Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ravi Zacharias' Autobiography

Ravi Zacharias (with R.S.B. Sawyer), 2006 Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

This autobiography of the world renowned apologetic-evangelist reads more like a memoirs rather than an autobiography. This may be because it was written by Scott Sawyers rather than Ravi himself.

The book starts and ends with Ravi’s home town in Chennai (Madras), India. He started his autobiography with his earliest memories of a religious encounter with an Indian mystic, one who rolled himself down his town’s main street. The street was unpaved and was covered with dust and animal excreta. He reminiscent about his childhood in Chennai before they moved to Delhi.

A major portion of his childhood memories revolved around his father. His father was a government servant who rise up in ranks to become a high ranking officer in Delhi. For some reasons, he was very hard on Ravi compared with his brother and sisters. He had a very bad temper and would often beat up Ravi physically. Than and his verbal distain resulted in Ravi developing a very poor self image. He found it impossible to please his father. That he wanted to was very obvious from his account. One of the causes for his punishment was his poor school performance. Ravi did not explain why he did so poorly in school and yet in later life he was able to excel in apologetics and philosophy. His devotion to his mother, a school teacher was obvious. Ravi wrote,” I suppose I was afraid of losing her, as she was my only hope in a young life stalked by failure and haunted by shame.” (p.61)

His only escape from this life of poor self-esteem, which he described as meaninglessness, is Indian movies and sports, especially crickets. One day, he found life so unbearable that he decided to commit suicide. He was unsuccessful. During his convalescent he was given a bible by Fred David, one of the directors Youth for Christ (YFC) worker and told to read John 14:19 “Because I live, you will also live.”

This marked a turning point in his life. He became involved with a bible study organized by Fred and gradually came to a personal encounter with Christ. About that time, he discovered that he wanted to study hospitality at the University of Delhi. He found that he liked it and his grades began to improve. He was given opportunity to preach and won a youth preaching competition. This gave him courage to organize a preaching team to four cities in India and confirmed his evangelistic gifting.

It was about this time that his father was reaching the retirement age for government servants (55 years old). His father was given an opportunity to migrate to Canada and they did. Ravi said that it was a sacrifice on his father’s part for the sake of his children’s future. Ravi found work in a hotel in Toronto and enjoyed it. However he felt the call to seminary and left to study in Ontario Bible College. He was given an opportunity do a mission trip to Vietnam in May, 1971 which defined the scope of his ministry. He discovered the empowerment of the Holy Spirit through his "persuasive preaching". On his return, he was sure that that was the direction he wanted to follow. He married Maggie Reynolds soon after his return after a courtship of 5 years. On his graduation from Ontario Bible College, he went on to study at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on Deerfield, Illinois.
At the same time, Ravi was also invited to go on staff with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) which in 1977 sent him to preach in various countries around the world. On his return he was offered and accepted a teaching position with a C&MA seminary on Evangelism. He soon discovered that teaching was not what he wanted. It was around this time that he was involved with world evangelist conferences organized by Billy Graham.
He began to discover that there is a need for a “cultural evangelist-apologist” (p.195). Most evangelists were not equipped to evangelize intellectuals. Thus was the beginning of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in August 1984. He was convinced which was reaffirmed to him when he spent his sabbatical in Cambridge that the “important task in apologetics, namely, (is) to unmask the skeptic because his problem with God isn’t an intellectual one, it is a moral one” (p.207).

As in Billy Graham autobiography, “Just As I Am”, there are numerous interesting facts and observation we can make about this book.

First, we are all naturally curious about Ravi Zacharias. Who is he? What was his life story? What makes him ticks? In this short autobiography, we were given a short glimpse into his life. It is interesting that the subtitle of this book was “God in the Shadows”. He sees the hand of God behind all the events of all life including his suicide attempt. He also alludes to his cultural heritage as a son of India and how that had influenced his life for the first 20 years. His struggles with his father were as prominent as his Indian cultural heritage. What was missing was how has the West formed him? Ravi Zacharias being who is today cannot be just a product of his Indian heritage.

Second, there are numerous accounts of how relationships formed him. His early group of friends when he was a teenager, the work of Youth for Christ when an older Christian spends time with him and his many mentors along the way. There is always someone in his darkest moments send to help him and others along the way to help him grow. Again this autobiography reinforces the need to Christians, especially older Christians to reach out and mentor younger ones.

Third, the account about the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was rather brief. He does make a note that he was not an administrator and that there were certain regrets and that if given another chance, he will not repeat again.

However we could learn more from his life if he shares more about his failures rather than his successes after he migrated to Canada. It seems from his account that after he left India, one success follows another until RZIM was formed. Overall this is an interesting overview of Ravi Zacharias' life until a more definitive biography comes along. The choice of the poem by James Russell Lowell from The Present Crisis (1844) seems appropriate:

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,-
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.



Blogger Sivin Kit said...

"However we could learn more from his life if he shares more about his failures rather than his successes after he migrated to Canada." Your insight here caught my attention. As a younger leader/pastor (or whatever), I find myself drawn to those who are willing to share their failures and how they moved on from there. Perhaps, the overdose of success stories has made ministry seem unreal (I'm not refering to Ravi here as I don't know him nor have I read any of his books). As What I look for is authenticity, and those whom I know and read who displays that with a healthy dosage of humility and even elements of being "confessional" has been a tremendous help. Perhaps that;s why "The Confessions of St. Augustine" is such a classic.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi sivin kit,

I share with you the same sentiments. I guess we need our heroes. That's why I like the biblical heroes. They are so full of human frailites. Yet our biographical stories are so "saintly'. Yes, we need to have a healthy dose of authenticity in our Christian biography or autobiography.

12:33 AM  

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