Ravi Zacharias the man, died May 20, 2020. Ravi Zacharias “the esteemed man of God” myth died a few weeks after when all of his transgressions came bursting into the light of day, hidden away for years under the careful crafting of a master manipulator. “Evangelicalism” the movement of the 20th Century also died in 2020 littered among the riots, looting and ethnic clashes; we just haven’t acknowledged it yet.
Nota bene: I am not in any way bashing the idea of evangelism, which at it’s core is preaching the Gospel, the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension. God in human flesh dying on a cross, a propitiation for the sins of the world. This piece is a discussion of The Evangelicalism Movement of the 20th Century, writ large.
Ravi was born in 1940, a couple years before the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). This is the turning point of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism being viewed as synonymous, with the Evangelicals attempting to find a middle ground between modernists and the fundamentalists. In the 1950’s Billy Graham and his touring ministry came into its own. In 1983 Ravi spoke at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists. Ravi frequently spoke of his interactions with Billy Graham. I’m of the opinion now that those references were intended to create a sort of mantle passing imagery, Elijah to Elisha.
Let us be honest at this point, Evangelicalism is really a euphemism for Ecumenicalism, an attempt to create common ground between the various denominations and traditions within Christendom, usually protestant ones. And, for whatever it was intended to embody, it has also become a sociological phenomena, tending to be Suburban and affluent desiring middle class. Also, I am not so arrogant as to think I know all the various forms and permutations of Evanglicalism all around the United States but the whole world at this point, so I may be missing certain aspects of the movement. I am only a finite man.
Ravi was an excellent orator. I have listened to many of his talks and of course he was a main speaker at the ACNA provincial assembly in 2019. He had an inspiring story, rising from a “bed of suicide” to become a great proponent of the faith. Or did he? His overstated credentials became a problem as more people started to ask questions. His rhetorical skills were prodigious, the large audiences he could command proof positive. But then, he used that particular skill to his own advantage. He preyed on women, coaxing from them their secrets, then using that as an emotional manipulation tool to attain his desired end, fornication, the pleasures of the flesh, which are un-chastity and adultery. Let us not equivocate, what he did was soul destroying. It would appear, at some point, maybe in the pain of his back problems or a lack of time with his wife, whatever the excuse or pretext, the sin crept in. He used his rhetorical skill to do evil. He has become a byword, a warning to others who would preach the Gospel. 1 Cor 9:27 ESV “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Ravi was an Apologist, not a theologian or even a pastor. He was originally ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance, C&MA. His connection with them obviously faded and he launched his own organization, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, RZIM for short. It is one of many Para-Church organizations both within the United States and globally. He insulated himself from those who might have enough oversight to catch him in his debauchery.
I think Evangelicalism has basically taken the same course. What started as an attempt at Ecumenicalism in the Modern Era has turned into a train wreck of disparate ideas and voices. Like Anne Kennedy of Preventing Grace noted in a podcast, “if you only ‘Focus on the Family’ you lose the Gospel.” This was not a dig against the motivation behind Focus on the Family, which was formed in the era of secularism working to undermine the family. No, it’s a dig against the idea of having a ministry, a Christian Ministry, whose main focus isn’t first the Gospel. Matt 6:33 ESV “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This was the same problem with what was known as the Social Gospel, a focus on all the benevolence of the Gospel without the need for being cleansed of our sins by the Living God.
Ravi started his own ministry, separate from any church body and then proceeded to make a mockery of himself, ultimately. Hubris led to a fall. I think 20th Century Evangelicalism is suffering the same decline and shame. Somewhere in the desire for ecumenicalism we lost that ecumencalism isn’t a thing in and of itself. A peace treaty isn’t the sovereign, the nations signing the peace treaty are the actors, the parties to the pact. Denominations exist for a reason, demarcations of theological fault lines. 1 Cor 11:19 “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” There are Old Catholics, Polish National Catholics, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. My own theological proclivities show by not including Pentecostals, haha. Anyways, there are real differences. Because I can’t see how, as an example for there are too many, a Methodist church that changes God’s pronouns is in any way “Evangelical” anymore.
Now, to be fair, this is not a new problem. It starts back with the Judaizer’s in the New Testament, to Donatists, to a modern crazy example The Remnant Church (basically thinness was Godliness) in Brentwood, Tenn, which HBO did a documentary on. It’s essentially, you must look and behave as we do, but in non-core tenants of the faith.
The thing is, for me at least, is that there’s something to the whole idea behind Evangelicalism. How do we, as Christians of various traditions, come together to do good works in unison to the Glory of God? Blessed are the Peacemakers, right?
Here’s the thing I keep coming back to, we think we can fix the issue, the problem, with the right structure. If we get the organizational chart right, everything will fall into place. If we have the brightest people, the influential people work out the details, all will go well, right?
The stark reality is there are at least two inhibitors: sin and finite-ness/death. I’m thinking here of one of the questions from the ACNA Catechism:
- Can you save yourself from the way of sin and death?
No. I have no power to save myself, for sin has corrupted my conscience, confused my mind, and captured my will. Only God can save me.
We are encumbered by sin and limited by our finite nature. Sin has twisted each and every one of us in ways we can not clearly see. And we do not possess the knowledge of how all things work out. We are limited by the knowledge we possess, many times lacking a clear knowledge of past problems or understanding how all our actions will play out.
So, while I am saying that the Evangelicalism movement has maybe reached its terminus, I do acknowledge that it was a worthy endeavor. But, I refuse to do what “The Woke” are doing, which is cast aspersions on those who came before us. We are not better than those who came before us in the Faith. We are heirs of their trials and tribulations, and where they exist, the fruits of their labors both spiritually and materially. Let us not squander either of these. One must learn from the problems of the past, their root causes, as best can be discerned how things went wrong. Humility is required. Humility is always required.
As an Anglican, I think one of our practices (which has obviously fallen on hard times) of reading the Scriptures was best expressed by the Anglican Divine Lancelot Andrewes: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”
Another is from a monk in Gaul, Vincent of Lerins, developed a formula to determine true doctrine from false. “All possible care must be taken,” he said, “that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”
Which leads to no longer call myself an evangelical as the term is completely meaningless now. I’m a Christian. I’m Anglican by tradition and for theological reasons. Hold high the banner of your tradition/denomination so we clearly understand each other. Be evangelical.