Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. Students in Houston were able to watch Zacharias through livestream for the first time in Passion's 19 year history. (Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders)

What We Can Learn From the Ravi Zacharias Credential Controversy

First, I want to say I have the utmost respect for Ravi Zacharias. He has done much good for both Christian apologetics and the kingdom of God in general.

Unfortunately, Ravi has recently been involved in some controversy. I will not comment here on the couple who attempted to extort him, as I believe that he responded appropriately to that event.

But I do believe that something can be said about the questions concerning his credentials. The controversy stems from his use of the title “Dr.” even though he holds honorary doctorates and not earned doctorates. There have also been questions about his exact activity studying at Cambridge University.

I don’t believe that Ravi ever set out to deceive anyone. To be fair, Ravi would not be the first honorary doctor to use the title. How many times have we heard people address Dr. Billy Graham? The confusion about Cambridge is more concerning.

How much of this should be placed on Ravi in terms of responsibility? Ravi is part of a larger organization and I’m sure he doesn’t write all his copy. Plus many of the references to his credentials have been by publishers and others outside of RZIM. Each of these groups are responsible for marketing Ravi and promoting him as an authority. Having said that, we are all ultimately responsible for being accurately represented and avoiding all error.

From everything I have read, Ravi and the rest of RZIM are doing everything to make sure that information is accurate from now on. I’m satisfied that they are taking the right steps and have explained past mistakes.

But what can we learn from this?

There is always a temptation to self-promote. We are encouraged to build our platform. These things are not necessarily bad. I include my CV here on my website, so that my readers can know a bit about me.

What we need to remember is that especially in the area of apologetics, people are looking for any excuse to discredit us. Something similar happened with James White and criticisms about his use of “Dr.” with earned doctorates from the non-accredited Columbia Evangelical Seminary. I have no problem with White’s education or with CES and his research reflects his studies. But people used this against him and attempted to dismiss his work based on the lack of accreditation of CES.

Is this fair? No it isn’t. Like White, the quality of Ravi Zacharias’s work doesn’t depend on whether his doctorates were earned or honorary. They should be judged on their own merits.

The lesson for us is to anticipate people’s criticism and when it comes to self-promotion, we should err on the side of humility. I’m a firm believer in higher education. There is a reason why I have three masters and am just finishing a doctorate. But I do not intend to promote myself based on the letters after my name. I want to be judged by what I actually write and teach.

The temptation to pad or slightly exaggerate our credentials will always be there. Without any motivation to explicitly deceive, we want to be heard and want our voices to rise above the noise. With such temptation, we should fight extra hard to anticipate the consequences.

I’m thankful for the work of Ravi Zacharias and I hope that we can all learn this one more lesson from him.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Stephen J. Bedard is an author, blogger and speaker. He is interested in discipleship, apologetics and disability advocacy. He co-wrote the award-winning book, Unmasking the Pagan Christ, which was also made into a documentary. He is the director of Hope’s Reason Ministry and editor of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. Additional writing can be found on his website stephenjbedard.com

  • Dorothy King

    It’s not just credentials that get padded; it’s our resumes that can be padded. I have had to really edit, cut and delete stuff off my resume that wasn’t true or I didn’t finish my education and get “that degree”. We in Christ all have to hold ourselves accountable and each other to speak the truth in due season. The parable of salt that Jesus taught his disciples: he was reminding that compromise of anything will kill their ministries in the future. He never compromised; we do, why? Because our ego needs to be fed. Me, I take my ego firmly by the scruff of the neck and kick it to the curb.

  • Pam

    Very well said. I too have the utmost respect for Ravi Zacharias and his ministry. Unfortunately, the enemy is looking, and will continue to look, for ways to tear down the work of God. We need to uphold our Christian leaders constantly.

  • steve baughman

    Hi. You are GROSSLY understating Ravi’s deceit. It is not that he called himself “Dr. Zacharias” when he should not have. It is that he SYSTEMATICALLY lied about having “doctorates” without disclosing that they were HONORARY, that he lied about being a Cambridge “visiting scholar” and Oxford “senior research fellow”. EACH of these false claims has disappeared from his bio at rzim.org

    And then there is the sex scandal. Please google RZ sex scandal and RZ credentials. See also the Christian watchdog group Ministry Watch, They did a thorough investigation of Ravi Zacharias and found much deceit. Please google that report also.

    RZ has been an EXTREMELY deceitful man. And he continues to deceive as he enters the damage control phase, with his New York and Boston legal team and his high-powered Atlanta PR guy, Mark DeMoss.

    Do to be fooled. Paul warned that people like this would appear.