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2009 Conversations

Sara Groves

Keith and Kristyn Getty

Jesse Miranda

Heather Bland

Cathleen Lewis

Robert Leathers

Ravi Zacharias

Scotty Gibbons

George O. Wood

George O. Wood

G. Robert Cook Jr.

Michelle LaRowe Conover

Janet Boynes

Kirk Cameron

Laura Wilkinson

Melody Rossi

Randy Travis

Maylo Upton-Aames

Chuck Norris

Francis Xavier 'Chip' Flaherty Jr.

Ben Carson

Robert H. Spence

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

James K. Bridges

Manny Mill

Brock Gill

Robert Burt

Gerry Hindy

J.I. Packer

Stanley Horton

Linda Mintle

Joanna Weaver

Buck Taylor

Debra Risner

Bill Glass

Edward Gilbreath

Rob Seagears and Andy Casper

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

Conversation: Ravi Zacharias

Defending Christianity in a secular culture

Attacks on Christianity and the church are rampant in today’s society. Unbelievers once revered the church and its teachings, but today they scorn them. Films such as The DaVinci Code and organizations such as The Jesus Seminar attack the credibility of Jesus and the Bible. But how do Christians answer these attacks on Christianity?

Few are as familiar with these attacks as is Ravi Zacharias, president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. For 36 years, Zacharias has traveled the globe debating atheists, defending Christianity on secular campuses, and proclaiming the truth through his daily and weekly radio broadcasts.

Zacharias talked with Enrichment journal’s Associate Editor Richard L. Schoonover and discussed some of the issues facing culture and the church today and how pastors and their congregations can respond to these attacks.

tpe: What is destroying the moral and spiritual foundation of today’s society?

ZACHARIAS: I believe a convergence of many factors has taken place. Much of education in the 1960s came unhinged from any moral absolutes and ethical values. We have seen this happening the last 40 years. There have been many voices alerting us to this. But more than just a philosophy took over; a mood took over.

First, secularization generally held that religious ideas, institutions and interpretations have lost their social significance. Beginning in the 1960s, the moods of secularization ultimately led to society’s loss of shame.

Next, pluralization, which sounds like a practical and worthy idea, promoted competing worldviews with no dominant worldview. But pluralization also allowed complete relativism, the claim there was no point of reference to right and wrong. This resulted in the death of reason.

Last, privatization said it was OK to be spiritually minded as long as people kept their spiritual beliefs private and did not bring them into the public arena. Anyone who believed in a spiritual essence, an ultimate reality, and the fact there were transcendent absolutes that needed to be adhered to was told to keep those beliefs private. That ultimately paved the way for the loss of meaning.

Secularization, pluralization and privatization brought about loss of shame, loss of reason, and loss of meaning. Philosophy stepped in, the moralizers against morality came in, and political correctness came in. Everything became pragmatic. In this new century, we have lost all definitions of what it means to be human, and what sexuality, life and the home are all about. We are on the high seas, battling the storms of conflicting worldviews without a compass.

tpe: A shift is taking place in today’s society toward Christianity and the church. Please explain.

ZACHARIAS: The shift that is taking place is very calculated. Eastern religions are protected in today’s society because to critique Eastern religions is seen as culturally insensitive and prejudicial. But the Christian faith, which is the target of Western culture (people have forgotten that it came from the East), is now the dartboard. Society can attack any aspect of Christianity.

The Judeo-Christian worldview is the target of the Western media. The media is the single greatest destroyer of the notion of absolutes and of the Judeo-Christian worldview. When I am overseas, I see these attacks in articles in the Western newspapers and in the journalism on television.

What has happened? The Judeo-Christian worldview has become the pariah stepchild of worldviews and is being attacked while other worldviews are respected, reverenced and recognized as part of history and the culture of other nations.

tpe: What is the basis of this calculated attack?

ZACHARIAS: I am not sure I can pinpoint it, but I think the symptoms of cultural decay were clear from the 1960s onward — changes in beliefs regarding sexuality, and the right of a child to live in its mother’s womb. Those in the forefront of popularized Christianity took on these issues. These Christians were then attacked because society viewed them as inhibitors to progress and the freedom of other worldviews.

Another reason for this attack is the conflicts that came on the moral landscape. Those who questioned this moral degeneracy were seen as coming from the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they had to be silenced.

tpe: There seems to be a proliferation of books and movies, such as The DaVinci Code, and organizations such as The Jesus Seminar, that are attacking the biblical and historical facts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Why?

ZACHARIAS: When philosophy and naturalism attacked the Christian faith and theistic worldviews in general, they started with an attack against the classical arguments of causality and design for the existence of God. Naturalists, however, were not able to take on the moral argument. No matter how much they argued against it, there was always that sense of a moral impetus within humanity. So, the moral argument was a thorn in their side. How could they do away with it? If you can make a Jesus who is just like us and immoral, then that argument is buried, too.

So, books — The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas and The Gospel of Philip — came into vogue. These Gnostic writings were supposed to show that Jesus had some private moral issues. If they could sustain this perception, they could do away with the moral argument. They attacked the Christ of the Scriptures, who is so pure, so pristine, and so demonstrative of everything that is pure and good. The DaVinci Code taught that maybe Jesus had a secret life with Mary Magdalene. Some recent writings and recent findings have claimed more.

tpe: Why is religious pluralism not philosophically possible?

ZACHARIAS: Religious pluralism is a belief system that sounds good, but does disservice to all religions. All religions are exclusive. Even naturalism, which poses as irreligion, is exclusive. Every religion has its starting points and its deductions, and those starting points exclude. For example, Hinduism has two non-negotiable beliefs: karma and reincarnation. No Hindu will trade these away.

In Buddhism, there is the denial of the essential notion of the self. Buddhists believe that the self as we understand it does not exist, and our ceasing to desire will be the cause of the end of all suffering. If we deny these premises, we devein Buddhism.

Naturalism teaches that anything supernatural or metaphysical is outside the realm of evidence and purely an opinion, not a matter of fact.

In the Christian faith, we believe Jesus is the consummate experience of God in the person of His Son, and is the Savior and Redeemer of the world. We cannot deny these premises and continue to be Christians.

The question is not whether these are mutually exclusive. The question is which one of these will we deny as being reasonable and consistent? Which one of these will we be able to sustain by argument and by evidence?

tpe: A secular mind-set seems to have invaded the church. What has been the result of this for the church?

ZACHARIAS: A secular mind-set is manifested in some forms — not all forms — of the emergent church. This is a dangerous phenomenon, and some of its protagonists undervalue its end results. When you think that every generation tends to move away from the previous one, some forms of the emergent church today are flirting with the extinction of the gospel, at the heart of which is the cross of Jesus Christ.

Two things have happened in the secular mind-set. First, secular-minded people do not take the church seriously because the church is not answering their questions. Second, those within the church are timid and unable to sustain the supernatural side of their beliefs in a highly naturalistic world.

What remains, then, in this kind of religious belief system is a spirituality that does not need to defend itself because it is purely a private thing that does not moralize or pontificate for anyone else. It becomes a feel-good, be-quiet, and get-a-better-state-of-mind-at-the-end-of-the-day religion.

Moral absolutes? One revelation from God who has moral boundaries for us? No, that becomes untenable. So the church, when it did not respond to the secular mindset and did not prepare its own people, became secularized. In the end, it became spirituality without truth, and experience without objective reference.

The average church member today is unprepared and ill-equipped to face the attacks that are coming at us full-force. We are leaving our young men and women who are attending universities as lambs led to the slaughter. We have fought symptoms, like the issues of the Second World War. We were shooting at rubber dummies while the real attack was taking place elsewhere.

tpe: How can pastors better prepare themselves and their people to respond to the attacks on Christianity and the critical issues facing Christians today?

ZACHARIAS: How does a pastor cope with these attitudes regarding Christianity and the church? Pastors need to do their best to study and understand the issues before them and their people. They need to work within their comfort zones of response and not be afraid to admit when they are outside of their reach. They have access to books, CDs, debates, seminars and tapes in which specialists ably deal with apologetic material.

One of the biggest failings of people such as Christopher Hitchens and Samuel Harris is the fact they are not biblical scholars, even though they have taken on the Scriptures in some areas. For example, Samuel Harris attacks the Virgin Birth as having no basis in the Old Testament because Isaiah uses the word almah. This shows how little Harris knows about the Hebrew text and what the word possibilities are. Rather than admitting his lack of knowledge, he took it on.

Pastors need to say, “I am not a neuroscientist. I do not understand all the implications of genetic engineering, but I know Christians who do. Here are their books.” Pastors need to bring in these speakers and their material and interact with the experts.

This is why our ministry began in 1985. People hardly knew the word apologetics. We had to explain it. Today, our staff is about 125 globally, based in nine countries. We cannot keep up with the invitations. We have to turn down more than 90 percent of them. Our goal is to expand more for the sake of the gospel and to come alongside the church. This is what we want to do. I hope more ministries will spring up that will assist churches and strengthen our young people and our leadership.

Adapted from the Fall 2008 Enrichment journal. Used with permission.

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