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celebrity Christianity

The world of Christian apologetics (a small world, to be sure) has been shaken by the disclosure the late Ravi Zacharias lived a double life. February 9 the Christian ministry he founded and led until his death in 2020 (RZIM) released the report of an independent investigation into the sexual misconduct of Mr. Zacharias.

That twelve page
report is available online. You should read it.
The RZIM board of directors offered a repentant, humble response. “The circumstances and events relating to our founder, Ravi Zacharias, have been a shock, a horror, and a source of deep grief to us all and to the public who follow this ministry. As painful as these revelations have been, we must recognize the Lord’s hand in bringing these deep-seated sins to light.”

The immorality, and indeed the abuse of the late Mr. Zacharias adds disrepute to a Christianity our culture already views with cynicism. A question that deserves an answer is how could the organization he led and the Christian world he served be so naive and deluded?

When in 2017 accusations against Ravi Zacharias became public, RZIM staff reported being disturbed by his shifting narrative. Rather than fostering an environment of truth-seeking and transparency, he was so strident that many staff believed he must be the victim of malicious evil.

But at a January 2018 all-staff virtual meeting, some found Mr. Zacharias’ explanations nonsensical. Those who expressed doubts were ignored, marginalized, accused of disloyalty. He assured key staff that his phone records and full, complete emails would exonerate him. When asked to provide those records Ravi Zacharias threatened to resign.

Could Ravi Zacharias International Ministries survive without Ravi Zacharias?

Here is the deep flaw of celebrity Christianity. The celebrity is indispensable. Many churches might welcome the resignation of their pastor, quite rightly assuming there’s got to be a better leader out there. But when you’ve got a real star and need that person to attract contributions that pay salaries and keep the lights on, how do you hold that celebrity accountable?

In our technological and interconnected reality it seems logical for an effective Christian ministry to be high-tech with a global impact. Still, I wonder.

In America and the West the church is static, at best. But the church is booming in parts of Asia and Africa. With little technology and Zero global impact, house churches in China have in one generation grown from 10 million participants to over 100 million. They too have Christian celebrities—of a sort, leaders who’ve been in prison; identities necessarily obscured with acronyms like Brother Yun and Samuel Lamb (
The Underground Church).

RZIM is likely doomed—a great loss to Christianity. Our heavenly Father is saddened but not shocked. He saw it all, saw it coming, and is once again at work redeeming the damage that His children have done. ~

Dan Nygaard