Conversation: Ravi Zacharias
Defending Christianity in a secular culture
Attacks on Christianity and the church are rampant in
today’s society. Unbelievers once revered the church and its teachings, but today
they scorn them. Films such as The DaVinci Code and organizations such as The
Jesus Seminar attack the credibility of Jesus and the Bible. But how do
Christians answer these attacks on Christianity?
Few are as familiar with these attacks as is Ravi Zacharias,
president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. For 36 years, Zacharias
has traveled the globe debating atheists, defending Christianity on secular
campuses, and proclaiming the truth through his daily and weekly radio
Zacharias talked with Enrichment journal’s Associate Editor
Richard L. Schoonover and discussed some of the issues facing culture and the
church today and how pastors and their congregations can respond to these
tpe: What is destroying the moral and spiritual foundation
of today’s society?
ZACHARIAS: I believe a convergence of many factors has taken
place. Much of education in the 1960s came unhinged from any moral absolutes
and ethical values. We have seen this happening the last 40 years. There have
been many voices alerting us to this. But more than just a philosophy took
over; a mood took over.
First, secularization generally held that religious ideas,
institutions and interpretations have lost their social significance. Beginning
in the 1960s, the moods of secularization ultimately led to society’s loss of
Next, pluralization, which sounds like a practical and
worthy idea, promoted competing worldviews with no dominant worldview. But
pluralization also allowed complete relativism, the claim there was no point of
reference to right and wrong. This resulted in the death of reason.
Last, privatization said it was OK to be spiritually minded
as long as people kept their spiritual beliefs private and did not bring them
into the public arena. Anyone who believed in a spiritual essence, an ultimate
reality, and the fact there were transcendent absolutes that needed to be
adhered to was told to keep those beliefs private. That ultimately paved the
way for the loss of meaning.
Secularization, pluralization and privatization brought
about loss of shame, loss of reason, and loss of meaning. Philosophy stepped
in, the moralizers against morality came in, and political correctness came in.
Everything became pragmatic. In this new century, we have lost all definitions
of what it means to be human, and what sexuality, life and the home are all
about. We are on the high seas, battling the storms of conflicting worldviews
without a compass.
tpe: A shift is taking place in today’s society toward
Christianity and the church. Please explain.
ZACHARIAS: The shift that is taking place is very
calculated. Eastern religions are protected in today’s society because to
critique Eastern religions is seen as culturally insensitive and prejudicial.
But the Christian faith, which is the target of Western culture (people have
forgotten that it came from the East), is now the dartboard. Society can attack
any aspect of Christianity.
The Judeo-Christian worldview is the target of the Western
media. The media is the single greatest destroyer of the notion of absolutes
and of the Judeo-Christian worldview. When I am overseas, I see these attacks
in articles in the Western newspapers and in the journalism on television.
What has happened? The Judeo-Christian worldview has become
the pariah stepchild of worldviews and is being attacked while other worldviews
are respected, reverenced and recognized as part of history and the culture of
tpe: What is the basis of this calculated attack?
ZACHARIAS: I am not sure I can pinpoint it, but I think the
symptoms of cultural decay were clear from the 1960s onward — changes in
beliefs regarding sexuality, and the right of a child to live in its mother’s
womb. Those in the forefront of popularized Christianity took on these issues.
These Christians were then attacked because society viewed them as inhibitors
to progress and the freedom of other worldviews.
Another reason for this attack is the conflicts that came on
the moral landscape. Those who questioned this moral degeneracy were seen as
coming from the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they had to be silenced.
tpe: There seems to be a proliferation of books and movies,
such as The DaVinci Code, and organizations such as The Jesus Seminar, that are
attacking the biblical and historical facts of Christ’s life, death and
ZACHARIAS: When philosophy and naturalism attacked the
Christian faith and theistic worldviews in general, they started with an attack
against the classical arguments of causality and design for the existence of
God. Naturalists, however, were not able to take on the moral argument. No
matter how much they argued against it, there was always that sense of a moral
impetus within humanity. So, the moral argument was a thorn in their side. How
could they do away with it? If you can make a Jesus who is just like us and
immoral, then that argument is buried, too.
So, books — The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas and
The Gospel of Philip — came into vogue. These Gnostic writings were
supposed to show that Jesus had some private moral issues. If they could
sustain this perception, they could do away with the moral argument. They
attacked the Christ of the Scriptures, who is so pure, so pristine, and so
demonstrative of everything that is pure and good. The DaVinci Code taught that
maybe Jesus had a secret life with Mary Magdalene. Some recent writings and
recent findings have claimed more.
tpe: Why is religious pluralism not philosophically
ZACHARIAS: Religious pluralism is a belief system that
sounds good, but does disservice to all religions. All religions are exclusive.
Even naturalism, which poses as irreligion, is exclusive. Every religion has
its starting points and its deductions, and those starting points exclude. For
example, Hinduism has two non-negotiable beliefs: karma and reincarnation. No
Hindu will trade these away.
In Buddhism, there is the denial of the essential notion of
the self. Buddhists believe that the self as we understand it does not exist,
and our ceasing to desire will be the cause of the end of all suffering. If we
deny these premises, we devein Buddhism.
Naturalism teaches that anything supernatural or
metaphysical is outside the realm of evidence and purely an opinion, not a
matter of fact.
In the Christian faith, we believe Jesus is the consummate
experience of God in the person of His Son, and is the Savior and Redeemer of the
world. We cannot deny these premises and continue to be Christians.
The question is not whether these are mutually exclusive.
The question is which one of these will we deny as being reasonable and
consistent? Which one of these will we be able to sustain by argument and by
tpe: A secular mind-set seems to have invaded the church.
What has been the result of this for the church?
ZACHARIAS: A secular mind-set is manifested in some forms
— not all forms — of the emergent church. This is a dangerous
phenomenon, and some of its protagonists undervalue its end results. When you
think that every generation tends to move away from the previous one, some
forms of the emergent church today are flirting with the extinction of the
gospel, at the heart of which is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Two things have happened in the secular mind-set. First,
secular-minded people do not take the church seriously because the church is
not answering their questions. Second, those within the church are timid and
unable to sustain the supernatural side of their beliefs in a highly
What remains, then, in this kind of religious belief system
is a spirituality that does not need to defend itself because it is purely a
private thing that does not moralize or pontificate for anyone else. It becomes
a feel-good, be-quiet, and get-a-better-state-of-mind-at-the-end-of-the-day
Moral absolutes? One revelation from God who has moral
boundaries for us? No, that becomes untenable. So the church, when it did not
respond to the secular mindset and did not prepare its own people, became
secularized. In the end, it became spirituality without truth, and experience
without objective reference.
The average church member today is unprepared and
ill-equipped to face the attacks that are coming at us full-force. We are
leaving our young men and women who are attending universities as lambs led to
the slaughter. We have fought symptoms, like the issues of the Second World
War. We were shooting at rubber dummies while the real attack was taking place
tpe: How can pastors better prepare themselves and their
people to respond to the attacks on Christianity and the critical issues facing
ZACHARIAS: How does a pastor cope with these attitudes regarding
Christianity and the church? Pastors need to do their best to study and
understand the issues before them and their people. They need to work within
their comfort zones of response and not be afraid to admit when they are
outside of their reach. They have access to books, CDs, debates, seminars and
tapes in which specialists ably deal with apologetic material.
One of the biggest failings of people such as Christopher
Hitchens and Samuel Harris is the fact they are not biblical scholars, even
though they have taken on the Scriptures in some areas. For example, Samuel
Harris attacks the Virgin Birth as having no basis in the Old Testament because
Isaiah uses the word almah. This shows how little Harris knows about the Hebrew
text and what the word possibilities are. Rather than admitting his lack of
knowledge, he took it on.
Pastors need to say, “I am not a neuroscientist. I do not
understand all the implications of genetic engineering, but I know Christians
who do. Here are their books.” Pastors need to bring in these speakers and
their material and interact with the experts.
This is why our ministry began in 1985. People hardly knew
the word apologetics. We had to explain it. Today, our staff is about 125
globally, based in nine countries. We cannot keep up with the invitations. We
have to turn down more than 90 percent of them. Our goal is to expand more for
the sake of the gospel and to come alongside the church. This is what we want
to do. I hope more ministries will spring up that will assist churches and
strengthen our young people and our leadership.
Adapted from the Fall 2008 Enrichment journal. Used with
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