Whole-Life Apologetics

“Jesus and the apostles addressed people’s head questions with their words, but they addressed people’s heart questions with their lives.”

When the news broke confirming Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct and abuse, I was devastated. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) revealed that their investigations unearthed “guilt beyond anything that we could have imagined,” including “unwanted touching, spiritual abuse and rape.” In a stunning turn of events, RZIM—once the largest apologetics ministry in the world—will do apologetics no more. Or will they?

I represent the tail end of a generation that craved answers to hard, heady faith questions like What’s the proof that God exists? Is the Bible reliable? Are faith and science compatible? Is there solid evidence for the resurrection? After falling away from faith in college, it was apologetics (and a whole lot of grace) that brought me back. I was amazed to discover that countless people, and even entire organizations, devoted themselves to engaging hard questions like these. My ever-expanding bookshelf brimmed with titles like The Case for Christ, More Than a Carpenter and When Skeptics Ask. For me, apologetics became indispensable—both for my own faith and for my newfound efforts to share the gospel with others.

This type of apologetics—let’s call it intellectual apologetics—marked the past century and will always be vital. But true apologetics is so much more. Emerging generations are more interested in apologetics of a very different kind—relational apologetics.

In recent statements, RZIM leaders asserted, “RZIM cannot and should not continue to operate as an organization in its present form.” Instead, staff has been instructed to “focus their gifts, skills and resources” on “repentance, restitution, learning and serving.” As an organization, they acknowledge “significant structural, policy and cultural problems” and are aggressively pursuing “care, justice and restitution.”

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As I see it, RZIM is still doing apologetics, but it’s relational apologetics—the kind that a hurting and distrustful world most needs to see.

Peter urged disciples to “live such good lives” among nonbelievers that “they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Jesus and the apostles took a holistic approach to apologetics. They absolutely addressed people’s head questions with their words, but they addressed people’s heart questions with their lives. We do the same every time we manifest godly goodness in our lives, relationships and organizations; whenever we demonstrate integrity, repentance, humility, justice and love, especially across barriers of race, sex and class (Gal. 3:28). These, too, are powerful apologetics for Jesus Christ.

People today are still asking hard questions. More often, though, they are hard questions of the heart. Our world is rampant with both flagrant and subtle inequities, injustices and abuses of power. And here’s the thing: Far too often, the church is too. So emerging generations are asking if the church is serious about addressing long-standing injustices like racial inequity, economic inequality, sexism and sexual abuse. These things are probably not happening more often today, but they are certainly happening now in ways that are more exposed to the light.

Rather than hardening into denial and apathy, RZIM is actively taking steps to address past injustices head-on and to model a commitment to repentance and reparation. They are doing exactly the type of relational apologetics that the world needs now. Will we join them?

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