By David Faust
Visiting someone in the hospital doesn’t seem like a big deal. For many of us, it’s a routine part of ministry.
About 50 years ago in India, a Christian named Fred David visited a forlorn 17-year-old in the hospital. The young man David visited was hospitalized because he had tried to end his own life by drinking poison. Fortunately, the attempted suicide failed and the teenager was going to recover. Fred handed a Bible to the patient’s mom, showing her the page containing John 14:19, where Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live.”
The young man in the hospital bed was Ravi Zacharias.
No one there that day—least of all Ravi himself—knew he would grow up to become, in the words of Charles Colson, “the great apologist of our time.” Zacharias credits Fred David with leading him to Christ and urging him to preach the gospel. Loving actions, not just logical arguments, changed his life.1
This story came full circle recently when Ravi Zacharias spoke at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University (CCU). Fred David’s daughter, Wendy Spalding, has served at CCU for years as executive assistant to the president. Her long-term friendship with the Zacharias family opened the door for the well-known Christian apologist to speak on the campus on April 29.
Many of us have benefited from Zacharias’s radio broadcasts (Just Thinking and Let My People Think) and his books, such as Jesus Among Other Gods, Recapture the Wonder, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, and Can Man Live Without God? Zacharias defends the Christian faith in intellectual hotspots like Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge, disarming critics with keen reasoning and a humble spirit. He exemplifies the oft-quoted exhortation of 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks,” with a demeanor that demonstrates the last part of the verse: “Do this with gentleness and respect.”
Eleven hundred enthusiastic listeners heard Zacharias deliver a morning chapel message at CCU on “The Tension Points of Atheism.” Quoting extemporaneously from a variety of thinkers, including Aldous Huxley, Malcolm Muggeridge, Bertrand Russell, John Polkinghorne, Richard Dawkins, Friedrich Nietzsche, Winston Churchill, and Oscar Wilde, he insisted that the Christian worldview offers coherent, satisfying answers to the four great questions of human existence—origins, meaning, morality, and destiny. By contrast, the atheistic worldview ultimately “collapses under the weight of its own inconsistencies.”
Urged . . . and Seen
Later Zacharias spoke for an evening banquet on “Apologetics in the 21st Century.” He noted “the stridency with which atheism is being promoted” and warned about “the gathering storm of religious pluralism that is creating a disorientation of the Western cultural ethos.” He advised that effective apologetics today must be “not merely heard, but also seen; not only argued, but felt with conviction.”
The day at CCU also featured Jeff Vines, senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in San Dimas, California. Vines led a forum for graduate students on “The Uniqueness of Christ in a Pluralistic World,” and told a group of undergraduates how he uses apologetics in his ministry:
• Christ’s Church of the Valley encourages every member of the congregation to take an Apologetics 101 course dealing with basic truths, like the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ. More than 2,300 CCV members have taken the course so far.
• Vines personally devotes two or three days each year to a retreat with the church’s high school seniors to strengthen their faith before they leave home to pursue careers and college degrees.
• Vines tries to include an “apologetic moment” in each week’s sermon to build confidence in the reasonableness of faith.
Zacharias and Vines both stressed what we could call a “lifestyle apologetic” in which the consistent behavior of Christians supports the truth of our message.
Perhaps we need to step back one chapter from 1 Peter 3:15 and combine that verse with 1 Peter 2:15, where Peter says, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” Convicting actions reinforce convincing arguments.
Look what happened when a kind hospital visitor in India gave a Bible to a troubled teen.
1Zacharias recounts the story about Fred David’s hospital visit in his autobiography, Walking from East to West (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), and in a first-person article “Antidote to Poison” in Christianity Today, April 26, 2013.
David Faust is completing 12 years as president of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University and beginning a new ministry this summer on the staff of East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Quotes from Ravi Zacharias and Jeff Vines
“Evolution is not a theory of origins. It is a theory of processes after origins.”
“Atheism involves an absolute denial of the absolute.”
“Meaning comes from four things: wonder, truth, love, and security.”
“We must not only be correct in what is said, but also be careful about how it is said.”
(On showing the right attitude when debating with unbelievers): “There’s no reason to cut off someone’s nose and then give him a rose to smell.”
“Worship is one of the greatest apologetic arguments. Non-Christians can’t avoid concluding, ‘These people really do believe God is here.’ And the opposite is true as well: Dull, lifeless worship makes people doubt the reality of God.”
“Critics say Jesus is an exclusivist. Well if so, he’s the most inclusive exclusivist you will ever meet.”