With the passing of Ravi Zacharias Southern Evangelical Seminary has lost a great friend, and the church has lost a hero of the faith. Through the ages, there have been few heroes as adored as the medieval knight. With a prayer in his heart and a sword in his hand, it is easy to see why the image, ideal, and rare manifestations of this devout warrior have not only stood the test of time, but are cherished.
A knight was a medieval gentleman-soldier charged with guarding a castle and supporting his lord. The accomplishments of a knight were many and celebrated, but it was his code of honor that set a knight apart. Heroic deeds alone did not make a knight; his character, integrity, and humanity distinguished the sublime knight from other men.
Through the epic medieval poem the Song of Roland we glimpse elements of the knightly code of honor. Ravi Zacharias embodies them all.
Here are just a few.
At Ravi Zacharias’ memorial service, Vice-president of the United States Mike Pence designated Ravi in the following way: “In the late Reverend Billy Graham, it’s been observed that God gave us the greatest evangelist of the 20th century. In Ravi Zacharias, God gave us the greatest Christian apologist of this century.” Apologetics and evangelism are the twin pillars of SES and were the primary objectives of our co-founders Dr. Ross Rhoads, who was an evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and family pastor to the Graham family, and Dr. Norman Geisler, the man who taught Ravi Zacharias.
Through the student-teacher relationship, Ravi and Norm developed a close friendship and mutual admiration. In addition to serving an advisory capacity to the seminary, Dr. Geisler asked Ravi to teach a one week class titled “Communicating Christ in Today’s Culture” during the seminary’s formative infancy years.
It was 1998, and according to Dr. Doug Potter “…it was the largest class that they ever had, with 118 students in it.” So many people registered for the class that they had to hold the lectures in the sanctuary“ of the church where the seminary was lodged at the time. “It helped the school to be recognized as a place where major Christian apologists were coming to teach,” notes Dr. Potter. “I remember them standing at the door with a clipboard and the roster in order to know whether to let people in, it was so full.”
“Ravi actively promoting the seminary and coming in person opened people’s eyes to the school,” recalls Bob Westra, long-time SES Board Member recruited by Dr. Geisler. With more than a quarter of a century history with the seminary, Westra has a smile in his voice as he relives that time period.
“It was critical to getting the word out, and growing the seminary. Ravi had his own ministry that he had to support, but was still willing to help out. One of the great things about Ravi was he really respected other people and elders. I think he had a great deal of respect for Dr. Geisler. Respect for people would be one of the strong points that Ravi had.”
Ravi was passionate when addressing the value and contributions of women. “All of Easter hangs on the testimony of womankind, with whom he [Jesus] trusted the entire gospel,” he said. “You often hear men are more cerebral and women are more emotional; nothing is farther from the truth.”
Ravi argued that men and women are equally cerebral, but women are more consistently willing to let the thought be connected to the emotion. “The charm and the mystique of womanhood is both in its intellect and in its mystique. Today, if you were to take women writers, they touched the nerve of reality much better often than men did,” he observed. “God is the God of humankind… that is our Lord who treats all of us with intrinsic worth and reflective splendor.”
Throughout his life, Ravi’s compassion was palpable. People felt seen in Ravi’s presence because they were seen.
Rebekah Sheyda-Howe, a major organizer at Southern Evangelical Seminary from its earliest inception, remembers Ravi’s attention to the students when he taught at the seminary: “Dr. Zacharias was so humble and would speak with anyone, and that impacted our students.”
“He was very popular with the students. There was just no one who was better communicating our message to the culture at the time,” echoes Doug Potter.
Ravi saw every individual as a chance to understand someone made in the image of the God that he loved, and this love for people was an extension of his love for God. All were important, were honored, were wept with, were celebrated, and were ministered to.
“Pastors are there for their people. They are in the midst of all their parishioners’ emotional strains and successes. This is the best thing pastors can do… Pastors as apologists have the best apologetic in their very presence, and that is a unique privilege.” That’s what Ravi said, that’s what he wrote from his heart, in a book he penned with his friend Norm Geisler titled Is Your Church Ready? Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life.
As Doug Potter observes: “Apologetics needs its heroes.” Ravi was that hero to those most vulnerable, forgotten, and overlooked among us.
Many have paid tribute to Ravi’s ability to cling to absolute, objective truth while delivering the grace needed to embrace that truth in a way few have effectively matched. Ravi dedicated his life to serving people by serving the truth, and serving the truth by serving people.
Ravi Zacharias lived for the eternal. “His influence was so vast that we couldn’t have helped but be impacted by it,” says Dr. Richard Howe. To Ravi, apologetics was a servant to the gospel. “Apologetics is the seasoning, the gospel is the main course,” he would say. It was all about getting people to a saving relationship with their creator, and he considered “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18 ESV).”
“Time is the canvas on which you present your portrait. Eternity is the keyhole that takes you into the gallery that gives you the whole story,” Ravi exhorted. “All of history is fused with meaning because history is ultimately His story.”
Unwavering and faithful service defined a knight, whether that service be to a feudal lord or the king himself.
Ravi was intensely loyal to his friends. Last July, after finishing a long, tiring trip across the globe, Ravi heard of the passing of his friend, Norman Geisler. Despite having traveled for over 30 hours straight to reach his destination, he immediately turned around and came back to deliver the eulogy for Dr. Geisler’s funeral.
“The man had incredible endurance,” remembers Westra, “but not only that, he had incredible love for people he respected. I don’t know how many people would have turned back around after traveling for over 30 hours to go to a funeral.”
All of these aspects of his life, ministry, and perspective would be sufficient to recognize Ravi Zacharias as a modern-day knight, but what I will remember Ravi for the most was his ardent, detectable, and unabashed love for Jesus, his Lord and King.
It was always about Jesus for Ravi. He knew it, and so did you when you were with him. Ravi urged every individual God brought into his life to consider what he shared and commit to following his Liege Lord with the same fervor: “Surrender to Him; love Him; follow Him; serve Him; live for Him, and take his message wherever you go.”
Thank you for all you did for Him, and for us, great and gentle knight.
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