Three years ago, I heard Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias speak at a college chapel service. I summarized his message and a Q&A below.
Life rests on four pillars: eternity (existence), morality (essence), accountability (conscience), and charity or love (beneficence).
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity in our hearts. It is our true, final destiny. Eternity is also why time is unnatural to us, or we would never notice how it passes. C. S. Lewis said that a man remarking on the passage of time is like a fish remarking on the color of water. A fish does not notice the water it swims in. Neither should a man notice time, unless he is destined for eternity. Everything we think, say, and do in this life should be viewed in the light of eternity, which defines our existence. Otherwise life has no purpose.
Morality is not based on culture or time. It cannot be horizontal (man). Morality must be vertical (God), with an outside reference point. Its basis is the absolute nature of an unchanging God. The essential word in the Ten Commandments is “sacred”: sacred God, sacred words, sacred neighbors, sacred marriage, sacred things, etc. Life without sacredness is relativism. The only way for a relativistic world to get rid of objective morality is to make Jesus look like them, which is just what Hollywood did in The Da Vinci Code (2006) and in similar films.
[My response: This is what some people in the church have unwittingly done with Jesus; they are not consciously trying to get rid of objective morality. Yet moral relativism is the result of some drastic cultural and theological changes in the visible church today. The essence of idolatry is making Jesus look like us, i.e. less than he is in himself as God. Many people, both inside and outside the church, have their own “pocket Jesus” as they try to mold God into their image. But everyone, the church included, will receive a rude awakening when he returns.]
We need to be accountable to someone when we are alone. That someone had better not be human. People will fail us. God will not. We must be accountable before God alone. He is the one we will stand before someday. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was driven by pleasure, the essence of the Decadence movement of 1890s Europe. Yet even Wilde realized in his final years and in his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) that he needed to be accountable to someone other than his lover, since neither man loved any of their male lovers for the other’s sake. They knew nothing of the agape love Christ demonstrated on the cross. In this moment, Wilde finally recognized his need for Christ. He became a Roman Catholic on his deathbed.
Love is the supreme ethic, truth the supreme point of judgment. Lose either and you lose God. The Middle East is the greatest evidence of lovelessness, its history evidence of the logic of unforgiveness. The greatest proof of love is the cross of Christ, his atonement the heart of the gospel. I convinced one Muslim to stop asking “if” Jesus died and start asking “why.”
Q & A
How do you describe the nature and rationale of your apologetics?
Zacharias: My apologetic approach is rational, relational, and emotional. Apologetics can be too cerebral. We must answer the questioner, not just the question. We do not always know where people are coming from. A relative of theirs may have just died. If I sense that my answer is insufficient, I will ask if I can talk with the person privately.
How must we deal with apathetic people?
Zacharias: Everyone has a window of time to ask questions. If they receive none, then they assume their questions have no answer. I pray with apathetic people, which has led some to become open to God when they need him. China is open to Christians. They know an amoral government is doomed.
How does the body overcome the paradox of past, present, and future?
Zacharias: The body is the greatest misunderstanding of Christians, who are too gnostic. God gave us taste buds, not just food. Sex is more than procreation, too. God lets us feel pain to let us know that something is wrong. The body indicates ultimate reality and greater truths. We see God’s sovereign work in the temples of our bodies.
How do we differentiate morals and principles?
Zacharias: We must find a transcendent basis for both, an immovable reference point. A person can be moral yet spiritually lost. God’s chronological and logical method in the Bible is redemption, righteousness, and worship. The ultimate immorality is thinking that we can stand before God without cleansing (see Psalm 24).
How do we get people to question their religion’s internal consistency?
Zacharias: This criterion is insufficient for testing truth. A person can believe what is false. I recommend reading the apologist Norman Geisler.
Is postmodernism tenable for viewing Christianity?
Zacharias: No. Relativism is not true. But postmodernism is not new either. It began in Genesis 3 with Satan questioning God. Since the 1960s, pastors have been pressured to become culturally relevant, but the seminaries have not caught up with the times. They have been appealing to emotion rather than passion and truth. The latter is what young people really want. Communication involves substance (truth) and form (package). We can mess up form, but we are doomed if it overtakes substance! Relevance with truth finally becomes irrelevant.
What does “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” mean?
Zacharias: We are not to be God but to be like him in purity. We must be complete in ourselves, having a goal before us, and approved unto God. Only if we follow the light of Christ will the shadow of success and blessing follow us.
[My response: What does he mean by “complete in ourselves”? He should have said “complete in Christ.” God must choose our goal. If we choose our own, then we are doomed.]
Can you help a Russian Christian, a former atheist, who knows no fellow Christians in his town?
Zacharias: Christian apologetics (lots of reading) and developing spiritual disciplines.
How do you defend the age of the earth and a seven-day creation in the face of scientific data atheists present?
Zacharias: Metaphysics is not physics. Philosophy and the Bible are not science. What is missing is the difference between agency and cause. The “age of the earth” is the instrument, not the cause. The causality of creation is a miracle. The intelligibility is a designer. The history is philosophical and unnatural, involving a divine personal dimension.
[My response: The Bible is scientific and creation is true science! The Bible says God that made the world in six days (Genesis 1:31-2:3). “The evening and the morning were the X day” (1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) = 24-hour periods. According to the Jewish calendar, the world is less than six thousand years old. My grandfather, a Pentecostal preacher, also said that God made the world full-grown just like Adam and the animals.]
How do you explain the emotional aspect of theodicy, i.e. God’s love and hell?
Zacharias: The basis of God sending people to hell is an objective moral law. Only a Judeo-Christian worldview can even validate this question; it alone gives value to human life. Love requires freedom of the will and God is just. He will not force us to love him. According to C. S. Lewis, those who say to God “your will be done” will enter heaven. Those who refuse him will hear God say “your will be done” and they will enter hell. For those who hate God, heaven itself is hell. The essence of hell is the inability to love and the absence of the sacred.
I have listened to Dr. Zacharias’s radio program “Let My People Think” a few times. Although I find him hard to understand on the radio, I refused to miss the opportunity of hearing Dr. Zacharias in person. He is a wonderful speaker, articulate and humorous. Yet I heard Dr. Zacharias rather than Jesus Christ. He did not come with spiritual power. He also tried to defend the gospel by speaking words of men’s wisdom rather than letting the Holy Spirit flow through him so the Word could speak for itself. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Did Dr. Zacharias preach? No.
I am open to Christian apologetics, which can answer people’s questions and soften their hearts. Dr. Zacharias is an exceptional apologist who has followed his divine calling with excellence. However, I still believe that preaching with spiritual power is the heart and soul of revival, not apologetics. So I pray that Dr. Zacharias learns to preach.
 New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted