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The Christian Industrial Complex Shields Its Own

“Ravi Zacharias is perhaps the best-known Christian apologist of our day.”
                                                       —Reasonable Theology.org
“Nothing is as important as the truth.”
                                                       —Ravi Zacharias in The Real Face of Atheism

It was the summer of 2015 and, as is sometimes my practice, I was searching the Internet for smart Christian apologists who might ruffle my atheist paradigm. I found a video lecture by a Cambridge and Oxford scholar whose credentials included several doctorate degrees and a stint at Cambridge studying quantum physics. This man demonstrated convincingly that in the 6th century B.C.E. the prophet Daniel predicted with stunning precision the rise and fall of Alexander the Great two centuries later.

Dr. Ravi Zacharias is famous for his ability to pull off arguments like this. The late evangelist and lawyer Chuck Colson called him “the great apologist of our time.”[i] His weekly radio show plays on over 2,000 outlets worldwide, he has written over 25 books, many of them bestsellers. He gets millions of YouTube hits, packs auditoriums, and has a growing portfolio of self-named ministries with offices around the world. His CitizenAudit entry shows his ministry bringing in $25 million yearly.[ii]

Dr. Zacharias presents his impeccable academic credentials in a way that starkly differentiates him from ordinary circuit-riding preachers, and he makes sure we know that he’s got the resumé to go with the suit, littering his lectures, writings and publicity materials with references to famous universities with which he claims to be professionally connected. And the strategy works. Christians worldwide hail him as God’s answer to the secularist cancer that has infested the academy. Atheist scholars beware!

I vividly recall seeing Dr. Zacharias waving his arms and talking about the Seleucids and the Ptolemaics as he stood before that University of Illinois student audience. “Centuries before to be so specific in prophecy” could only be evidence of “the supernatural” in the Book of Daniel, he thundered.[iii] The argument was compelling in large part because it came from a man whose academic credentials were as good as anybody’s. Would Ravi Zacharias force me to adjust my atheist worldview?

Silly me. I should know by now that, for every 30 seconds it takes a Christian apologist to make a “fulfilled prophecy” claim, it takes a few hours of tedious research to see that it is probably bogus. That’s just the way extravagant prophetic claims work. The Hal Lindseys of the world cash their checks before anybody has the time to scrutinize their theories. In this case, the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that Daniel was written after Alexander’s time.[iv] Daniel had “predicted” something that had already happened. How predictable.

Dr. Zacharias himself had known full well that the dating of Daniel was controversial. He admits as much in his memoirs.[v] It made me wonder what else Dr. Zacharias had been dishonest about. I began to dig. I struck gold. Ravi Zacharias, it turned out, has been less than honest about a great many things. And what surfaced is far worse than the usual sex or money scandals that embarrass so many professional men of God. Not that Ravi Zacharias is squeaky clean in the boy/girl department. On July 31 of 2017 he filed a federal lawsuit against a married Canadian woman with whom he recently had an online relationship. Dr. Zacharias admits receiving nude and sexually suggestive photographs from Lori Anne Thompson and not reporting their relationship to his Governance Council until things went sour and she threatened legal action. Most explosively, in his court filing he does not deny the allegation that he threatened suicide in an email so as to persuade Ms. Thompson not to tell her husband about the relationship.

But Indiscretions of that sort can quickly be damage-controlled by a tearful confession or, at worst, a little jail time. Dr. Zacharias has a much bigger problem. For nearly four decades, he has systematically deceived his followers, his donors, his publishers, and the world about the very matter that makes him so special, his scholarly qualifications.

The Doctor with no Doctorates and the Scholar with no Scholarly Work

Since the early 1980’s, Ravi Zacharias has assertively referred to himself as “Dr. Zacharias” and represented himself as holding multiple doctoral degrees.[vi] His major publishers have been fully on board. HarperCollins lists him as “Ravi Zacharias, PhD”[vii] at the contributor’s page of the 2017 The Jesus Bible, and his author bio at Penguin/Random House says “Zacharias holds three doctorate degrees.”[viii] The Christian publisher Wipf & Stock also refers to him as “Ravi Zacharias, PhD.”[ix]

But Ravi Zacharias has never so much as enrolled in a graduate level academic program, much less completed a doctoral program. He has a Bachelor’s degree and a non-academic Master of Divinity degree, both from obscure religious institutions,[x] and has racked up numerous “honorary doctorate degrees” over the years from supportive Christian schools. That’s it.  Furthermore, Ravi has routinely failed to disclose that his doctorates are merely honorary and has resisted calls to make his official bio clearer in this regard.[xi]

Ravi’s publisher bios also describe him as a “recognized authority” in philosophy.[xii] However, I have found no peer-reviewed scholarly publications by Ravi Zacharias nor evidence that he has ever presented a paper at a scholarly conference. Ravi, it seems, is a complete academic non-entity masquerading as a polished scholar.

The Cambridge University Gig that Wasn’t

Of course there is more to smarts than degrees and scholarly papers. What about the fact that he had been a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University”? Ravi makes the claim frequently.[xiii] It is perhaps his most impressive claim, and his most brazenly false one.

In 1990 Ravi did a 2-3 month sabbatical at a church ordination academy named Ridley Hall.[xiv] Ridley is in the town of Cambridge, England, and has affiliations with the University of Cambridge, as, say, Babcock College has with Harvard. But it has never been a part of the University. While at Ridley, Ravi attended lectures and classes at the University. He converted this into the impressive claim that he had been invited to be a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University.”

I filed several Freedom of Information requests with Cambridge and learned that attending classes at the University while on sabbatical at Ridley Hall would not make one a Cambridge “visiting scholar.”[xv] Ravi Zacharias, it turns out, had never been a visiting scholar at their university. In the summer of 2015, I sought comment from his ministry about this troubling finding. They ignored me, but quickly removed the bogus claim from his website bio.

Ravi’s Cambridge shenanigans did not stop there. He claims to have studied “quantum physics” at the university and he refers to the Cambridge physicist John Polkinghorne as “my professor in quantum physics.”[xvi] But it turns out that Dr. Polkinghorne had left the science faculty at Cambridge 11 years earlier to become a priest. Polkinghorne returned to the university as a member of the divinity faculty and in 1990, the year of Ravi’s sabbatical at Ridley, Polkinghorne taught a course on the Science/Theology Dialogue and a course on Buddhism.[xvii]

So it appears that Ravi audited[xviii] a class on the theology/science dialogue with Dr. Polkinghorne and made this into the far more impressive claim that the renowned physicist was his “professor in quantum physics” at Cambridge.

Ravi’s Christian publishers have taken the Cambridge ruse a step further. Despite the fact that Ravi’s sabbatical was a mere 2-3 months long and at a place that was not even part of the University of Cambridge, they routinely refer to their author as “Cambridge educated.”[xix]

The Oxford Gig that Wasn’t

Moving on to that other prestigious British university, Ravi says in his memoirs “I am an official lecturer at Oxford now, teaching there once a year.”[xx] The University of Oxford, however, told me it has no record of Ravi having ever been on their payroll. They did, however, confirm that in the past he has rented space from them.[xxi]

Elsewhere, Ravi claims to have been a “senior research fellow at Oxford University,” where he lectures three times a year.[xxii] However, I learned that this was merely an honorary position, and not even at the university itself but at an “affiliated institution” of the university, a religious training school named Wycliffe Hall.[xxiii] This did not stop Ravi from telling a Christian journalist that the “senior research fellow” position (which we now know was merely honorary) is “a credential with which I work in the academy” and at “academic forums,”[xxiv] a clear, if unwitting, admission of deceit by Ravi Zacharias.

As well, Wycliffe Hall informed me that “Ravi Zacharias has spoken at Wycliffe, but has never held any formal teaching position.”[xxv] So both Wycliffe and the university confirm that Ravi has held no formal teaching position with them. Ravi’s “official lecturer at Oxford” claim appears to be bogus. Ravi removed all references to Oxford in his official bio shortly after I informed him that I was investigating his credentials.[xxvi]

Chair of a non-existent Department

There was only one remaining item in Ravi’s now tattered academic pedigree. He claims that he had been the “chairman of the Department of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at Alliance Theological Seminary,”[xxvii] a prestigious academic position that would have given him authority over other professors at the seminary. But Ravi’s “Department” never existed.

My private investigator, and two professors who had been at ATS in the 1980s (one was there with Ravi and the other was his immediate successor) confirmed that ATS had no “Departments” at the time. It was too small.

Ravi, it turns out, had been the chair of something called the “Center for Evangelism and Contemporary Thought.” His immediate successor, Dr. Terry Wardle, told me that this was a non-academic position.[xxviii] Then-ATS professor, Dr. Dennis Hollinger, now President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, described the “center” as “not a center in terms of a think tank, more of an opportunity for students to work with Ravi.”[xxix] The ATS librarian told my investigator it was a “lecture series” that brought in outside evangelists to speak[xxx] and an ATS student of Ravi’s said it was an “informal” undertaking.[xxxi]

So there was an informal “center,” but never a “Department of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought” at ATS, nor a chair of that department. Ravi simply invented the department and made himself its chair, and thereby scored for himself a prestigious academic title that he never held.[xxxii]

Addiction to Adulation

Why would a smart man like Ravi Zacharias be so bold with his deceptions? The answer comes straight from his memoirs, Walking from East to West. Ravi seems addicted to adulation and the phony credentials get him his fix.

As a teenager in India, Ravi attempted suicide. He tells us it was not because he was depressed or impulsive, but because success eluded him. “Everyone around me had success, but no matter how deeply I searched my life for a shred of it, all I saw was failure.”[xxxiii] His abusive and violent father, he tells us, “looked me in the eye and said I would never make anything of myself.”[xxxiv] He told the New Indian Express “My brother and sister were too bright. One day, I thought I should die and drank poison.”[xxxv] Fortunately God ensured that he took the “right poison”[xxxvi] and his life was saved.

But it was not the Lord who saved Ravi. It was the stage. He soon discovered the “sheer exhilaration”[xxxvii] of speaking to adoring audiences. He entered a “preaching contest” and tells us that after he preached “my buddies gathered around, wide eyed.”[xxxviii] When he won his “buddies went crazy” and someone said “The Lord had a purpose in this man.”[xxxix]

Ravi then joined a preaching team and the response to his sermons was “overwhelming.”[xl] Ravi had discovered the thrill of stardom. “Each time I finished students and faculty stood to their feet and applauded.”[xli] Preaching, he tells us, turned him “from being a nothing, a nobody, to being listened to by so many in different walks of life.”[xlii] Thus, we may conjecture, Ravi Zacharias needed adulation more than religion. It just so happens that it was religion, not cricket, and certainly not academics, that delivered the goods.

At age 70, Ravi Zacharias maintains an active international speaking schedule. He also continues to expand his empire of self-named ministries. This year he opened the Zacharias Institute in Alpharetta, Georgia, which he immodestly says will be “the leading apologetics center in the world.”[xliii]  His first enterprise, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was founded over three decades ago. He tells us in his memoirs that he had proposed a different name and was told “No, Ravi, so much has happened with people in ministry having gone astray. If you give this ministry your name, it will stand up behind your integrity, or fall with the lack of it.”[xliv] Fortunately for Ravi, these words seem to have no more prophetic power than those spoken by Daniel in the second century B.C.E.

The Christian Industrial Complex Code of Silence

How have Ravi’s colleagues in the religion business reacted to the revelations of a clear pattern and practice of deception? The “great apologist” who so loudly and for so long trumpeted his Oxford and Cambridge credentials now stands bereft of any academic qualifications outside of a Bachelor’s in theology from a little-known school and an associate professorship in evangelism during the early 1980s at a place called Alliance Theological Seminary.

Do Ravi’s Christian colleagues care enough about his integrity that his Ministry may “fall” from his lack of it? Not likely. It seems to be business as usual at the Christian Industrial Complex.[xlv] Ravi remains a “licensed evangelist” with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.[xlvi] He retains his “doctorates” on his publisher website author bios, along with his “Cambridge” education. He was also the 2017 commencement speaker at Patrick Henry College (“God’s Harvard”) despite the fact that most of the faculty and student organizations were aware of the allegations circulating against him.[xlvii]

Then there is the Code of Silence. Alliance Theological Seminary not only had no comment about Ravi but refused even to say whether there had ever been a “Department of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought” at the school. General Counsel for the seminary instructed me not to further contact seminary employees. The President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which operates ATS, also had no comment about the allegations against Ravi.[xlviii] I then learned that a certain Richard Pease has been President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and a trustee at Alliance Theological Seminary, and on the Board of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, associations that likely reinforce the credential deceptions.[xlix]

One of the publishers of 2017 The Jesus Bible assured me that Ravi’s “PhD” was due to a “copy error on our end” but stopped communicating with me after I asked for specifics as to how such an error transpired.[l] Assistant General Counsel for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Dan Foutz, assured me that he would “dig into” the extensive materials I sent him about Ravi. Apparently he did, for two weeks later he informed me that his client had “no further comment.”[li]

For its part, RZIM and its Public Relations Manager have ignored over a dozen requests for comment from me over the past two years, as well as several requests to interview Mr. Zacharias at a time and place of his choosing. Perhaps most revealing of all, not a single one of the itinerant evangelists I contacted at RZIM and at his (deceptively named) “Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics”[lii] has replied to my request for comment, much less done their duty under 1 Tim 5:20 to publicly renounce their sinning leader.[liii] Cash cows are indeed sacred cows, even over at God, Inc.

Meanwhile in the trenches of YouTube and the blogosphere, Ravi’s loyal followers assure us that whatever his credentials may be Ravi Zacharias is an intellectual powerhouse and a devoted man of God.

[i] http://bit.ly/2vhtbTt accessed June 24, 2017.

[ii] http://bit.ly/2sV6X8R accessed June 25, 2017.

[iii] Lecture delivered at the University of Illinois, point at 5:00 minute mark http://bit.ly/1Pyvbds accessed June 24, 2017.

[iv] John Collins, a professor of Old Testament at Yale, told me by email that “all mainline scholars agree that Daniel was written between 167 and 164 B.C.E.”, two centuries after Alexander’s death. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the late dating has been “has been widely accepted by contemporary scholars.” http://bit.ly/2tRff2Y accessed June 27, 2017. The Jewish Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica online concur.

[v] Walking From East to West at p. 176.

[vi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0tbgF7U1iw at 0:45, accessed June 24, 2017.   Ravi defenders sometimes argue that the fact that he discloses so many “doctorates” makes clear that they must be honorary.  But holding multiple academic doctorates is not uncommon. Ravi himself mentions a professor of his at seminary, John Warwick Montgomery, who held three academic doctorates.  Walking from East to West, at p. 174.  As for holding multiple honorary doctorates, many famous scientists such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and others have dozens of honorary doctorates. Incidentally, Ravi’s secretary answers the phone with “Dr. Zacharias’s office.”

[vii] The Jesus Bible at the Contributor’s Page, published in 2017 by HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

[viii] http://bit.ly/2tQQzYj accessed June 19, 2017.

[ix] Legislating Morality by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, Wipf & Stock publishers, at p. 1. Ravi is not a Wipf & Stock author, but the book includes a comment from him at the blurb page.

[x] His Bachelors is from Ontario Bible College in Toronto, Canada, and his MDiv is from Trinity International Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.  Trinity confirmed with me via email that its MDiv “has always been accredited as a professional degree.”  The Divinity School is part of Trinity International University, which according to U.S. News and World Report has an undergraduate acceptance rate of 96%. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/trinity-international-1772

[xi] In the summer of 2015 I complained to Ravi’s ministry about these deceptive “Dr. Zacharias” practices and his failure to use include the word “honorary” at his website bio. They quickly reduced, by more than half, the number of references to him as “Dr. Zacharias”, but refused to add the word “honorary”.  A year and a half and several critical YouTube videos later they added “honorary” to the bio in November of 2016, but then removed it in March, 2017. In May 2017 they once again disclosed that Ravi’s doctorates are merely honorary. In June of 2017 they removed all references to him as “Dr. Zacharias” from his website bio. http://bit.ly/2tNpqqW accessed June 27, 2017.  The same puzzling behavior went on at Ravi’s “Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics” in Britain, where the word “honorary” was added to his bio after I brought the matter to their attention.  Shortly thereafter it was removed, and then it was re-added after I re-complained. Ravi’s reluctance to do the obviously right thing here tells us a good deal about his character and concern for his public image.

[xii] New Birth or Rebirth, back cover author bio, published by Multnomah Books. See also the Penguin author bio at http://bit.ly/2tQQzYj accessed June 19, 2017.

[xiii] Walking From East to West at p. 205. Google the phrases “Ravi Zacharias” and “visiting scholar at Cambridge University” and one can see how widely the claim has spread.

[xiv] Personal communication with Ravi’s supervisor at Ridley Hall, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, who told me he believes Ravi was there for “about one term (ie. 2/3 months.)”

[xv] Personal communication with Cambridge Office of External Affairs and Communications.

[xvi] See, for instance, Ravi’s memoirs, Walking From East to West at p. 205 and a speech he made to a United Nations prayer breakfast, at http://bit.ly/2sVmd5E accessed June 19, 2017.

[xvii] Personal communication with Cambridge.

[xviii] Ravi’s ministry and his Ridley Hall supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, have refused to say whether Ravi actually enrolled in courses with Polkinghorne or merely audited. Dr. Begbie was willing to tell me that he had “arranged for Mr. Zacharias to attend lectures and classes at the University” but did not answer a follow-up question about auditing.  (Personal communication.)

[xix] See for instance his author bio at Thomas Nelson (a division of HarperCollins.) http://bit.ly/2sV5BuC and the back cover of his book, Cries of the Heart, http://amzn.to/2vhM8Fi both accessed June 25, 2017.

[xx] Walking From East to West at p. 229.

[xxi] Personal communication with Oxford and with Oxford’s Queen’s College. See also my video Lying for Lord or Self at http://bit.ly/2ujyILT at 5:30.

[xxii] See, for instance, his television interview with Kirk Cameron at http://bit.ly/2tNgjWY at 5:15. By Googling “Ravi Zacharias” and “Senior Research Fellow at Oxford” one can see how widely the claim has been used to promote Ravi’s speaking events.

[xxiii] Personal communication with Oxford and Wycliffe Hall. The description of Wycliffe as an “affiliated institution” is found in the university’s Student Handbook, http://bit.ly/2ujiPVA accessed June 19, 2017.

[xxiv] Apologetics315 Interview at http://bit.ly/2sUCzLS accessed June 18, 2017. Given Ravi’s lack of academic credentials it is very unlikely that he has ever spoken at an “academic forum.” He does, however, claim to have lectured at many famous universities. It is very likely, again given his lack of academic credentials, that the invitations to speak at such universities come mainly from Christian student groups, not from the universities themselves, nor from their faculties. But Ravi fails to disclose this, as we see here in one of his more desperate bits of braggadocio: “I have spoken on almost every major campus—Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, you name it. If we haven’t been to a major school it is more often than not because we haven’t had the time to accommodate the request.” Walking From East to West, at p. 209.

[xxv] Personal communication with Wycliffe Hall. See also my video Lying for Lord or Self at 6:15.

[xxvi] Perhaps Ravi has held an unpaid teaching position at the university. Given his lack of credentials that seems most unlikely. It is also unclear how such a position would be consistent with his “official lecturer” claim.

[xxvii] Walking From East to West at p. 188 where he says he was “chairing” the department. See also http://bit.ly/2sUZKpo accessed June 18, 2017 in which he calls himself the “chairman” of the department.

[xxviii] Personal communication with Dr. Terry Wardle.

[xxix] Personal communication with Dr. Dennis Hollinger.

[xxx] Personal communication from John Cutter Investigations, New York.

[xxxi] Personal communication with Pastor Kerry Bowman, an influential minister in Southern California who studied under Ravi at ATS. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Pastor Bowman is currently working on a Doctorate of Divinity, but I noticed that his LinkedIn page said that he had completed it. He quickly corrected the entry and assured me that it was a mistake. I believe him. But I then noticed that he falsely describes his Master of Divinity degree from ATS as a “Master’s Degree, Evangelism and Contemporary Thought.” Here we have another example of a prominent Christian evangelist who feels free to alter his academic credentials in ways that make them significantly different from (and better than) what was actually earned.

[xxxii] Alliance Theological Seminary is a religious school in New York where nobody seems to notice that the Dean is off by half a century and about seven emperors at the school’s homepage with his claim that “Constantine declared Christianity as the state religion in 325 A.D.” http://bit.ly/2sUSNVl accessed June 18, 2017. ATS is also a place where the Human Resources Director disclosed to me some revealing information from Ravi’s personnel file. In a phone call that I later confirmed in writing, Karen Davie told me that there is “a story” around Ravi’s desire to have the words “contemporary thought” in his academic title. She said that it was “important” to Ravi that those words appear in his title but that the school president had not allowed such. Curiously, although Ravi began teaching in 1980 at ATS with the contractual title “Chair and Associate Professor of Evangelism” he was listed as holding the title “Associate Professor of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought” in the school catalogue. Ms. Davie told me that this description did not properly reflect the president’s wishes. Unfortunately, the seminary is not talking any more, and neither is Ravi or the Church. So I will leave it to more well-connected journalists to find the “story” that lies in Mr. Zacharias’s ATS personnel file. At this point, however, we do know that Ravi adopted for himself an academic title that he never held in a department that never existed.

[xxxiii] Walking From East to West at p. 99.

[xxxiv] Walking From East to West at p. 179.

[xxxv] http://bit.ly/2sVi5Cy published June 13, 2011, accessed June 19, 2017.

[xxxvi] Walking From East to West at p. 180.

[xxxvii] Ibid. at p. 193.

[xxxviii] Ibid. at p. 129.

[xxxix] Ibid. at pp. 129-130.

[xl] Ibid. at p. 133.

[xli] Ibid. at p. 208.

[xlii] Ibid. at p. 133.

[xliii] Ravi has apparently removed this boastful description from his website since I criticized him for making it in my video, Lying For Lord or Self. But his boast is preserved in the video at 14:24. http://bit.ly/2ujyILT

[xliv] Walking From East to West, at p. 199.

[xlv] The term “Christian Industrial Complex” goes back at least to Warren Smith in 2006.  http://bit.ly/2tNbcGo accessed June 24, 2017.

[xlvi] Personal communication with C&MA General Counsel’s office.

[xlvii] Several months before Ravi’s commencement speech I sent several dozen emails to faculty and student groups at Patrick Henry College informing them of the results of my investigation and offering to provide further information about Ravi Zacharias. I received not a single reply.

[xlviii] Personal communication with C&MA General Counsel, Gary Friesen.

[xlix] See Mr. Pease’s professional bio at http://bit.ly/2ujPIBs accessed June 27, 2017.  Mr. Pease did not respond to my phone message asking to speak to him about Ravi in connection with this article.

[l] Personal Communication with Passion Publishing Managing Director, Kevin Marks.

[li] Personal communication.

[lii] The OCCA is an “autonomous study center” whose courses are not accredited by the University of Oxford. Despite its title, it is not part of the University. https://www.theocca.org/occa accessed July 17, 2017.

[liii] 1 Timothy 5:20. “Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others.”

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Steve Baughman is an attorney and some-time philosophy graduate student living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He posts skeptical musical thoughts about religion at his YouTube channel, Friendly Banjo Atheist.

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64 thoughts on “The Christian Industrial Complex Shields Its Own

  1. Steve,

    So, as an atheist, why do you care about this guy?

    Is it that you just hate shitty and deceptive “scholarship”?
    Is it that as an atheist you feel a need, especially noted individuals, to bring them down?
    Something in between?

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      • Ok, I’ll take the bullet that my comment might have been phrased better-I tend to be “pointed’ at times. And yeah, I read it, although I ignored all the citations.

        I’m assuming you mean “I was searching the Internet for smart Christian apologists who might ruffle my atheist paradigm” when you’re talking about your agenda, but all that says to me is “I was looking to get riled up”. So, if you intentionally went online to troll yourself, my question still stands. Why? For kicks? To challenge your preconceived notions? To refine your arguments for being an atheist? Something else?

        And you might be interested in knowing that, when I even bother to think about God and religion at all, I’d identify as an atheist.

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        • Damon. No worries. Pointed is good.

          Yes and yes. I avoid becoming a dogmatic (closed-minded) atheist by staying up on the best of Christian scholarship. That is how I found Ravi Zacharias. Turns out he is no scholar at all, but that’s the real story.

          Thanks for asking.

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      • To be sure. But it’s particularly satisfying when you can do so for someone who antagonizes your own tribe.

        Christian apologists seem to go out of their way to criticize and pick fights with atheists. Zacharias is a prominent specimen of this breed. Our author’s quote…

        Silly me. I should know by now that, for every 30 seconds it takes a Christian apologist to make a “fulfilled prophecy” claim, it takes a few hours of tedious research to see that it is probably bogus. That’s just the way extravagant prophetic claims work.

        …really resonated with me, especially after having spent a substantial amount of time helping my colleagues in my local secular group prepare for a debate with an apologetic minister that was purportedly about evolution. The result was this three-hour exchange, with lots of places I was not happy with the format. I’ve thought about going back and editing the video to point out all the places the pastor makes factual and logical errors. But it would be so much work!

        Brandolini’s Law (“The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it,”) is in full effect in part because in this sort of presentation the bullshit is so densely packed. You may recall another of our regular authors describing a religious entity training him to use the “Gish Gallop” technique to cover up for what, at a normal conversational pace and tone, would be an obvious weak part of the presentation.

        Pointing out that a practitioner of this, um, “art” is actually a liar with respect to his credentials is a shortcut to demonstrating that the person is not representing the truth.

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          • I’ve got some theories but they’re just my opinions and they relate principally to people who have fundamentally pugnacious, contrarian personalities seeking out apologetic and counter-apologetic roles and then prosecuting those roles with greater zeal than is particularly necessary. BSDI.

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          • Speaking anecdotally: Because the non-evangelicals are quietly going to Church and minding their own business, whereas the Evangelicals are generally telling you’re going to hell, trying to get prayer into public classrooms, and talking about how America is a Christian nation and you better kneel down before God, buddy.

            A little sarcastic but — I keep close tabs on my local school board, because we came within one vote (about 20 years ago, for a period of about 5 years) of getting to be one of those fun Creationism court cases wherein the school district ends up having to pay millions.

            Every single board member was Christian. The ones pushing it were all evangelical. Fervently, absolutely, constantly bringing it up so.

            One of them didn’t have kids at all. Another had kids, but in private school. But they were on the School Board, and their goal was to bring Jesus into the godless public school system. It took years to get rid of them, and they ran the — hands down — nastiest, ugliest, more slanderous campaigns I have ever seen. Accusing other school board members of wanting to teach 8 year olds to masturbate, to wanting to allow wearing crosses on campus, to trying to teach Satanism in social studies.

            Even a nasty rumor campaign about pedophilia. No lie was too big for Jesus.

            (This in a school district that still has prayers before Football games, no matter what SCOTUS says, that had — and still does have — very active Christian clubs, etc).

            Anyways, so that’s my two-cents on “Why evangelicals”. The non-evangelicals are mostly minding their own business. They’re happy to talk to you about Jesus, if you ask. You’re welcome in their Church, and they’re happy to be a good neighbor. But they’re rarely of the mind to wander into your local government or school and start Bible-based legislating.

            So tl:dr: Evangelicals, as their name aptly described, are out looking for souls to convert. Therefore, they’re going to be seeking out atheists. And atheists are going to, by and large, end up talking about religion to them more often than they might, say, a non-evangelical Lutheran.

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            • Speaking personally, YES to Morat20. If evangelicals were just spiritual seekers I could spend more time on other stuff. But I feel they are messing the world up. One way to stop them (or maybe to just slow them down) is to unmask their leaders as phonies.

              That said, I cannot deny that I feel more of a charge against them because it was a part of my upbringing.

              That said, if the Muslim crazies start taking over the US Congress like the evangelical Christians have, I will focus my energies on them even though I had no Muslim upbringing.

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                • …I can only imagine those efforts will be tripled for their God.

                  I expect the process to take multiple centuries. Religion is that ingrained, and backed by instincts, and has multiple power structures with their fingers on the scale.

                  The losses they’re seeing is just people who “don’t have the instinct” coming out of the closet.

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              • Steve,

                I am reasonably sure someone has brought this up to you. In the bigger picture it doesn’t really matter about Zacharias or anyone else. God is still there and judgment awaits for us all. I have seen many people find flaws in their favorite pastor or teacher and claim God is not real because so and so was a charlatan. Therefore, it will be still up to you to find Faith in Christ during this life because there is no do over in eternity. This coming from a guy who wrote, “Hard Questions for the Bible Answer Man” a self professed Christian/apologist who stumbled into something that made him plenty of money but has all the sincerity of Professor Hill of “Music Man” fame.

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                • Jay, first of all, I’m impressed with the work you did on the “Bible Answer Man.” I have a long considered Hank to a Ravi-style pretender who has dedicated his life to dumbing down complex philosophical issues that he has neither the brains nor the training to comprehend.

                  But I am curious why Christians are so quick to raise spiritual issues when their leaders are attacked by outsiders. How did my presentation of raw facts so quickly become a question about my spiritual well-being? Is not investigative reporting about a corrupt evangelist not worthy in and of itself? What is the reason for bringing Jesus into it?

                  In all 12 of the reviews posted of your book at Amazon not a single person did that to you. “Jay, whatever your feelings about Hank, do not let this take your eye off the Lord etc.etc.”.

                  Just curious.

                  Kudos to you for caring enough about integrity in ministry to write that book about Hank the Prank (now an Orthodox convert!). And I hope that if you check out my other work on Ravi you will do so not with your eye on the Lord but with your eye on Ravi.

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              • the issue with Evangelicals is not they are messing the world up, Jesud did too pretty much, the bothering stuff if when Evangelicals are lying. As far as I know yr Constitution has some sound principles written by Christians maybe even more radical than the ones today. (redacted – maribou – Calin, welcome and I hope you find other parts of the site interesting as well. However, we don’t make those kinds of generalizations here; it detracts from the overall civility and welcoming nature of the site.)

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  2. Well researched piece. As a secular Jewish person, I find the whole Evangelical industry fascinating and bemusing. By all accounts, Christianity has largely won the day in the world. There are at least one billion people in the world who identify as Christians. The major countries of the developed world are largely Christian to varying degrees.

    Yet, they still feel the need for apologetics like they are the victims of the pagan Roman Empire. There is a persecution complex in Evangelical Christianity and it is one of the best defense mechanisms I have ever seen put in place. Nothing can destroy it and any attack or criticism just “proves” their belief that they are persecuted.

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    • I agree, and the sense of belligerent victimhood is one of the most self-crippling aspects of Christinaity.

      I actually believe that the Christian world is undergoing a profound metamorphosis currently, similar in scale to the Reformation.

      The shrinkage of churches is unprecedented in our culture, and I believe it is because churches are unable to mount a persuasive explanation for their own existence.

      I see it in young people who are not hostile to the theology of religion, or have any specific grudge against any church; they just don’t see any need for it in their life.

      They aren’t impious or nihilistic; They actually have very sharp and powerful beliefs. They just form moral norms, and explanations for life wholly independent of religion.

      I don’t know where this is leading. But I also know that I don’t really have much standing to tell them they are doing it wrong.

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      • The shrinkage of churches is unprecedented in our culture, and I believe it is because…

        Wait, it’s going down? I thought it was stable and/or shifting around a bit but that was all.

        churches are unable to mount a persuasive explanation for their own existence.

        They’re social clubs that have reason to think they’re superior than everyone not in the club.

        And to be fair, every culture has religion and the religious. Ergo it’s probably the manifestation of some instinct, and had survival advantage at some point. “Unity of the tribe” against other tribes or something.

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        • It’s been going on about two decades. First you had a lengthy decline in the moderate and liberal Churches, and a lot of folks consolidating in the growing evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

          There was, for lack of a better term, a lot of bragging from the growing Churchs about that. You know, clearly those flagging (and theologically incorrect non-evangelical and non-fundamentalist churches were doing something wrong if Christians were turning away.

          Then, over the last decade or so, it’s started happening to the fundamentalists and evangelicals.

          My two-cents is there’s been a steady decline across Christian faith in general, but the first ten years or so saw both that steady decline, but also a large number of folks moving from more mainstream Christian churches to the more evangelical and fundamentalist ones. They weren’t so much growing, as basically sifting through established Churches for more members.

          That particular source of butts for pews has pretty much petered out. Everyone willing to jump ship has, and I suspect we’re going to see — in the next ten years or so – -a sort of cannibalism among the evangelical and fundamentalist sects, as they struggle for members against a declining church participation rate.

          (And as a theological aside: Moderate and liberal Protestants, in general, don’t really need churches. There’s a communal aspect of worship that can’t be replaced, but their doctrine stresses a personal communion with God that makes it a lot easier for them to feel like good Christians who don’t really go to church that often. My mother, for instance, is a devout Lutheran. She sort of stopped going for about ten years, except for Christmas and Easter, and that was more to go to church with her mom than to go for herself.

          The evangelicals and fundamentalists Protestants seem to be a lot more keen, mostly via social pressure, to regularly attend.

          And the Catholics are, of course, an entirely different bucket of fish.)

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  3. It is worth noting that what you name as the “Christian Industrial Complex” is actually a White American Evangelical Protestant phenomenon. WAEPs would like you to think that they constitute American Christianity, but are actually only roughly one third. I am a white American Protestant, but not Evangelical. I look on at WAEP as an appalled outsider. I had never heard of this guy. I also was unsurprised. I figured a couple of paragraphs where the piece was leading.

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  4. A lot of this cheating was probably common before the Internet. Maybe not at the level of Revi Zacharias but lying about your qualifications and past experiences isn’t unknown. There was a story about a woman who lied about being lawyer and managed to work her way up to partner before being found out. Unluckily for her, the legal profession is more jealous of its rights and does not like unauthorized practice of law.

    Anyway, so there were probably Evangelical preachers in the past the recognized having a secular pedigree can provide status and a bit of respect in the Evangelical circuit and even among non-Evangelicals. Non-Evangelicals don’t take a degree from Liberty, Bob Jones, or the Moody Bible Institute seriously but they do respect Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge. So preachers would create fake qualifications like a lot of other people. They didn’t do it at Ravi Zacharias scale and they weren’t doing it in the age of the Internet, where things can get c checked easier and muck exposed to the world.

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  5. Religion isn’t a search for Truth, it’s a search for Meaning.

    This is the age of Science, so Truth has a long history of doing really good things… and the religious often feel the need to proclaim their Meaning to also be Truth.

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  6. “I should know by now that, for every 30 seconds it takes a Christian apologist to make a “fulfilled prophecy” claim, it takes a few hours of tedious research to see that it is probably bogus.”

    In regards to the Book of Daniel, you might find yourself struggling if you extend your tedious research into the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the idea of authorship in the 2nd century BC is essentially disproven.

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    • Hi Phil. The fact that a top old testament scholar at Yale told me that everybody except fundamentalists accepts the late dating (and that the major encyclopedias say that the late dating is now a widely held view) makes me VERY leery of your claim that this view has been “disproven” and that anyone who does some tedious work with the Dead Sea Scrolls will see this.

      The dating of Daniel is a highly technical issue involving loan words from ancient languages, papyrolpgy, etc, and I am deeply suspicious of your qualifications to speak with such confidence about it.

      If you are really a top expert on Daniel and you have a PhD and know the ancient languages and can issue a point by point-by-point rebuttal of John Collins at Yale, (and others), I will admit to standing corrected.

      Otherwise, forgive me please, I will view your comment as yet another example of how easy it is to throw out a bold but bogus claim.

      Secondly, I don’t need to have a pony in that race. We all agree that the dating of Daniel is controversial. The fact that Ravi Zacharias pretending otherwise is yet another example of his dishonesty.

      That is all I need to show for purposes of my article.


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  7. At the end of the day, it’s like having a doctorate in astrology. You can come up with some seriously *AWESOME* ways that astrology maps to things that happen in the real world. (I had a bad week a few years back and freakin’ *THREE* people told me that it was because Mercury was in retrograde.)

    That said, if astrology doesn’t map to reality, it’s likely to have quite a number of overlaps and weird coincidences… in the same way that prophecies will predict people like Alexander.

    I’m not sure that the people who believe in astrology will be particularly persuaded by others pointing out that “Doctor Astrology’s PhD is honorary”, though. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

    More power to you, though. Just keep your eye open for Doctorates in Astrology, wherever they might show up. (There are a lot of them out there…)

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    • This unfair, imo, and not the problem with Zacharias and people like him (and people intellectually adjacent to him in their practice of intellectual pursuits)

      The major world religions (and the minor ones for that matter) are multi-millenia processes to attempt to answer questions of morality and ethics, as well as the biggest questions of Truth and Purpose.

      These are serious questions, worth of serious study – and worth studying seriously. Flim flam artists are a problem, but the problem is in and of them – the field of study is not itself flim flam.

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      • It’s certainly true that the map is not the territory, but anybody who is selling you “how to read maps!” based on anything but where they are is engaging in flim flam.

        (Or, I suppose, anybody who is selling you “how to read maps!” based on anything but where they are is engaging in flim flam… but the map is not the territory.)

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      • The major world religions (and the minor ones for that matter) are multi-millenia processes to attempt to answer questions of morality and ethics, as well as the biggest questions of Truth and Purpose.

        Yes and No. Religion is VERY old, think “invention of fire”.

        Before Science, Religion supplied Truth.
        Before Government, Religion supplied Structure.
        Before Armies, Religion supplied Safety.
        Before Codified Law, Religion supplied Order.
        Before Mass Education, Religion supplied Literacy and Knowledge.

        Religious institutions ran society, they were the organization and structure. Morality and ethics were sidelines, just like we’d like the gov to be ethical but it’s almost an afterthought. If we need to pick between ethics and winning a war then we commit war crimes.

        Modern Religion greatly suffers because it’s original function(s) largely been absorbed by other groups. Religion is to Government (etc) what Alchemy is to Chemistry. Much of the search-for-meaning by religion is actually the search for religion to have meaning.

        Zacharias is proclaiming religion is relevant and important. He probably gets a pass on the details.

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        • Science doesn’t provide Truth, it provides Facts.

          A great deal of Safety, Structure, and Order comes before Government. Government is the *last* line of defense for these things, not their foundation.

          (I am pleased that Mass (Secular) Education has largely replaced Religious Education in the modern world)

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          • Science doesn’t provide Truth, it provides Facts.

            “State of technology” on what to do about Disease used to literally be “pray about it because God is clearly punishing you.”

            Science has made massive inroads into what used to be the domain of Religion.

            A great deal of Safety, Structure, and Order comes before Government. Government is the *last* line of defense for these things, not their foundation.

            I think you’re trying to disagree with me but I don’t understand where you’re going with this. When I look around the world at places where the gov doesn’t supply Structure/Order etc, it’s Religion that picks up the slack.

            You were talking about thousands of years of history. Go back in history far enough and Religion wasn’t about navel gazing and some abstract search for “Truth”, it was about Political Power at every level. The Pope controlled armies and had vast influence on countries. The village Priest was BMOC.

            If you go back before the Pope then you’ve got Jesus’ complaints about the Priests and the Priestly class, which basically came down to abuse of political/economic power being normal and expected for the breed.

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  8. There are some things being said in this thread about “what evangelicals do” and “who evangelicals are and why they’re so bad.” May I just ask everyone to acknowledge that there’s variety among evangelicals? They’re not all what they’re all being accused of in this thread (by some commenters, not all). Even the “bad” ones do some good sometimes and have feelings, too.

    I’m not saying commenters here are in the wrong, really. But they are talking about a large group of people. And while this group of people as a group or a voting bloc probably do exercise outsized and even harmful power in our polity, not all of them are part of that voting bloc and not all of them are really the beneficiaries of the “Christian Industrial Complex” Steve mentions. They’re not a “disfranchised minority” as many of them like to claim they are. But in some parts of our society and popular culture (and sometimes, this blog) they are a bit more marginalized than their (sometimes overhyped, in my opinion) political power might suggest.

    I’m not saying any of this to denigrate Steve Baughman’s post. From what I can see, he has thoroughly debunked and exposed someone who deserves to be debunked and exposed. I’ll probably always be the resident person at this site who chooses to get defensive when evangelicals are criticized, even when the criticisms adopt the more measured terms I claim to prefer. But even I believe that this Ravi guy (who I hadn’t heard of till now) seems like a liar and a charlatan and has it coming.

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    • Gabriel. You are not alone in cringing at knee-jerk criticisms of evangelical Christians. I quite admire some evangelocal philosophers, like Plantinga and Willliam Lane Craig as well as my Catholic professors.

      Even so, I believe that the Ravi Zacharias case shows us how deeply rotten the Protestant religious establishment is. Not just the Roy Moores and the Jimmy Swaggarts. It is the nice folks over at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and the scholars who run the seminaries, and the once well-meaning students who organize student Youth For Christ all over the US and Canada.

      Ravi Zacharias shows us that these folks don’t take their own religious principles seriously. When a group’s insiders behave that way and turn a blind eye to the sins of the hands that feed them it not only lowers the probability of that group’s doctrines being true, but more importantly it shows us that the rest of us have no business letting them be our leaders.

      We owe Ravi Zacharias a debt of gratitude for this teaching moment. Or so it seems to me.

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  9. Steve,

    I am someone who has appreciated RZ’s ministry, but your work makes me question him.

    Have you listened at all to Nabeel Qureshi’s teachings or read his books? He was a young partner with RZ who died in September from cancer. His academic credentials are, I believe, without question. I think you find his work compelling.

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    • Marie, I appreciate your open mindedness about Ravi. Feel free to contact him at rakzach@gmail.com and his PR manager at pr@rzim.org. But they won’t reply. They really have no response to the allegations.

      I am curious why you say that Nabeel’s credentials are “without question.” Nabeel has several MA degrees, two from good schools. He was a popular author but no expert in any field.

      I think this is part of the problem. It takes an expert to know that someone else is not. So the Ravi’s of the world have an easy time fooling people. (And although Nabeel was not a blatant fraud like Ravi, he traveled the world pretending to have the answers to questions that he was not qualified to understand.)

      I see this with banjo players all the time. Those of us who have dedicated huge chunks of our lives to learning the finesse it takes to master the banjo get less applause than the folks who walk into the bar and strum the shit out of it. Audiences are not able to distinguish between the experts and the pretenders.

      Ravi is a pretender. To the extent that Nabeel had no expertise to in ancient languages, Koranic textual studies, metaphysics of modality, etc, I think of him a pretender also, though I stopped criticizing him a few months ago when he got his bad diagnosis. I was sorry to see him die such a death.

      Thanks for your comments. I hope you will try to reach Ravi.

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      • As soon as I posted my comment I wished I could have changed my statement. :) I obviously can’t back up that statement and I will defer to your research.

        I don’t know that I am qualified to examine Nabeel’s qualifications to talk about the subjects you mentioned. Your banjo comment is very apt.

        What I do believe is that Nabeel met Jesus when he searched for Allah—and I believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins—as Nabeel came to believe.

        I found Nabeel’s comments/writing on faith very compelling and interesting—totally apart from Ravi. I agree that Nabeel’s illness and death was very sad and appreciate your position on commenting on your critiques about him.

        I will think about contacting RZIM. It is incredibly disappointing to me, as a believer in Christ, to read what you have written about him. None of us are perfect but your work seems to portray intentional deceit and that has no place
        in the life of someone who calls them self a follower of Christ.

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        • Hi Marie. The holy documents of your religion foretell people like Ravi. Rom 16:18. So you may find that encouraging.

          As for Nabeel seeking Allah and finding Christ, many of us seek Christ and find secular humanism.

          There is really nothing magical about where seekers end up. It says a lot about the seeker and nothing about “Truth” with a capital T.

          Be well. Thanks for the exchange. I am especially happy that you liked my banjo metaphor. I post as a Frendly Banjo Atheist at youtube. If Ravi gets back to you I would be interested in hearing what he says. Steve@lawbw.com. (He has ignored multiple interviews from me.)

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  10. Pingback: podcast 203 – White, Qureshi, and Zacharias on YouTube – Trinities


  11. Hello.

    I’m a practicing Catholic with degrees in philosophy & theology. I just wanted to say that this is an excellent article. It underscores the problem with apologetics of any stripe really. I know in the Catholic world there is a huge chasm between the apologists and those who engage in serious academic research. I suppose this is true of anyone that stops the pursuit of discovery and develops a defensive posture.

    Once again, thanks for the article!



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