Throw Away All Your Ravi Zacharias Books? Or All Your Luther?

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 Facebook 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 Howard 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?

[For my critique of RZ as an apologist, please click HERE.]

Churches and COVID-19

I’ve held fire on this subject until now. But a number of folk have asked me to comment, and the court cases are increasing across Canada. So here goes, friends—

A few basics on which I’d like to think we can all agree. Can we?

• Christians should obey the authorities unless they are being ordered to defy the Word of God (Acts 5:29).

• The Word of God does not say that entire modern congregations must meet regularly, let alone every week, in their large-scale buildings. The early Christians met in homes. So do lots of Christians around the world today.

• The Word of God does not say that the eucharist is absolutely essential to one’s spiritual health. Even high church traditions recognize that hermits, prisoners, sailors, and many other Christians have lacked regular access to the eucharist. The eucharist is a means of grace to be received with thanks, but God is not incapable of compensating for its absence, however extended.

• The Word of God rebukes those in the Christian community who say that “assembling together” is of no account (Hebrews 10:25). The normative practice of the New Testament is for Christians to regularly meet for worship and fellowship.

• The Canadian Constitution (section 2) makes the following guarantees: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.

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Why I Attack Certain Public Figures

A couple of friends have asked me why I’m uncharacteristically mordant about certain people I have dealt with on social media. These friends have said that they normally count on me to avoid ad hominem arguments and to stick to civil disagreement. So why, they ask, have I unloaded on particular people, not just faulting their arguments or actions, but attacking them as persons?

This is an excellent question that goes beyond the more basic question of publicly disagreeing with fellow Christians. (I deal with *that* question on this blog page.) Here’s my answer to today’s question.

I’m going after these people—Franklin Graham, Ravi Zacharias, Eric Metaxas, Conrad Black, and the like—because I think there’s something badly wrong with *them*, not just with this or that bad idea they happen, by accident as it were, to have espoused.

An “ad hominem” attack is bad if it substitutes for an argument against bad thinking. (“This idea is bad simply because it comes from a bad person.”) But I don’t do that: I show that there is bad thinking. In these few cases I then go beyond that to warn readers about people who are unworthy of esteem because they are generally up to something bad: their agenda is bad, not just this or that item on it.

That isn’t the same thing as saying “Raca” or condemning them as hopeless or refusing to pray for them or any of those actions forbidden by Scripture as absolutely writing someone off. It’s not my place to do that: It’s God’s.

As a teacher in the Church, however, it is my place—indeed, it is a sacred responsibility—to say that this spring is producing poisonous water. Not just a bit of bad water from time to time (and I’ll point out the bad spurts) but the whole flow is generally toxic. Beware!

That’s why I use such strong language. These are *generally* (not entirely) bad people exercising generally bad influence and producing generally bad results. So ask yourself: How does Jesus refer to such people? How does Paul? Not just their arguments, but them?

This kind of discourse is therefore a special case of public interaction, not just my indulging a bad mood and letting ‘er rip. Normally, yes, we forbear and forgive and get along as best we can. Look at how much nonsense, not to mention abuse, I deal with in the comments to some of my posts. That’s the price one pays for being oneself a public figure (albeit at a very modest scale). And look at how I deal with such people. That’s the way most of us should deal with most of us most of the time.

I write these particular posts deliberately the way I do, however, because these people are in a special class that, I think, have to be denounced in the special terms similar to those by which our Lord and the Apostle denounced serious and ongoing threats to the Church. And particularly as long as Christian individuals and organizations continue to defend them, other Christians need to make clear that not all Christians think and speak and act as they do—but in fact repudiate them thoroughly. So I do.

I hope, then, that this makes sense to you, as it is my solemn aim to do the right thing here. And thanks to my friends for doing the right thing and remonstrating with me. We need each other’s help in these difficult matters.