Once one of the less than average kids around the block but now one of the finest intellectuals in the world, Ravi’s life portrays an extraordinary journey of faith and passion; his firm dedication to promoting and defending the Christian faith has made him one of the most influential Christians in the world today.
Reaching Out to the Youth and the Muslim World
In his career as an apologist and as a minister, Ravi holds a special heart to reach out to the youth and the Muslim sect, two groups that are of great concern in the world today. Ravi’s work with various Muslim sects is quite extraordinary because of how he is able to touch the hearts of high-ranking Muslim leaders and befriend them, something that many Christian leaders saw very hard to do.
When Ravi was interviewed how one could win a Muslim to Christianity, he simply said:
“The best hope is to win Muslims is through patient friendship and sharing the love of Jesus. That is the winning truth because love is a rare commodity in the Islamic faith. Almost all of the people who have come to faith from a Muslim background will say it was the love of Christ that attracted them, or else, in an incredible way, that God reached them through visions and dreams. It seems to me that when human powers block the message, God is able to scale their walls.”
Ravi greatly believes that reaching the youth is of prime importance to the church, as the young ones are the future of the world. He stresses this importance in an interview made with him:
“Our youth know first-hand what the world has to offer. They need to be reached at a younger age because of the world of the Internet that ravages young minds sooner than ever before. Building their faith is not a prime strength in our churches today. We seem to think that we need to entertain them into the church. But what you win them with is often what you win them to. Their faith is more a longing than a fulfilment. We have a special burden for the youth. We will keep at it as we try to reach them. It’s a tough world for the young.”
Holy Spirit Guidance, Not Intellectual Dissonance
As one of the world’s foremost experts on Christian apologetics, Ravi is known to have such a great intellect in the field of religion. As such, many would often view this as an excuse to say, “Well, he knows a lot about the Bible, I don’t.” However, Ravi does not rely on his own intellect when he shares his faith with other people. He knows that it is not just through diligent study, but it is actually the working of the Holy Spirit in one’s life that allows him to be able to defend the Gospel. This is why Ravi puts a great emphasis on having a personal devotion time, where one would sit down and spend time with the Lord in prayer.
He says in an interview:
“You can easily substitute the intellect for true devotion. Devotion comes from the heart, and from the will. The intellect, you can cerebrally answer things, but you make a big mistake when that happens. So, I’d warn them to keep a life of balance, and that’s why I think your devotional time in the morning is so important as a time of bible study and prayer.”
Whenever Ravi defends the Gospel, he does not just go out and shove the principles and doctrines of the Christian faith to someone. He carefully listens to the person to know how to present the answer in a way that would meet the person’s needs and satisfaction. This is what makes him extraordinary, and has allowed him to successfully defend the Gospel all these years. When he was asked for an advice he could give to other apologists, Ravi simply said:
“Understand not only the questions, but the questioner. Know how best to articulate the answers, but do it with humility, because ultimately the answer is in a person, the person of Christ, not in an argument. So, do your work and know how to present the answer, but do it with gentleness and meekness.”
With all the successes that he has attained all these years, Ravi never forgets to give all glory to God, as he often says that had it not been for God, he would never have even made it through his teenage life. The passion that Ravi exudes in his work is drawn from his amazing gratefulness for what God has done in his life.
The Humble Beginnings of the Greatest Apologist of Our Time
Frederick Antony Ravi Kumar Zacharias, more commonly known as Ravi Zacharias, was born in 1946 in Madras, India. The place of his birth is of great importance, as many years later, when Ravi entered the ministry, did he only understand the significance of why he was born here. Madras was said to be the site where the Apostle Thomas was martyred by stoning and being thrust with a lance, and for one like Ravi to come from such a place was truly significant because of the kind of work he did when he was an adult.
Both of Ravi’s parents came from noble castes and were highly respected in society. His father, who was of the Nambudiri Brahmin caste, came from a long line of Hindu priests of the highest order, while his mother was from the boatman caste. Because Ravi’s family came from devout Hindu worshippers, they were educated with Hindu beliefs from childhood.
The Zacharias Family’s Christian Encounter
Sometime around Ravi’s childhood, some members of his family encountered Anglican missionaries from Europe who shared with them the Christian faith. Being convinced of what the missionaries shared, Ravi’s family was converted to Christianity and adopted the principles of Christian living. From that time on, Ravi was brought up with Christian beliefs, something that caused him quite some confusion due to him having to switch from one religion to another.
As a young person, Ravi often experienced insecurity because he was less intelligent compared to his older brother. In fact, many years later, in his adult life, when Ravi talked about his childhood and youth, he often said that his father often compared him to his brother and asked him why he could not achieve the same as his older brother. This pressure of having to meet his father’s standards, as well as the inner struggle of trying to obey the principles of their Anglican teachings caused Ravi to become very distressed in his youth.
Due to the dilemma of having grown up in a Christian family which was supposed to have inherited Hindu beliefs, Ravi spent much of his youth as an atheist. He showed very little interest in anything that resembled religion—instead, he wanted to become a businessman, and focused his studies in entrepreneurial field.
Ravi’s Attempted Suicide: His Moment of Transformation
Eventually, the inner turmoil of trying to counter Christianity and the pressure of having to meet his father’s expectations took a toll on Ravi, and at the age of seventeen he tried to commit suicide by drinking poison. Fortunately though, he failed in this attempt and was immediately brought to the hospital to recover. During his stay there, Ravi was given a Bible by a local Christian volunteer and was encouraged to read it, telling him that the reason why he was alive was because God loved him and that God had something great for him to do.
As Ravi went through the passages in the Bible, he was struck by a particular verse he found in the book of John. John 14:9 was this verse, where Jesus said: “Because I live, you also will live.” This spoke tremendously to the young Ravi, who afterward gave his life to Jesus Christ and received Him as his lord and savior.
Ravi shared his conversion story in an interview:
“I became a Christian while a teenager in India, the land of my birth. I had struggled with many issues—especially those of failure and disappointing my family. There was a series of events, but the culminating point came when I tried to take my own life. It was on that bed of suicide when a Bible was brought to me. I heard John 14 read to me, especially verse 19. Jesus said: 'Because I live, you also will live.' In that crisis situation, I cried out to Jesus and received Him as my Lord and my Savior. That was the beginning.”
Starting a New Life as a Christian
From that moment on, both Ravi’s interests and views in life began to shift for the better. He not only looked at life with a more optimistic attitude, but he also began to take deeper interest in the things of God. From wanting to become a successful businessman, Ravi began to walk down a different path—a path where he devoted his life into knowing more about God and what he wants for His people.
Becoming a Christian was the greatest thing that happened to Ravi’s life. It did not only change his perspective about life, but it actually helped him to become a better person in every way. After his amazing encounter with God, Ravi realized that he became more intelligent, as shown by how he started to excel in his studies, which greatly surprised his family and strengthened their faith.
Taking On a New Interest
In 1966, when Ravi was twenty years old, he moved with his family to Canada, where he entered the Tyndale University College & Seminary (then named the Ontario Bible College) to study theology. While studying in Tyndale, Ravi gained a reputation for being one of the brightest and most intelligent students not just in his course but in the campus itself. In 1971, he had an opportunity to visit Vietnam during the summer, where he evangelized American soldiers, prisoners of war and even Viet Cong soldiers. Ravi graduated from Tyndale the following year and earned his undergraduate degree.
In 1972, Ravi married Margaret Reynolds, a fellow youth group member that he met in his church years before. The couple has since stayed happily married and has victoriously passed through different storms in their life all throughout their years of marriage. Margaret bore Ravi three children: Sarah, Naomi and Nathan Zacharias.
After his graduation, Ravi joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada where he began an itinerant ministry with the organization. Soon after, he pursued his studies further and enrolled at the Trinity International University where he took up divinity. In 1974, Ravi had a brief opportunity of preaching the Gospel to people in Cambodia before it fell to the Khmer Rouge. Even during Ravi’s brief visit, a lot of people became believers in Jesus Christ, which showcased Ravi’s ability to connect with people. Ravi completed his studies at Trinity International University in 1977 and earned his master’s degree.
Right after completing his studies, Ravi was called by God to preach the gospel worldwide. Compared to a lot of preachers though, Ravi focused on the intellectuals of society as well as the atheists, defending the Gospel and bringing them into a proper understanding of what Christianity was. This was due to his experience of being an atheist himself, and Ravi knew just how difficult of a life one lived if he never recognized God.
It was not long after Ravi started his international ministry that he became popular. His spectacular defence of the Gospel and his intellectual arguments earned him a reputation of being one of the best apologists of his generation. What made his story more interesting was the fact that he came from a country where Christianity was among the minority religions; what’s more amazing was, that he came from a well-known Hindu family. The rising interest in reaching the East has also helped Ravi become recognized as he is from India.
As Ravi said in an interview:
“This whole global shift in “looking to the East” for answers has become a very real platform from which to address with understanding and experience what these worldviews teach and why more than ever the answers of Jesus Christ are relevant and true… Being Indian by birth and upbringing, and my ancestors coming from the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood, provides a story to tell.”
Ravi's popularity as a phenomenal speaker eventually gained him international attention, and in 1983 he was invited by Billy Graham to speak at one of his annual conferences in Amsterdam. Afterwards, Ravi went to India to spend the entire summer evangelizing, where he saw the great need for the apologetics ministry as a means of not only training leaders but also to help lead people to Christ, especially those who have deep knowledge of their own religions.
Starting the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
In 1984, Ravi established the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto, Canada. The goal of this ministry was for Ravi to be able to pursue his calling of being a 'classical evangelist in the arena of the intellectually resistant,' which meant that his audience were people of great intellect; a lot of them were atheists and agnostics, as well as learned people from other religions.
From its establishment, the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries grew to become one of the largest and most respected Christian apologetics ministries in the world, with offices in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. The amazing growth of the Ravi's international ministry resulted in him being ordained as an international evangelist by the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Ravi becomes an International Preacher
As Ravi's reputation grew further, so did the number of invitations for him to speak at various events and conferences around the world. One example of this was in 1989, after the Berlin Wall was destroyed, Ravi was invited to speak to the students of the Lenin Military Academy as well as the leaders at the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. Having been invited here was very significant not just for Ravi, but for the entire Christian world, because his speaking engagement became among the first evangelistic opportunities that were aimed at the Communist political realm. Some of the other invitations he was given was to speak at a conference in Bogota and Colombia, where Ravi talked about the importance of having a solid moral foundation to the judiciary committee.
In 1990, Ravi took some time off doing international ministerial work so he could spend time as a visiting scholar at the well-known Cambridge University. During Ravi's stay at Cambridge, he was able to hear lectures from very well-known scientists and naturalists such as Stephen Hawking, and studied under professors such as Don Cupitt and John Polkinghorne. It was also during this time that Ravi wrote his first book entitled "A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism," which was aimed to showcase the numerous faults of atheistic beliefs and to show why Christianity is the real deal.
In 1993, Ravi Zacharias was invited for the first time to speak at Harvard University’s “Veritas Forum,” where he was among the keynote speakers of the famous event. Later that year, Ravi was again made a keynote speaker at the Urbana convention, and he has been a frequent visitor to both events since then. Ravi became well known for his question and answer portions as well as his lectures, and has often visited prestigious universities such as the University of Georgia, Penn State University and the University of Michigan.
Writing His Award Winning Book: Can Man Live Without God?
The following year, in 1994, Ravi wrote and published his book entitled “Can Man Live Without God?” which won the Gold Medallion for best book in the doctrine and theology category. The book, which discussed how one can only fully have satisfying answers to life’s greatest questions when he sees God as the answers to these very questions, became a critical and financial success, and was among the bestsellers of that year.
Ravi’s schedule became busy with numerous invitations to speak at various international conferences throughout the next decade. During this time, he also wrote several books which were also well-received, both by the intellectual members of society and the common folk. Among these books was “Jesus Among Other Gods,” which earned a Gold Medallion nomination for best book.
Ravi’s Speech at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints
In 2004, Ravi received criticism from some of the legalist Christian sects after he accepted the invitation to speak at the Salt Lake Tabernacle of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), where he spoke a sermon entitled “Who Is the Truth? Defending Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life” to an audience of seven thousand scholars and lay-persons of both Mormon and Protestant sects as a way of opening discussion between the two groups of Christians.
According to some of those that criticized Ravi, they noted how Ravi did not use the opportunity of speaking in the Mormon Church to directly address the foundational differences between the Biblical Christian faith and the things that the Mormons believed. Ravi defended his actions by stating that as a Christian, he should not immediately condemn the theological differences of the Mormon faith; rather, he was there to ‘graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction,’ and that the methods he used were just as effective as showing them the faults of their beliefs.
From 2004 onward, Ravi became more involved in working with other organizations. His reputation as a great apologist earned him numerous honors and recognitions, and had him invited in very popular religious conventions such as the Future of Truth conference (2004), the National Religious Broadcasters Convention and Exposition (2005), and the National Conference on Christian Apologetics (2006), to name a few. In 2007, he spoke to the people living in Blacksburg, Virginia (beginning with the students and faculty of Virginia Tech) to address the issue of evil and suffering after the infamous Virginia Tech Massacre.
Aside from this, Ravi has also been invited to secular events and honored to be among the primary people to lead events such as the National Day of Prayer (held in Washington, D.C. in 2008, Ravi was made the event’s chairman), the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations, and the African Union Prayer Breakfast in Mozambique.
Ravi was also interviewed in the Truth Project of the Focus on the Family movement, where he was among the signatories of the ‘Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,’ a manifesto that affirmed Christian doctrines such as the sanctity of human life, dignity of marriage by the union of husband and wife, as well as the freedom of religion to become the foundational principles of justice and the common good of the nation.
Today, Ravi continues to pursue his mandate of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, never allowing the difficulties and challenges of his work to make him stumble from his calling. He has experienced the wonderful life of being a Christian, and has become one of its strongest and most successful defenders. Ravi’s life is a wonderful inspiration for us to always seek the truth, hold on to it, and never let anything that happens in our life change what we have learned from it.
“So, as tough as the battle is, it is true for everyone called to be on the front lines. Our calling, to use a war metaphor, is that of 'special ops'. It is fraught with dangers but vital for the conquering of the hearts of men and women around the world. To that end, God has immensely blessed the work of RZIM. I am most grateful for all the opportunities and blessings we have enjoyed. We have seen some of the most stubborn people come to Christ. That makes it all worth it.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
Awards and Achievements
- 1995: Received the Gold Medallion Book Award (Can Man Live Without God?)
- 2008: Named Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer
- Named Chairman of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at the Alliance Theological Seminary
- Conferred Fellowship at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University
- 1998: Honorary Doctorate from Tyndale College and Seminary, Toronto
- 2013: Honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology from Liberty University
- Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Houghton College, New York
- Honorary Doctor of Laws from Asbury College, Kentucky
RZIM.org (About Ravi Zacharias)
Wikipedia (Ravi Zacharias)
Ligonier Ministries (Indispensable Apologetics: An Interview with Ravi Zacharias)
Apologetics 315 (Ravi Zacharias Interview Transcript)