the veracity of their claims.
Some might ask whether Zacharias’ honorary doctoral degrees–which allow him to use the term Dr.–let him off the hook.
Of course they don’t. To use an honorary doctorate to promote yourself as an expert in a field is black-letter fraud.
Earning a doctoral degree is an arduous pursuit: you have to qualify just to get into a program; you have years of both research and rigorous study; you have a comprehensive exam; you have to defend your thesis in front of a cadre of academics who will hit you with questions you never thought possible; you have to publish your dissertation.
The process usually takes at least four years. Many candidates end up “ABD” (All But Dissertation), as they hit snags that cause them to fail to complete the degree.
To call yourself “Dr.”, while not having an earned doctorate degree, is dishonest.
(2) The sex scandal is a very big deal, and there is no pretty way to spin that. Among the narrative is his threat to kill himself if he is outed. The scandal, and his handling of it, reflect a profound spiritual deficiency, not to mention a severe lack of stability in his life.
I say this not to beat on people who have mood swings (bipolar disorder) or even who struggle with depression, but when you are threatening suicide in order to manipulate others to do your bidding, then the last thing you need to be doing is public Gospel ministry.
(3) Given (1) and (2), no reputable publishing house should be putting his books into print. No serious Christian should be going to his conferences; no reputable church should be promoting his materials or his events.
There are two kinds of false teachers.
(a) There are false teachers who promote heresy. These types may deny the Fundamentals–such as the Deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the perfect life of Jesus, the Substitutionary Atonement, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and His eventual Second Coming. Or they may deny the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Or they may deny the Trinity. Or they may promote New Age or Gnosticism. Or Prosperity Theology. Or Feminist Theology. This type of false teacher teaches things that aren’t compatible with Scripture.
(b) There are false teachers who live immoral lives. They may have sex scandals for which they must be held accountable. They may be fraudulent in their personal or business dealings. They may be malicious or spiteful or abusive. They may be given to greed or other vices (recreational drugs, excessive alcohol).
I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” label around haphazardly. There are many ministers with whom I have substantial differences, but whom I would not tag as “false teachers”.
But Zacharias, from the available public information, has a serious problem. He appears to have misrepresented his academic accomplishments. In the world of academia, that’s a very big flippin’ deal; I’ve seen professors–who had not completed their PhDs even though they listed it on their vitae–get fired on the spot for what Zacharias has done.
And his sex scandal, let’s just say he owes the Body of Christ–which has enriched his wallet over the years–a candid answer for his conduct.
Even worse: Big Christianity owes the Body an answer as to why they keep promoting his work and his events, in spite of his academic and moral record.