Let me follow up a bit on my last post. This post will focus on Ravi Zacharias’s situation more pointedly. As most know by now, after an independent (from Ravi’s ministry RZIM) investigation, RZ was found to have engaged in hundreds of illicit relationships over the decades; some of them were literal rapes. True, ‘let the one who has no sin cast the first stone,’ but that shouldn’t be appealed to in order to relativize the gravitas of Ravi’s heinous actions. Clearly, we are all sinners; Martin Luther’s emphasis on the simul justus et peccator should be appreciated by all. Even as Christians destined for eschatological bliss we are all, yet, inhabitants in these damned (but redeemed) bodies of death. Even though, as Christians, those in union with Christ, we are freely justified in and through the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ, we still sin; and we often sin fiercely. Our sobering reality calls for a deep lifestyle of vigilance; one where mortification and vivification are the staples of our existence in Jesus Christ. The vigilance we are called to is charged to us by God Himself. The triune God exhorts us to ‘be holy, as He is Holy.’ As the Apostle Paul notes our aim ought to be ‘perfection.’ So, while the Christian strives for completion and beatific vision in Christ, we are chastened by the reality, as John the theologian notes, that we still sin, those who say we don’t are liars. Zacharias was just like us, and yet in his case he started down a path that ultimately led to a lifestyle of raucous sin.
What I want to address, though, and I only really made this connection as I reflected further on my last post, is the connection between the evangelical subculture RZ inhabited, and how that may have helped cultivate his double-life. My ‘insight’ is theological on this. As I underscored in my last post, but maybe only implicitly, I maintain that the way the Christian thinks God will determine all subsequent things; inclusive of the Christian life, and the subculture created out of that (and for that). For American evangelicals (which I am one, loosely), our background is draped in pietism and revivalism. Both of these nodes are largely fueled by a serious turn-to-the-subject modus operandi. In other words, both pietism and revivalism are rooted in an abstract understanding of the believer’s relationship to God; we might call it a voluntary view. In this approach to God the focal point starts in and from a soteriologically abstract place, insofar as the relationship starts when the would-be Christian decides to convert. What this entails, as a prius, is the idea that the whole Christian life is contingent on the individual’s autonomous decision to finally be for God rather than against Him. If this is the case, as the Christian builds on this premise, they end up in a place, ethically, and every other way, wherein the Gospel is what they decide to make of it. In other words, in this conversionist understanding the Christian life remains a purely voluntary endeavor that gains its traction in and through the willing and thus will-power of the individual Christian. As such, such Christians are doomed to lives of rank failure. A proper understanding on a God-world relation avoids placing this sort of unlivable burden on the Christian. But unfortunately many millions of Christians, particularly in the American West, have attempted to bear the brunt of this burden all the days of their weary lives; most fail. I would contend that at the most basic of levels Ravi Zacharias lived under this sort of burdensome, and principled pietistic way (think of Keswick spirituality) of Christian living. His so-called spiritual formation blossomed under these conditions, rather than genuinely Christ conditioned ones.
What I am suggesting is obviously just my own personal thesis. And I am not contending that if Zacharias was an Evangelical Calvinist, under the Torrancean-Barthian terms we focus on, that he would have elided the heinous missteps that led to his destructive lifestyle. Indeed, Barth himself failed in similar ways with Charlotte Von Kirschbaum (although on a scale, not with the same amplitude). But my broader point is this: the Christian needs the best theological foot-forward as possible. We don’t want to enliven sub-cultures with erroneous theological premises which lead to performance based, in-turned ghettos that almost necessarily set people up for fails. We want to operate from theological premises wherein Christ is the principled center. Not the center in a piously asserted way, but the center wherein He, indeed, leavens the theological bread all the way through and completely. We want to build theological cultures, ecclesial cultures, wherein we always already think from the antecedent above of God’s “pre-timed” life for us; as He freely elected to be for us in the humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the best and most fertile ground for Christian flourishing; ground that is given to us, not ground that we take through our “choice.” The best life we can live now flows from the kerygmatic reality that God is our before and after, and in this and out of this before and after the Christian comes to have capacity to live for God, in the now, even as God has always already and eternally lived for us in His choice to be with us and in us en Christo. Maybe if Ravi had this sort of theological altitude to live from, maybe if he inhabited the culture this reality constructed, maybe he wouldn’t have slipped into the double life he lived until the day of his death; we will never know this of course.
I offer some of these inklings only as a way for me to process this sad scenario in the sorts of ways I like to do that; in Christ concentrated, and theological ways. Maybe thinking like this will end up helping others in the development of their own Christian life within the communio sanctorum; I know thinking like this has helped me in my walk as a Christian. May God have mercy on us all (kyrie eleison)! May God show grace and mercy to the victims of Zacharias’s manipulations; He will. May evangelicals, in the main, come to repent of any type of bad theology that might lend itself towards the development and sustenance of ecclesial subcultures that help to enable people like RZ et al. (all of us). Unfortunately, I haven’t even seen any theologically driven responses to this situation; but that is only par for the course in the evangelical subculture. This saddens me immensely. There are many good and genuine people in the evangelical world, but they have been sold a bill of goods, often times, when it comes to their theological methods and materials. I think this has real life consequences. Once again kyrie eleison.