Christians and church leaders continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the sex scandal that has rocked the legacy of Ravi Zacharias. Some, including those who came to faith through his teachings, say it’s wrong to “cancel” the late apologist. Others compare the Ravi Zacharias scandal to biblical figures such as King David, who was a great faith leader despite his salacious sins.
In a new “Ask Pastor John” episode on DesiringGod.com, teacher and author John Piper addresses the situation by providing biblical background and then sharing personal observations. Piper says he’s been “slow to speak” on the topic, despite receiving many emails about it, because he wanted to “know everything I should know” and “cannot imagine the sorrow” of Zacharias’s loved ones. However, he says people are right to ask, “You knew him, so how are you responding in your heart and mind?”
The Ravi Zacharias Scandal and 3 NT Ministers
For scriptural context, Piper discusses three “gospel ministers” in the New Testament “who, for a season, spoke the truth in useful ways and then made [a] shipwreck of their lives—indeed their faith.”
- Judas, whom Jesus calls a “son of perdition” (John 17:12, KJV), was a thief and a “master of deceit,” says Piper. Yet until he betrayed Jesus, Judas was “preaching the truth” with his fellow apostles, who didn’t suspect anything was amiss.
- Demas, whom Paul had referred to as a faithful partner, eventually fell in love with the world (2 Timothy 4:10) and deserted Paul. If Paul had questioned Demas’s work at any point, Piper notes, he would have sent him home. Only after the revelation of “Demas’s true colors”—his love of “what this age was offering him through religious work”—did he abandon the mission field.
- Hymenaeus, Paul says, failed to cling to faith in a “good conscience,” leading to a spiritual “shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Piper says, “A double life, lived contrary to the Christian conscience, is a shipwreck about to happen.”
Lessons from these fallen ministers, according to Piper, include: “Soul-saving, Christ-exalting truth may be spoken by hypocrites. Forsaking a good conscience is prelude to moral disaster. [And] the amassing of money and the pursuit of lavish lifestyles in ministry are the alarm bells of the love of this age.”
John Piper Points to Pretense and Manipulation
Bringing the discussion back to the Ravi Zacharias scandal, Piper makes some observations about the apologist. “Ravi’s way of publicly narrating his past personal experiences really troubled me,” he says. Recalling encounters with what were presumed to be exact quotations “sounded careless to me at best, and dishonest at worse,” says Piper. “Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if it was a symptom of looseness with truth about his experience.”
More importantly, Piper says, is the “lesson to be learned from Ravi’s manipulation of people,” namely the need for sympathy to be “tethered to the truth.” Zacharias, he says, was able to “manipulate people into sinfully providing him with sexual stimulation” by portraying himself “as an embattled, burdened, wounded warrior in the righteous cause of the gospel.”
Piper says he’s seen that type of “demand and manipulation for untethered sympathy repeatedly among fallen Christian leaders” and that people’s response should be “My sympathy is not for sale; it’s tethered to truth and righteousness.”
To people “who came to Christ under Ravi’s ministry, or who had their faith mightily strengthened by what he taught,” Piper says, “don’t let the imperfections and failures of men turn you away from the perfections and the triumphs of Christ, who will never, never fail you.”
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