The Ravi Zacharias scandal is exploding in a new and stunning way with a report released by Miller and Martin that documents sexual abuse, rape, financial fraud and other problems by the well known Christian evangelist. This post is offering recommended policy advice to Greg Strand who is responsible for theology and credentialing inside the EFCA. Ravi Zacharias was a popular individual inside the EFCA according to the last doctrinal survey. Strand needs to get on top of this issue and help guide the EFCA through this spiritual crisis. This will have to be done not only for EFCA pastors but also for people inside EFCA churches who sit in the pews.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
“When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.“
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 ESV
Greg Strand who does EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing.
The current scandal involving Ravi Zacharias and his behavior has been shocking and its in the process of growing. The Miller and Martin report that confirmed Ravi Zacharias’s sexual abuse, rape and misconduct is an incredibly serious situation that many evangelical denominations have to struggle. The original report can be accessed in the Washington Post here. One of those denominations is the EFCA, which this blog likes to write about. This post hopes to analyze a problem and offer some outside feedback that could help the EFCA navigate and deal with this challenging obstacle.
Ravi Zacharias Is Popular Inside the EFCA
Ravi Zacharias is a very popular personality inside the EFCA. The last EFCA doctrinal survey from 2018 revealed how Ravi Zacharias was an influential individual for pastors inside the organization. It comes from question 49 and had 1,128 comments. Here is what it says. “Who are some of the theological/pastoral writers that you find particularly helpful or who have had the greatest impact on your thinking?”
1-10: John Piper (336); Timothy Keller (333); D.A. Carson (325); Wayne Grudem (219); C.S.
Lewis (145); John MacArthur (120); R.C. Sproul (91); Eugene Peterson (74); N.T. Wright (74);
Charles Swindoll (70).
• 11-20: John Stott (69); J.I. Packer (68); A.W. Tozer (62); John Calvin (55); Mark Dever (55);
Dallas Willard (52); Al Mohler (51); Charles Spurgeon (51); Francis Chan (49); Kevin DeYoung
• 21-30: Paul David Tripp (48); Ravi Zacharias (45); Jonathan Edwards (41); Larry Osborne (41);
Francis Schaeffer (40); Martin Lloyd-Jones (37); Matt Chandler (34); Charles Ryrie (32); Millard
Erickson (27); Kevin Vanhoozer (27).
So as you can see Ravi Zacharias fell below Paul David Trip and above Jonathan Edwards. But there have also been EFCA pastors who wrote about Ravi Zacharias at their own personal blog or church blog. Let me use one situation to make a point. And when I write this aspect its not to come across as piling on Tom Nelson of Christ Community Church from the Kansas City and Kansas area. When Ravi Zacharias died Tom Nelson had a lot to say about the evangelist. And while it looks like Tom Nelson took down the blog post he had a lot to say. I captured it in, “From John Welborn of Salem Church Recommending James MacDonald to Tom Nelson of Christ Community Church Praising Ravi Zacharias. Does Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Explain How Corruption and Scandal Are Ignored?” This is what Tom Nelson said as he described Ravi as the real deal.
As a young man pursuing my pastoral calling, Ravi’s profound influence on me and on the cultural and formative development of Christ Community cannot be overly stated. Every book that Ravi wrote, I read immediately. Ravi’s books still have a prominent place on my study bookshelf and have in many ways shaped the contours of my mind.
Ravi’s heartfelt conviction that the Christian faith was a rigorous intellectual faith with coherent meaning and logical consistency paved the way for a generation of evangelicals to embrace a humble confidence in biblical orthodoxy. I often remember Ravi saying,
“The human heart cannot embrace what the mind rejects.”
How true that statement has been in my own spiritual journey.
As one of the church’s most persuasive apologists, Ravi possessed a world-class intellect; yet even more compelling was the apologetics of his Christ-like life. Ravi’s love, gentle warmth, and respect toward others, even those who vociferously disagreed with his worldview, was on display with whomever he met and wherever he traveled around the globe. I observed this in his kind and respectful interaction with others dining together at Plaza III in Kansas City, sharing a quiet lunch at a restaurant near Oxford, and when he fielded fiery questions after a large group lecture. In a day of so many shallow narcissistic Christian celebrity leaders, Ravi was the real deal.
Greg Strand Needs to Address This Issue for the Sake of Pastors Like Tom Nelson and Others Like Him
The Ravi Zacharias issue needs to be addressed internally by Greg Strand. He needs to be able to convey, and teach about the issue that offers comfort and guidance for those who have been deeply hurt by this mess. No doubt pastors like Tom Nelson and others like him are deeply hurting. To see someone who they admired, loved and appreciated and then later learn that Zacharias was not all that he claimed to be can be devastating. In scandals like this there will always be a shoe dropping, and much more is going to come out that will be shocking. I have covered enough scandals to understand that when they end the collateral damage can be stunning. And the one involving Ravi Zacharias took a shocking turn last week. As I asked in a blog post, when you consider what happened in massage parlors in Georgia with sexual assault, what do you think will come out of Thailand when that part of the story emerges? You can read about that in, “Dare We Ask the Question? Was Ravi Zacharias a Sex Tourist in Bangkok? Did He Abuse Women in Thailand and Southeast Asia?” When the New York Times or a press outlet in Asia starts to report about sex workers in massage parlors who were abused or raped coming forward that will be another development. This blog believes that will happen.
What Greg Strand should do is write a blog post at the national EFCA blog and acknowledge the situation and address it. Talk about the ramifications of this on evangelicalism and faith. Speak to the pastors in the EFCA who admired and looked up to Ravi Zacharias, just like Tom Nelson. Don’t whitewash the issue but face it head on. Offer guidance that is realistic and that people can relate. Avoid the flowery “Christianese” that some people resort to and avoid clichés. There are going to be people inside the EFCA that are hurting and its just begun. One of the downfalls of the EFCA, in this blogger’s opinion, is that it tries to deal with sin privately and keep it held close. Culturally this can be devastating. A case in point is the T.J. Addington situation, which some EFCA pastors told me that the national office should have been more transparent about. Those days of quiet deflection don’t work anymore. Not with the internet in the 21st century. The first step that should be taken is for Greg Strand to write a blog post, but there is more and that will be offered below.
Additional Steps Greg Strand Can Take Within the EFCA’s Congregationalism Structure
This should help the organization in the long haul as there are a number of steps to take, here are some of them.
- Develop talking points or guidelines that can be shared with district superintendents.
- Encourage district superintendents to talk it over with their districts and make themselves available for those pastors that need to talk.
- Offer some counseling services if necessary to those pastors and staff who may need it because of the shock or the enormity of the betrayal.
- Advise EFCA churches to remove Ravi Zacharias books, DVDs, tapes, video-cassettes (Yeah I am dating myself….) and any other media. Did Zacharias put out material on 8-track tapes? (Just kidding, an attempt at humor in a heavy situation.)
- Use the Zacharias situation to teach other people in so many different capacities. Develop an internal white paper and apply the lessons from the Zacharias scandal to EFCA personnel and pastors.
- Create a course or add a section to a course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that teaches future pastors this situation as a case study.
- Have the EFCA put out a statement that acknowledges the situation but that also grieves the pain. Talk about how harmful sin is, and how it hurts people. Share your disappointment. Show your humanity and face the issue and communicate your empathy.
- This should also be done not only for the EFCA pastors and staff, but also for the people in the pews. From Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California to Salem Church in Staten Island, New York many people from the EFCA are probably Googling this situation and wondering, “What is my denomination saying about this?”
- Encourage EFCA pastors to address this situation with their congregations and allow them to teach about it. There are so many lessons that can be drawn. The harm of duplicity, financial abuse, sexual assault, address the sex trade in Bangkok and do a fundraiser for those caught up in it. I’m just going on but all that is a fraction of what pastors can be do.
- Think about this in a cultural context. If you have Indian EFCA churches or ministries put together something for those organizations as well.
- Have a team that can help ReachGlobal missionaries who may be more closely affected work through this situation.
- Be willing to possibly bring on board a few Ravi Zacharias International Ministry employees into the EFCA. Some of the people will be struggling and if this ministry closes the EFCA could pick up some Oxford trained individuals, and you will help them out as well. Word of advice make sure they were not involved in the scandal in any capacity because you don’t want to transfer the problem or culture.
All of this is just a suggestion. From a person doing analysis offering advice to a policy-maker. This is a start that can help the EFCA get ahead of the curve and help the denomination navigate a rocky and difficult subject. None of this will be easy, instead it will be very hard. It will take a lot of courage but my hope is the Greg Strand and Minneapolis is up to this challenge.