Can God do good things through bad men?

Ravi Zacharias was an internationally-reknowned Christian apologist, with an extensive personal ministry as well as founding organisations which worked with many others in contending for the truth and credibility of the Christian faith. He died in May 2020 from a rare cancer of the spine, and at the time many Christian leaders paid heart-felt tribute. The Wikipedia entry about him summarises his approach to apologetics:

Zacharias argued that a coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning of life, morality, and destiny. He said that while every major religion makes exclusive claims about truth, the Christian faith is unique in its ability to answer all four of these questions. He routinely spoke on the coherence of the Christian worldview, saying that Christianity is capable of withstanding the toughest philosophical attacks. Zacharias believed that the apologist must argue from three levels: from logic to make it tenable; from feelings to make it liveable; and from whether one has the right to use it to make moral judgments. Zacharias’ style of apologetics focused predominantly on Christianity’s answers to life’s great existential questions with defense of God. He argued that the dominance of the visual in modern communication systems has impacted people’s capacity for abstract reasoning altering their way of perceiving things; however, the integration of abstract reasoning into one’s worldview is important to have its base grounded in absolutes rather than on relative feelings and fads.

But in 2017, several years prior to his death, he has already faced allegations of falsifying information about his academic credentials, claiming that he had been enrolled in courses at both Oxford and Cambridge when neither was true, and of inappropriate sexual relationships with several women, some of which he denied, though he admitted being unwise in some of his behaviour. These allegations resurfaced after his death, and his organisation, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (“RZIM”), commissioned an independent investigation whose report it published last week. Conservative theologian David Robertson summarised its shocking findings:

When it was first reported that Ravi Zacharias was being accused of sexual abuse through a couple of massage parlours that he had financial investments in – the news was so shocking that it was hard to take in. As with all such allegations it is better not to comment until we know the truth. Now we do.

Although there are concerns about the speed at which Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) began the investigation, once it was started it was done throughly and speedily with no excuses and no attempt to cover up. The final report, released last night is devastating. It’s a tale of money, sex, abuse, greed, exploitation, and more. It’s far worse than we anticipated. We now know:

1. Ravi Zacharias was guilty of sexual abuse on many occasions, in different places, over a period of many years. These involved not only women in the US, but also in Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and almost certainly other places.

2. He especially used those who worked in massage parlours – even “importing” them from overseas and seeking “more than a massage”.

3. In one example he offered to take a masseuse to travel overseas with him.

4. He used RZIM ministry funds to fund his abuse. He would either pay them, or give masseurs large financial gifts. Four received monthly support from RZIM’s charity for the poor for a lengthy period of time…

The evidence is clear. Ravi Zacharias was a liar, a sexual pervert, and an abusive, deceitful manipulative, greedy hypocrite. This goes way beyond one incident, one fall. It reveals a lifestyle and pattern over many years. He fooled many people, shamed his family and brought disgrace upon the Church. He was someone of whom the scripture warns us – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The international board of RZIM responded to the publication of the report with a four-page statement, which all through is marked by a sense of profound shock, grief and repentance. What is most striking is the repeated thread of repentance for previous actions of the Board in trying to dismiss earlier evidence and allegations and minimise the concern whilst Zacharias was alive. It includes this comment in relation to the person who first went public with her accusations:

We believe Lori Anne Thompson has told the truth about the nature of her relationship with Ravi Zacharias. It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified. This leaves us heartbroken and ashamed. We are deeply grateful for their longstanding commitment to making the truth known and admire their strength to carry on even when they were not believed. It is our hope to seek a redemptive way forward with Mrs. and Mr. Thompson and seek their forgiveness, while recognizing that we have no right to this and wanting to be led by them in terms of what might be most helpful.

There is little doubt that the organisation, in its present form, will need to be wound up, and all links with Zacharias removed. But there are key questions to ask about the culture of organisations which allow the abuse of power by ‘celebrity’ individuals—something that is hardly limited to one tradition in the church, and which we have seen all across society. The issues seem to me to cluster around three key questions:

  1. Why do we allow individuals to be put on pedestals where they appear to be above question or contradiction?
  2. What happened to proper process of accountability and transparency?
  3. Why is there a lack of honesty, particularly in relation to questions of relationships and sex?

Interestingly, David Robertson pointed to some of these in his reflection in 2017 when allegations first surfaced.

It’s not a popular concept and often comes with misunderstanding and tales of abuse – but discipline is essential in the Church…One of the problems in today’s church is that we have far too many Christians (and sadly Christian ministries) who are not subject to church discipline. We all need to be part of a biblical church community where proper biblical discipline is exercised.

I noticed someone express their shock and surprise on learning that Zacharias had not been a member of a local church congregation for many years. That sort of basic rootedness in a real, local, Christian community seems to me to be an essential counterbalance to the ‘celebrity’ that comes with an international ministry. Perhaps this is a good argument for all Christian leaders, at whatever level, including bishops, to be part of a local congregation?

Not surprisingly, the major Christian publishers in the US have immediately withdrawn all the publications that Zacharias wrote or contributed to, and others are re-writing their texts in order to remove references to him. How should we respond, immediately and in the longer term, to good things said by bad people? Australian Michael Frost rather helpfully puts the question in a broader context:

What do we do with the work of disgraced men? While people are debating whether to throw out their Ravi Zacharias books I’ve felt a bit pious because I don’t own any. But I do have a Michael Jackson record. And books by Vanier, Barth and Yoder. Should we pulp good work even if it was made by bad men?

(Theologians Jean Vanier, Karl Barth and John Howard Yoder were all revealed, after their death, to have either abusive or irregular sexual relationships.)

The conversation thread that follows highlights three quite distinct issues: the impact of person and their ministry on the immediate victims; the reactions of those reading or making use of the work; and (in the case of writers rather than artists) the potential distorting effect of their life and outlook on their writing and arguments. In the longer term, and particular in the case of Christian writers and theologians, this last question grows in importance. Who would disagree with Zacharias’ summary of the apologetic task I cited above? But who now would be foolish enough to cite him in relation to this?

On the Facebook discussion of Christianity Today’s announcement of the removal of his works, there is exploration of this question—but it is surely too soon to make these judgements. Tanya Marlow powerfully articulates where our priorities should be:

Oh my goodness, these comments.Who is more important to defend—an abuser, or the victim? What did Jesus say about hypocrites? What is more important to defend—the victims of abuse, or some books?

These women have not only been sexually abused but spiritually abused. They were called liars. They were threatened. This is their moment of vindication—of speaking up for the sake of justice. This is NOT the moment to express sympathy for the person and system that traumatised them. And if you’re wondering when that moment might be, it’s never.

Do we really think the kingdom of God has no theology better than that written by sexual predators? No, it’s not a sad thing these books are being withdrawn. It’s a sad thing that women were sexually abused. Anyone who says ‘it’s time for nuance’ or ‘well, we shouldn’t judge’ or whatever is already judging – and you’re making a judgement about whose defence you’re jumping to.

As for me and my house, we will seek justice for victims of sexual abuse and proclaim that there are thousands of theological books in print and yet to be written that are not written by abusers, thousands of prophets, priests and theologians already out there and yet to be called who aren’t sexual predators. There are better things to champion than the cause of a sexual predator’s books. Please.

This question must surely be the one that occupies first place. But those who came to faith through the ministry of Zacharias—directly or indirectly—are also left with a sense of betrayal and disorientation. John Stackhouse articulates this, in conjunction with wider theological questions raised here, without losing this focus.

A friend grieves the news of a report on Ravi Zacharias’s awful sins. And there are more on the public record now that don’t show up in his report (such as his absolutely disqualifying lies about his academic credentials, accomplishments, and positions, detailed in Steve Baughman’s well-researched and unjustly overlooked book).

How can he read Ravi Zacharias anymore? Worse, he knew RZ personally and was blessed by knowing him. What, now, about all that, in retrospect? Does he just rewrite his memories and throw away RZ’s books in the shadow of Zacharias’s wickedness?

What I wrote on his FB stream I put here, too, in case it can be of some small help:

What remains truly astonishing to me is the undeniable and enduring value in the work of notorious sinners such as Karl Barth, John Yoder, and Jean Vanier.

To be sure, I’ve been on my guard for a long time with Barth (and Paul Tillich similarly) to see whether their theology is actually bent in such a way as to accommodate their sin. (I have yet to come across someone who has taken this hermeneutical approach to either theologian, but hundreds of scholars study them, so maybe someone has.) Same now with Yoder. But still: so much blessing from such toxic streams…

Yet we know Martin Luther was capable of both great blessing and hair-raising cursing. John Calvin and John Knox made terrible decisions as leaders accompanied by invective harsh even by sixteenth-century standards. None of the grace God passed to us through such people excuses their sins, of course, as none of what little good I’ve been able to do as a teacher and writer excuses one jot of my own considerable transgressions. I’m just wondering aloud at how God has been somehow able (and, yes, mysteriously willing) to truly bless many others through people who were demonstrably very, darkly wicked. These aren’t isolated cases.

And doesn’t God do the same strange thing every day through me, through you, if only on a smaller scale? It’s all very odd, and disquieting. (But whom else has God to work with? There aren’t that many saints around…)

I thus won’t chuck all my Barth, Yoder, etc. even as I wince every single time I happen upon their names, as their abuse of women is forever attached to every good thing they said. What is genuinely good deserves appreciation as such. But we must remain on our interpretative guard: Only Jesus spoke God’s own truth all the time. None of the rest of us deserve automatic and total deference, even as God is mysteriously pleased to grant us the privilege of conveying grace to each other.

The challenge, then, is to listen well, *expecting* distortion because of sin, but also *trusting* God to bless withal. What else can we do?

We pray first for those who were Zacharias’ victims. We pray for those connected with him who feel betrayed by his abuse. And we pray for ourselves, that we too will resist putting others on pedestals, commit to accountability for ourselves and others, and honesty about difficult questions.

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64 thoughts on “Can God do good things through bad men?”

      • I don’t think so; and speaking not as a Barth scholar, I’d suppose that if there is an area that would need rejecting or qualifying, then it’d be in Barth’s theological anthropology. In Muers’s article, there is, I’m sure, a call to do what John Stackhouse implies should be done, that is, to make sure one’s theology doesn’t automatically make space to ‘justify’ one’s sin. Muers seems to distinguish between ‘Barth’ the theologian who needs to be studied as part of the theological curriculum (which is an interesting issue in itself, given the importance of Charlotte von Kirschbaum to the Church Dogmatics) from ‘Barth’ the man. But I’d need to re-read the whole article again to do it justice, and I don’t have time to do that today. 🙂

  1. Is it just me or do others see a bit of a red flag at any ministry entitled ‘person’s name’ ministries? Something about more focus on the minister than Jesus? Easy to be holier than thou about this and that isn’t the intention. Just a continuing concern.

    • Yes, I think you are right. A number of commentators have noted this too.

      I would be very concerned about anything called eg the [Name] Foundation, for example. Wouldn’t you?

      • What if your blog grew to be a …?!
        Sitting in my usual easy chair I see the DVD, ‘Summer in the Forest’: watched with great joy – days before news broke about Vanier.
        Weep. Ash Wednesday coming up. Philip Seddon’s Grove study of Newton’s & Cowper’s sacramental hymns gives the line “equal debtors to his grace”.
        Thanks for helpful exploring.

      • Indeed, absolutely. Should we be bothered about Mennonite, Lutheran and Wesleyan churches as well? Personally, I’ve never felt at ease with that either.

        • Calling your organisation after you, Ravi Zacharias – is bad enough
          but then calling it INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES ??!!!!

          that is narcissism not evangelism

  2. I have three thoughts here.

    1. Generally I’m against the ‘scorched earth’ policy that seems to follow in the wake of revelations about disgraced ministers’ conduct, but this certainly seems/feels proportional in this case. I don’t think we should figuratively (or literally!) be ‘burning his books’, but I quite agree that it would be perpetuating an injustice to see anyone profit from his name or published materials from this point onward, and that his ‘digital legacy’ (the many YouTube videos, podcasts etc) is forever tainted.

    2. Like Priscilla above, the “[name of person] ministries” format makes me nervous, but I once had a conversation with a friend from Brazil who made the interesting point that this is something of a cultural thing… While we in Britain are wary of these conventions as it implies power and and (how to put this?) a claim to glory that should be for God alone?, it would not be perceived that way in other parts of the world. She made the point that in Latin America putting a name to a product or service is the equivalent of the US’ “momma’s homemade jam”; it’s meant to imply trustworthiness/wholesomeness.

    That’s just a tangent though.

    3. One of the dangers here (and I appreciate this is a very odd ‘take’) is that we can be so shocked by the honesty and pain of a sincere apology, given how rare these things are, that people are perhaps being too quick to forgive, or rather, too willing too sympathise…..
    While the report was objective and independent, the board who commissioned it are not, and we risk losing sight of the scale and ignorance of what they allowed to happen; and in which they share the blame. Repentance is good, but just because the right things are being said and done now we should be very wary about praising them for it.


  3. I found ‘A Church Called TOV’ by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight a really helpful and interesting read at the end of last year. To the point about leaders being rooted (or not) in a local church congregation, this book speaks of building a culture in which leaders are not put on pedestals, truth is told and believed, and ultimately Christlikeness is pursued. It was written against the background of the fall-out from Willow Creek, but seemed to me to have valuable things to say about all local church congregations, and their leadership and membership, to protect against the abuse of power and people.

  4. There is sometimes explosive evangelistic success achieved through people who (a) have undergone full conversion from one thing to another and (b) are in the initial (or an early) post-conversion state where the contrast between the old way and the new is starkly apparent. Ravi Zacharias in Vietnam, Mahesh Chavda in Zaire, Morris Cerullo in Haiti, Yonggi Cho in Seoul. Also a comparatively late full conversion is bound to be a prodigious wrench and something of powerful effect (Carlos Annacondia, C S Lewis, Derek Prince).

    If like most of the above you are going to be converted by conviction and have resisted for a while, then what you are inhabiting is reality itself and the battle, not the institution. You may also be very intellectually capable, hence this initial approach.

    Various things can be corrupting. (a) The residue of the old life, not fully dealt with. This is often the least. (b) Human nature. (c) Institutionalisation and organisation. (d) Publicity – which I suspect is often the most. (e) Lack of accountability and accountability structures. (f) Simple things like absences from home and spouse, let alone frequent and/or long absences.

    RZ resisted institutionalisation far better than most; he was very unreligious and very existential, speaking to the condition of life. Among (a)-(f) should we be looking primarily at (d) the burden of reputation and the temptation or impulse to compensate in comforting behaviour? And certainly at (e) and (f).

  5. Can God do good things through bad men? I wouldn’t have thought King David and Samson were exactly paragons of virtue but God appeared to be able to do good things through them despite their moral failures.

    • Yes I think the answer is obvious, going by Biblical history. David not only committed adultery, he murdered the poor husband to get at his wife. A lot worse than RZ.

  6. What about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association? While Billy was alive and active in evangelism it seemed wholly appropriate, though I fear the name has become somewhat tainted since Franklin took over. But we have Lutheran churches (despite Martin’s vicious anti-Semitism), Calvinist churches (despite John’s coarse language) and Wesleyan churches (John’s relationships with vulnerable young women were not always above repute, and he made a pretty poor marriage). Fact is, God works through flawed human beings like you and me. Every one of the Bible’s ‘heroes’ (except Jesus) did some pretty bad things. Yes, we need discipline (by whom?), and we also need repentance and forgiveness. And we never become perfect. Where do you draw the line?

  7. 1 As a former solicitor, who has operated from both sides, prosecution and defence, with witness testimony, never as judge, I’ve been extremely reluctant to comment.
    2 There are a couple of points that have been made elsewhere, by David French, read yesterday, that have been made
    2.1 in relation to the Board- the conflict of interest of the members that should have resulted in standing down, recusement.
    2.2 The court case, a couple of years ago, was started by Zacharias, but was “settled” financially by him With a NDA. I did not know that. It would have given me cause for concern, though strategy and tactics and bargaining in N American court cases are unknown to me.
    3 I can only imagine what his wife and daughter are going through.
    4 My understanding is that he was a member of a “denomination”, and if I’m correct it grew out of the ministry of A. B. Simpson.
    5 Recently, it was suggested as an aside when discussing the Gospel Coalition, by Tim Keller in a podcast when being interviewed that celebrity in Christianity became more prominent through the Baby Boomer generation (1946 -64). It certainly hasn’t withered today: magnified more like, making a name for…ourselves?
    5 Throughout all of this, who has been dishonoured? Whose name?
    6 I have a number of his books, not opened in years. The apologetics, stand. Zacharias’s name doesn’t. His name will not carry any authority for referencing.
    7 Is this not the rub: Christianity is far, far, more than intellectual, argument or jousting?

  8. As to ‘X Y Ministries’ a lot of things can be said:

    (1) It is the holy grail of Pentecostalism to have all the biblical ministries – in practice, the 4 or 5 main ones. The me-centredness (favour, money…) of a lot of its manifestations means that egos end up being fed. ‘X Y Ministries’ is a neat way of doing that while not being explicit about this and still remaining avowedly biblical in one’s way of looking at things.

    (2) Independence can be a strength when it comes to intellectuals. Because if they remained strongly attached to one denomination they would always have cause to make disputes because of their better and more exact understanding. Whereas by sitting loose to single denominations they can serve them all. We have individuals who are blessings to the whole church, and most of these are either intellectuals, people of holiness, or both. In such a context, ‘Ministries’ is fairly neutral. It may refer to the event and literature and humanitarian arms taken as a whole, for example – that is a common pattern.

    (3) When people clearly have an anointing on their life, sometimes that anointing is unique to who they personally are, and is hard to fit in a box. It certainly often transcends existing structures. Hence things like the Philo Trust – a good example of avoiding the potentially troublesome word ‘Ministries’.

  9. Thank you for addressing this Ian.
    3 points if I may:

    First, I personally think it is unhelpful to place Barth in the same category as Yoder, Vanier & Ravi Zacharias. Barth was probably an adulterer (certainly emotionally if not physically) in a decades long love affair with his secretary and research assistant. He asked his wife for a divorce to marry Charlotte, and his wife refused. Yes, sin, immorality, adultery and I do not make light of these, but in terms of scale and category, they are not like Yoder or Zacharias or Vanier.

    Secondly, divine gifts are not rewards for godly character. They tell us about the giver and not the recipient. And sadly there is often a gulf between the evident gifting and the lack of christlike character. The God given gifts may be employed by the minister for good, whilst their character may lead to what is bad. Indeed, some people who are especially gifted can almost justify their sinful actions because they believe God’s evident gifting and blessing on their ministry entitles them.

    Thirdly, I believe we need to consider the very nature of apologetic ministry – its methodology & message. Ravi relied for decades on Ravi. His gifts, his brain, his learning, his eloquence, his rhetoric. I heard him numerous times, and his message was not Christ and him crucified – a stumbling block to the Greeks. And Ravi was compelling and convincing – but to whom? Certainly to certain sorts of Christians who liked that sort of intellectual tickling. And they responded not by awe before the cross, but by adulation of the silver foxed, smooth tongued, rhetorician. And as they adore the apologist, so the apologist slowly thinks he is certainly doing God a favour, and deserves his first class five star lifestyle ; the adulation at his gifts makes him proud, and pride turns to entitlement and entitlement to abuse.

    I am reminded of Prof Trevor Hart’s comment “It is unbelief to which the gospel is a scandal; a commitment to other truths, other gospels, other gods. Once this is seen, then the reckless folly (perhaps blasphemy is not too strong a word?) of seeking to afford the gospel warrant by appealing to prior canons of acceptability is manifest. It is to seek to justify faith on the basis of terms laid down by sinful unbelief, to bring Yahweh to Baal for his blessing.”

  10. Forgive me if I digress a little, but when will the lesson be learned? When will fellow Christians stop following and looking up to mere men and their ministries as though they are something special. No one is an authority on Christianity. We have the Bible, including the New Testament right before us, translated in the common tongue so all can read it and understand. Why do people constantly flock to listen to these modern speakers when we have our Lord Jesus Christ with us, every hour of the day? Why do so many Christians read modern books when their Old Testament is so rusty? Is Christ not on every page. Is it not better to read the Bible rather than read the words of mere men. Did not the wise men follow the star in the heavens that led them to the Christ child. Did Moses and John not warn believers to keep themselves from idols. Why do so many people obsess themselves with the words of men, their books, their opinions and lives.

    Why do Christians continue to follow mere men and make them like popes and apostles. We have the Word of God before us and the words of the Apostles. When will the lesson be learned? We are all but dust and from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

    • Perhaps some of the Corinthian Christians were asking that question about Paul’s letters!

      Bad teachers point away from Christ, good ones point their hearers to Christ and to his scriptures. I am not convinced that one should finish the race having read nothing but the Bible since one’s conversion.

      • Well, speaking for myself, I have been reading the Bible since my conversion 35 years ago and I still read it and never tire of it or cease to find something fresh every time I read it. The Christian man does not need other books. The Scriptures are sufficient.

        John Wycliffe once said “An unlearned man with God’s grace does more for the Church than many graduates. Scholastic studies rather breed than destroy heresies.”

        I agree with that.

        However, I have also read hundreds of other books too. But my focus is on textual studies, early Christianity, Biblical archaeology, and the reformation era. I confess I have read nothing by this man. I have never had the time to fool with it. I do not take international ministries seriously. I have no time for financially motivated Christian-related business’s. I would certainly never take any man seriously who would stand in a Mormon temple as though it were an honour.

        Could you explain what you mean; “Perhaps some of the Corinthian Christians were asking that question about Paul’s letters!”.

        • Certainly. Nobody at that time knew that Paul’s letters would have the authority of scripture, whereas it was obvious to believers that Christ’s words did. My point is that you never know who is going to turn out to have written something that ought to be heeded. Scripture has unique authority but believers are to be in the world yet not of it, and I am suggesting that part of being in the world means reading other books. For the avoidance of misunderstanding, I am not suggesting that the Bible need be read only once. It is inexhaustibly rich.

          There is a place for apologetics ministries which seek to make the scriptures more meaningful to the prevailing culture. That is not to deny that scripture ultimately challenges everything human, including culture. But you have to help people into scripture even if the ladder can then be knocked away.

          • To clarify, 2 Peter 3: 16 would imply 1st century people did know that Paul’s letters were Scripture.

            I cannot make any parallel with Paul’s letters to any writings outside the canon or beyond the apostolic era.

            I understand what you are saying, and I’m not smashing or grinding apologetics into dust, I have to do apologetics when I do street evangelism. I am merely saying that Christianity has a continuous problem of elevating men onto such raised holy platforms that Christians themselves become part of the problem. Men and idols cannot fall unless they have been elevated by man, and when men are held in such high esteem, as men of God, sooner or later they think themselves as someone who is permitted special licenses.

            The point I am emphasising is that Christianity is done deal. It was established 2000 years and will never be destroyed. Men of God simply come and go and the world goes on without them. If you, or I, or anyone here, look to men for guidance, remember that they too are just dust, and do as Christ said ‘pay close heed to their words, but do not always follow practices. For they say one thing, but they do another.’

            The people of God have always had an intrinsic problem with idols, from Moses to the Apostle John. They always follow after mere men and make them special. Perhaps that is why Christ referred to His people as sheep, they follow a shepherd. Sometimes the sheep wonder off, and fall into ditch. But there is only one good shepherd, the rest as are totally depraved, and if any one them takes their eyes off the good shepherd, they too could wind up dead in a ditch.

          • Graphe is used, not “Graphas”. Only in the first meaning does it refer to writing. Paul used it to refer to Scripture in 2 Timothy 3: 16 and Galatians 4: 30, as did Luke in Luke 4: 21, 24: 27, Acts 1: 16, 8: 32, 35.

            Other uses are Matthew 21: 42, 26: 54, Mark 12: 10, 14:49, John 5: 39, 7: 38, 13:18, 19: 24. Graphe is used over 50 times in the New Testament almost exclusively to Scripture/s. 2 Peter 3: 16 is part of that.

          • What has the grammatical significance of the ending of the word to do with its meaning?

            Of course it would often most likely scripture in scripture, but that translation is not forced.

            Moreover the Corinthians in receipt of Paul’s letters might never have read Peter’s.

          • “What has the grammatical significance of the ending of the word to do with its meaning?”

            For purposes of accuracy? Everything!

            Concerning Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, I’m sure we’d agree that the likely composition date for both letters is between 55-57 AD, possibly earlier? whereas 2 Peter was written prior to Peter’s death which occurred sometime between 64-68 AD. I suspect Peter’s letters was written about the time of the Fire of Rome in 64 since 1 Peter 4: 12 uses references to fiery trials.

            This being said, I have at no time claimed the original first hand readers of Corinthians 1 & 2 ever read 2 Peter. But that Peter can be used as a source to affirm the general acceptance of Paul’s letters as Scripture during his lifetime.

  11. I, like many others, have been greatly helped by RZIM and its approach to apologetics. But every Christian leader, however great, is still a fallen sinner like me, saved by grace, but still living with my old nature. Surely part of the problem is that we all like success, and are prone to create, and then to worship, false idols, forgetting that every one we put up on a pedestal has feet of clay.

  12. I vividly remember my pastor (at the time) preaching on the matter of the gospel and children. He ended his sermon with the question: “You may ask, ‘Can a child go to heaven?'” And he answered it: “Only a child can.” Can God do good things through bad men? Perhaps the answer is, only God can. And, fundamentally, what other material does He have to work with? Nonetheless, the force of the question and the subsequent article is both valid and appreciated since I have struggled with these revelations. The question that raises itself in my mind is, what is RZ’s standing now before God, what is his ‘future’ now in eternity?

  13. There is more to be said about the need for effective structures of accountability, which we now see were palpably absent in RZIM. There is a depressingly familiar pattern, especially in evangelical organisations (churches or paras), where there is inordinate trust in and admiration for a supposedly ‘anointed’ leader who, because they come to be seen as an exceptional, even unique, channel of God’s work, become beyond any critical scrutiny. It’s not just that they lack accountability within a local church; they lack it anywhere because they are seen not to need it. They are seen as operating on a superior spiritual plane and so permitted to be ‘above the law’ in that sense. This invariably induces in colleagues, donors, supporters and family members (often these outfits look like closed family businesses with glaring conflicts of interest) a deep reluctance to ask difficult questions for fear of seeming to oppose Gods work. The charismatic leader, skilled in the arts of control and manipulation, knows well how to pre-empt or silence critics who dare to blow the whistle. This theology of deference to ‘God-anointed’ leaders spawns and legitimates structures of endorsement and submission rather than of accountability and redress. Any organisation with anything like this theology and organisational culture should immediately review its internal governance structures. It’s not just a matter of individual sin on the part of the perpetrator. It’s a question of a deeply twisted (and fundamentally unbiblical) theology of authority and the weak, legitimating structures it sustains. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time until the next scandal breaks in outfits like this.

    • I agree with you about the universal need for structures of accountability, and the dangerous power of charismatic leaders who are assumed to be beyond question.

      I am not really convinced that this is a distinctive of evangelical organisations though. Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote this reflection, making this point, on Jean Vanier.

      In the Anglo-Catholic tradition, ‘Father knows best’ is equally dangerous. And see this report on the Roman Catholic Church

      On the other hand, I was raised in an evangelical tradition where pedestals were eschewed and accountability welcomed. My ‘hero’ David Watson refused to allow anyone to ‘sit as his feet’ since we all sat together at the feet of Jesus our teacher.

      And John Stott was noted for his humility and simplicity of life, donating all the proceeds of his book royalties (which must have been millions) into trusts which, amongst other things, invested in theological education for those in the majority world.

  14. Can God do good things through bad men? Surely the Old Testament alone shouts “yes” from every page… The New Testament might sum humanity up as “All have sinned….” and by grace good comes in cracked pots.

    The issue is disconnecting the “good” contribution from, in some cases, really exploitative bad people. I wouldn’t dare to thrust such acceptance as an easy thing on “victims”.

    The issue that has long concerned me is the “celebrityfying” of Christian leaders/preachers beyond the respect that each is due as a child of God. I don’t think that the advertising is always helping “bigging up” the person rather than the event. It’s difficult, as has been mentioned, when the name carries a trustworthiness but that does not diminish the need to be careful. Have we sometimes allocated who sits at the right and left side of the King? (Mark 10)

    Likewise meetings are sometimes described in way that fit the world and not the manner and style of the kingdom. “Come to our powerful prayer meeting”… other phrases are possible.

  15. A tragedy, equal to that over the revelations about RZ has happened for the people of Uganda. The former archbishop of the Church of Uganda, has admitted to adultery This scandal, which only emerged into the light of day in January of this year, has rocked that African Anglican church and the same emotions are erupting, as those expressed about the RZ revelations.

    St. Paul, that difficult, charismatic dynamo for the gospel was aghast that his name should over validate his ministry. “One of you says, “I follow Paul” -an adulation which Paul so quickly snuffed out (1 Corinthians 1,12) as he referred the Corinthians to his only valid message -preaching Christ and him crucified. In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas were appalled at the crowd who wanted to turn them into “icons”. Paul had a very impetuous nature, but was saved from a re-entry to engage with a furious crowd in Ephesus, when we read (Acts 19, verse 30) “Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him”. Thank God that those disciples were strong enough to restrain the mighty St. Paul.

    Two further points relating to the incredible sadness we all feel about RZ: When thinking about the transfer of money back to the church in Jerusalem, Paul insisted on two people carrying that gift, because, “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of man”. Transparency and accountability.

    Finally, I note that it is said that RZ had no church base. I have known of other powerfully
    energetic and charismatic Christian leaders, who have detached themselves from a worshipping congregation…….so often in the pulpit but never in the pew, or within the honest intimacy of a group for prayer.

    The RZIM board in the U.S. and those working with them around the world, in addition to RZ’s direct victims and family, are those for whom we must focus our prayers.

    Can God do good things through bad men? I guess so…..the seeds of the reformation were sewn under our most wicked King!

  16. Thanks for these thoughts. Sin is sin, and no one should side with sin and sinful man. But aren’t we believers called to preach and save the sinner? Yes, true. We are living and sharing our lives with the sinner around us. The main purpose is, we want to win them for Jesus.

    But if Ravi was sinning, and yes, he was, as the facts revealed to us. How could the saving grace allow souls to be saved through an unrepented sinner? I am struggling with this thought for many nights, and I don’t understand this.

    How can a sinner like Samson, who has gifts of power from God was sleeping with a prostitute, then right after that sinful act attacked the enemy and destroyed them? He was in a sinful condition, did not repented at that time; how come then the power of God worked through him.

    Now we all are excessively talking about king David, which is true and is a good example. But what bothered me is; what if Nathan would not have confronted and exposed him publically? Would David confuse and repent, or was he planning to do so? After the sin and planned murder, he continued to rule over the nation with might and power for some time, without regret unless God spoke through Nathan.

    Wasn’t this act of God shows how much God has loved David? God prepared a way for David to repent and confuse so he would not die without confessing his sin, and secondly, setting an example for the believers? So, does God really loved Ravi?

    Why God’s grace allowed Samson to keep using His gifts and power and? Why God allows Ravi to keep reaching out to those who were searching for the truth and God?

  17. What is reprehensible about religious preachers whose main vocation is seen to be the condemnation of the perceived ‘sins’ of others, when their own lives are less than perfect. Our life in Christ ought to be based on the teaching of Jesus who, when addressed by someone as ‘Good Master’, made this response: “Who are you calling good? There is One alone who is good!” – indicating that even Jesus, in his humanity, did not match up to the perfection of his Father.

    We are ALL part of a ‘fallen race’, heirs to sin but redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Someone once said: The Gospel is the story of one beggar showing anther beggar where to find Bread. Jesus once warned the religious critics of his liberaliity to known sinners: “Judge not lest you be judged yourselves”. Remember the story of ‘Mr. Do-as-you-would-be-done-by’.

    • Oooh, Fr Ron, are you not sailing into dangerous territory with your first paragraph? Apart from implying something contradicted by other parts of Scripture, it is probably a misinterpretation of the interchange.
      Joel Green, in his commentary on Luke 18:18-19, states:
      “…in addressing him as ‘Good Teacher’ the ruler is engaged in a word game deeply rooted in concern with status. According to this lingusitic system, one commendation deserves another….Jesus’ counterstatement … also serves notice that the terms of this interaction will not be set by the standard values to which the ruler has already paid homage.” (p655, and gives references to work on the nature of forms of address).

      To which I would add that in my own recent personal study it is clear that the call to repentance is a core part of the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus’ first general commandment, after all, was “repent and believe the Gospel.” However, when we proclaim this, we do so as those who also need to repent. It is “we need to repent” not “you need to repent”.

    • Gosh…

      The account of the rich man of Mark 10 can hardly stop at the opening gambit of Jesus. The last part challenges him to change direction. That presumes a “wrong direction” to begin with. Jesus often rebuked people, including his disciples, surely? The very opening of the Gospel of Mark records Jesus proclaiming “Repent and believe…”.

      As for “indicating that even Jesus, in his humanity, did not match up to the perfection of his Father.” Presumably that leaves the New Testament behind and leaves one with a dismantled Trinity. “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” turns out to be no better than it’s predecessors.

  18. Someone shared a link to this:

    which is an account of how the senior leadership of RZIM reacted to the increasing evidence of problems. Near the end, the writer quotes Matthew 7:21-23, which is something which had come to my mind as well.

    ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

    That is something any one who is in any kind of Christian ministry should ponder.

  19. To me, it feels very dangerous to say anything after such revelations. It feels worse to rush into the totalising posthumous denunciations of the outraged ‘Conservative theologian’. It doesn’t work to honour the past of his outstanding ministry and then switch track to eliminating his memory. ‘Good guy – bad guy’ theology is bad theology. I am not even sure – with respect, Ian – that your title should have included the word ‘bad men’. He did ‘bad things’; but he was not a ‘bad man.’ To reduce Ravi to the terms of the ‘gutter-press’ (‘sexual pervert, wolf in sheep’s clothing’ – ‘away with this man!’) is to split and partition his fragile, God-given and fractured humanity into ‘good’ and bad’. Only our own misbegotten egos are satisfied by such language.

    Of course, this is extremely painful for all of us who thanked God for Ravi. But nothing is served by retro-demonising him. Yes, far too many people have been terribly hurt and manipulated – but there is plenty of that going on in the church already, even without any reference to sexual behaviour. There is understandable anger; but to me the objectivity of the full 12-page report was preferable to any self-righteous condemnation of a fellow believer who can no longer speak; and it allows us – forces us – to admit to Ravi’s deep, hidden, sexual compulsions alongside his many gifts. I do not condone anything; but I am not his judge. ‘There, but for the grace of God …’ – And God forgive me if I am off-track …

  20. It’s looking to me like a fairly simple case. Financial accountability / receipts would have sorted everything in one stroke. But even without that, the Board must have been aware if they ran massage businesses, so why were they doing so?

  21. And at the same time I agree with the previous contributor (David Wilson), and his (the searing web-site’s) quotation of Jesus’ devastating words in Matt 7: 21-23. But they apply to all of us.

  22. Is it really appropriate to call RZ a ‘bad man’? I thought we were all bad men and women, in need of God’s grace? David was a very ‘bad man’ – a ‘sexual pervert’ to use Ian’s words and a murderer – yet the apostle Paul called him ‘a man after God’s heart’.

    • If you’ve been groomed, seduced, groped, raped, intimidated & silenced by NDA’s; if you paid money to support gospel evangelism and find it was siphoned to keep friends and family in lavish lifestyle, Oh, and pay for innumerable sexual favours, well, yes, I reckon you can use the word “bad” – or wolf – or hypocrite. Indeed, not to do so is to make light of sin.

    • In the history of redemption, it depends what is meant by ” a man after God’s heart.”
      If I remember correctly, OT Anglican scholar, Alec Motyer, ( it was either him or Dr R T Kendall) said it was that God’s heart was set on David! Chosen by God, in contrast to King Saul, chosen by people.
      But, King David was another in scripture who started well but ended badly. A dreadful reminder to us all. And yet God’s purposes would not be thwarted by sin, but through King of Kings, Jesus would thwart the purposes of sin. Flawed, as we all are, in need of the Flawless One. He fulfills the longing in the human heart for a supreme sinless human.

        • Death of son, not to mention Absolom, disobedient counting was part of it, together with the consequences his sin , even though repented. He was not permitted by God to build the Temple. Hardly the exemplar King looked for. That was David’s greater son, Jesus, the Shepherd King and King of Kings, the New Temple and builder thereof and more. David’s Lord. The looked for Messiah, the Victor over the ultimate enemy, death with a universal Kingdom, not limited by geography.

  23. This is all fascinating stuff, and much food for thought. However, I read this today ( and it made me think about this post by Ian, which I read a few days ago. I’d love to read any thoughts any of you have on Tanya’s views.

    Also, it seems to me that most of these comments–as far as I can tell–are written by men. I am a man too, and somewhat sceptical about accusations of “himpathy”, but is there something of that here?

    And i think there is a difference between RZ and JV. JV seems to have been mixed up in weird mystical theology (or appealed to it, at least), and his actions don’t seem to have had the predatory nature of RZ’s. There seems to be a tonal difference, perhaps? Or is that me trying to let JV off the hook because I loved Summer in the Forest and once hoped that my son with Cerebral Palsy might live in a l’Arche community? (Yes, he still could, I know that.)

    • I think Tanya’s article is excellent, and of course I quote her above.

      I wonder if you saw my comment exactly a year ago about Vanier?

      I think any comments along the lines of ‘David was wicked but God used him’ are starting from the wrong point. As Glen Scrivener highlights, the better question is to ask, not ‘Are there any abusers whom God used?’ but ‘What does God think of abusers and how does he deal with them?’ The story of Amnon in 2 Sam 13 is the place to go.

      • I agree, they are starting from the wrong point.

        What I find hard to understand is that God continued to use David despite his sin. Was it because he showed some form of repentance? (RZ and Vanier didn’t). Yet even in the early church, Gods judgement was sometime swift and decisive .e.g. Ananias and Sapphira – not sexual abuse here- but sin against the church.

        Sin always has consequences and those consequences remain and live on in the lives of others even if the perpetrator has expressed repentance.

        • Chris, I agree.

          Yes David repented – Scriptures make that clear – there is grace for one sinner who repents. But his sin brought consequences – he did not get to build the Temple with his bloody hands – his family were divided and chaotic; his uncleanness ran through his bloodline resulting in Solomon’s gross immorality
          Amnon’s rape of his sister; Absalom’s coup and his public sleeping with David’s concubines – and a divided nation under his grandson.

          The only way our sin can be covered by grace if they are uncovered by repentance. Ravi didn’t repent – he went to his deathbed covering up his sin and his family, it seems, continued the cover up. kyrie Eleison

  24. The people wanted a king, not God as their King with his provision, protection and justice, as their beneficent Lord.
    Just as today, with except it is now self-rule and as always doing what is right in our own eyes, a frequent refrain in the period of the Judges, which led into the King’s. Nothing new under the sun.

    • Not exactly. The phenomenon of Christian leaders rising to be superstars arguably has much to do with the desire to have a king, or exalted prophet, between ourselves and God. And they do not have to be superstars. Whether by choice or inadvertently, the local vicar or priest is also often in this position: a sort of professional Christian with everyone else part-time, seeing themselves at some remove from the throne. We like to exalt people, and we like it when they fall. But we also want to have people to look up to because they can inspire us with their example (I Cor 11:1).

      Through Christ we have immediate access to and fellowship with God, but in practice we all fail to cultivate that fellowship as we ought. By contrast, ‘self-rule’ is the way of someone not in Christ at all. It always has been, not just ‘today’.

      The phrase ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ appears just twice in Judges, near the end, and describes the situation when/where there were no judges.

  25. Agreed Steven. It is not just today. Nothing new. A desire to be masters of our own destinies, from the beginning a desire, a conceit that took me into the law.
    Without going into detail, at the start of Judges the people did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and people making up their own approaches to God, choosing to live as they see fit, rather than under God’s rule and comes to a close that Israel had no King.
    A theme starting in chapter 2 (bearing in mind God’s covenants and promises) is a repeating cycle in the book: 1) people rebel – 2) God is angry- 3) 0pression- 4) great distress – 5) God raises up a judge to save his people – 6) Peace- 7) Judge dies —1) people rebel — etc

    Doing what is right in own eyes is in effect a summary of the searing depths of human depravity, the cycle concluding with, Israel had no King.

    Thanks to Timothy Keller for the very small thumbnail sketch from his Judges for You book.
    Further, he offers 6 main themes’
    1 God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve, seek or appreciate it, that they’ve been saved by it. (Not a series of role models)
    2 God wants Lordship over every area of our lives, not just some. This was tragically and heinously absent in the life of Ravi Zacharias. God wants all of our lives not just part.
    3 there is a tension between grace and law, between conditionality and unconditionality. (A tension that is throughout the OT narrative.) “Only the New Testament gospel will show us how the two sides can be and are true”.
    4 There is a need for continual spiritual renewal in our lives here on earth and a way to make that a reality. (Where we may see a regular, repeated decline – revival cycle. It will include, repentance, prayer, the destruction of idols, ( “whatever controls us really IS Our God”- Rebecca Manley Pippert) AND anointed human leaders. Note the revival cycle becomes weaker and weaker through the book.
    5 We need a true Saviour, to which all human saviours point, through both their flaws and strengths.
    6 God is in charge no matter what it looks like.

    Keller’s book opens with a quote from Rebecca Manley Pippert and this;
    “We live and work among a variety of gods- not only those of other religions, but also the gods of wealth, celebrity, pleasure, ideology, achievement (comment- intellect could be added here).”
    “Our era can be characterised by the phrase which Sums Up the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” 21:25 ESV”

  26. Don’t you just sometimes think….just for a moment…… that we have taken a wrong turn? Reading this very unsettling piece made me reflect on the uplifting song ‘Grace got you’ by John Reuben; ‘smile….because you just got away with something, since grace got you’. I can hear Ravi humming the tune. Would any of us be smiling if we thought we needed forgiveness from our victims? Paul’s prayer, was that his converts right living should give praise to God through Jesus Christ. I can’t hear the applause. Isn’t it odd that the Church I have served all of my life is being laid low, not by my gay brothers but by sloppy safeguarding? A very secular obsession. Lord have mercy.


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