(Further) Reflections on Ravi and evangelicalism

I woke up sad and angry. But I want to be thankful, too. 

My heart was broken yesterday by the final report about Ravi Zacharias. If you haven’t seen it, Christianity Today did a thorough and gut-wrenching write-up on it yesterday. And on the ERLC podcast (releasing later today), I talked about finishing Jesus and John Wayne and being so disgusted over the many ways evangelicals have failed to live up to our name over the last several decades. The combination of these things, with some other disappointments sprinkled in this week, has left me broken and overwhelmed.

After his death, I wrote about the good things I learned from Ravi. I still believe those things are true. In fact, I’m clinging to some of them even now, even as I’m crushed by the wicked acts of the one who taught them to me.

I didn’t think the author of Jesus and John Wayne gave evangelicalism a fair shake. But much of the objectively horrible stuff she points at really happened. And some of it is devastating. In both cases, there is indisputable evidence that people used the name of Christ to justify wickedness. It is disgraceful. 

Coming to grips with the reality of sin is hard. Seeing the reputations of men I revered tarnished is very painful. But realizing they literally destroyed people’s lives–and not just a few, but so many people–in the process is far worse. 

They used the gospel as cover to prey upon the vulnerable. They defamed the name of Jesus for power, pleasure, and wealth. Thinking about it makes me want to vomit. And thinking of their victims, who believed they were following godly men and advancing the kingdom of God, were used and abused as objects and pawns. In some cases they were merely misled. In some cases they were defrauded. Some of them were abused. Some of them were literally raped.

There is no way to excuse or justify it. There is no amount of good deeds that can make it right or acceptable. It is just godless, wicked, and vile.

But thank God that’s not the whole story of evangelicalism. It is ABSOLUTELY not the true story of the gospel. Jesus Christ came to save sinners. He did so knowing the depths of our wickedness. He did so knowing all of the sins that would be committed in his name.

Jesus was not shocked by yesterday’s revelations. He has never been caught by surprise when another scandal broke or another leader fell. And this is the good news. No matter how much we fail. No matter how far a Christian leader may fall. Jesus never will.

Jesus loves us and came to save us not because we are good. But because he is. And that is the gospel. He is faithful when we are faithless. He is perfect, no matter how flawed his people might be.

My heart is broken right now. I am terribly sad that this is where we are. But because of Jesus, I am not without hope. As the apostle Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

Finally, I’m also thankful. I’m thankful most of all for Jesus. He loves me and carries me along when I do not have the strength to stand.

I’m thankful for the dozens and dozens of faithful men and women I know personally who have kept the faith, fought against sin and temptation, and refused to bring shame upon the gospel. And I’m also thankful for the millions of people just like them, whose names I do not know. Someday I will.

One of the first verses I memorized when I started down the path toward ministry was 1 Corinthians 10:12, “ let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” As I’ve typed all of these words, I found myself saying over and over “God keep me from that.” It is so easy to look at a scandal and say “How could you??” But the truth is, it could so easily be you. And I know it could be me.

I’m disgusted. I’m sad and angry. But I’m not under any circumstances assuming that I’m not capable of such wickedness. May God protect me. May God keep me. And may he do the same for you.