Ravi Zacharias - Questions From Europe
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I'm John Ankerberg, thanks for joining me today. And my guest, as you've just heard, is brilliant, philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias. And he has talked to more students, university college students, around the world, 70 countries, than anybody I know. And today we're asking some of the toughest questions students have posed to him from Europe, okay. All of those of you that are watching from countries in Europe, Ravi actually attending Cambridge and listened to classes there, and so he's got your pulse, but he's also spoken to you and met you. And, Ravi, the first question I want to tackle today comes from a student who says, "You know, everybody seems to be talking about postmodernism. What does that term actually mean"?
Zacharias: You know, in the west especially, John, if you look at the mother of all philosophies as it were, it's the continent of Europe. You know, you go back to rationalism in the time of Rene Descartes and so on. Rationalism was succeeded in the enlightenment and then empiricism came on. From empiricism we moved to existentialism and after existentialism came postmodernism. This is fascinating: because if you go back to rationalism, it was by reason alone. If you go to empiricism it was, you know, the empirical method and logical positivism in all of this came to being. But then came the existentialists in the 60's and so on, people like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus. They were brilliant writers, and basically what they were doing was saying this, "Hey, wait a minute, all this cerebral stuff, all this laboratory stuff and all sounds wonderful: but I am person with desires and emotions and feelings. Where does all this fit into your theory? I will, I feel, I want".
And so existentialism was really the will to make your own choice in the face of despair and find some meaning in your own life. And they were very sharp in how they did this. They moved away from the academic world of theory to the world of literature in story-telling. So Sartre and Camus and all were pouring out the books, you know, no exit, nausea and as they were, the wall, these famous books. And they were short books some of them. But they were telling a story, and university students were gobbling this up. They could identify themselves in the story. So you move from sort of rationalism to empiricism to existentialism, and finally came postmodernism. And postmodernism decided to throw all of those out and they said, look, these are too absolutistic, you're giving me boundaries.
And so postmodernism, if it's defined, can be defined in three terms: no truth, no meaning, no certainty. No truth, no meaning, no certainty. Jacque Derrida, again, the Frenchman, became one of the prime movers of this philosophy. He was lecturing all over the United States. And what came out of this was post-structuralism: even the story was now dismantled. Forget the argument, the story was going to be jettisoned. And it moved the authority of interpretation from the author to the reader. The reader could re-write, the reader could re-interpret, the reader could re-tell. And all of a sudden you had millions of people reinterpreting reality.
Now, what I want to say is this: there was a sort of a sliver of truth in all of those. You know, a place for reason, the place for empiricism, the place for experience and will: and now the question of, hey, what authority do I have when I see all of this? So in grabbing the finger of one they thought they were grabbing the fist of all of reality. The fascinating thing to me about the Gospel is, there's the place for reason, there is the place for experience, there is the place for empirical investigation, and there's the place for the individual and how God gives you your own individuality and restores to you the uniqueness in the way he's hardwired you. But postmodernism actually ended up doing huge damage in terms of authority of structure and of truth. No truth, no meaning, no certainty. And postmodernism has become the reigning worldview by implication.
So I just have this question: if you're on a plane and the plane is in trouble, would you want a postmodernist pilot who says, "I know this is what instrument say, 10,000. But I'm going believe there's no such thing as truth, meaning and certainty. And I'm going to decide my own altitude". You don't do that when you're on the side of depending upon truth. There is such a thing as truth: there is such a thing as meaning: and there is such a thing as certainty even in the way we make our choices. So postmodernism was nothing more than an escape hatch to make their self God. Right from the beginning there was a postmodernist in Genesis: has God really said? Has God spoken? No truth, no meaning, no certainty, right in the book of Genesis. Postmodernism. So it's not post anything: it is actually the condition of fallen man.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I think of postmodernism is all the stop lights in the city are green. And if they were, you'd have chaos and wrecks, and that's what you have. Let's follow that up with another question right along that line. Another student in Europe asks: "How does it necessary follow that if you have a moral law this necessitates that you had a moral lawgiver"?
Zacharias: It's a great question. And actually I pondered about that for a long time, John, you know. I said, How do you find this link between a moral law and a moral lawgiver"? And it all came about with the problem of evil being raised. When you raise the problem of evil, you assume there's good: when you assume there's good, you assume there's a moral law: you assume there's a moral law, you have to posit a moral lawgiver. But the question is why. And here's the answer to that: because anyone who raises the question on the problem of evil, it's either raised by a person or about a person, which means the problem of evil, when it is posited, assumes the intrinsic worth of personhood.
If there's no intrinsic worth to personhood the question actually self-destructs. So personhood is necessary for the question to be valid. That's why we can only justify it if the person is the creation of an individual of distinct worth, which is God himself. That's why we move to a moral lawgiver. The question self-destructs if personhood is not valuable. It's a very critical jump, but it's very important. And whenever I've talked to skeptics or whatever on this, it gives them pause. They say, "Well, you know..". And then they try to divert and move off in other directions. Your life and my life assume intrinsic worth for the problem of evil as a question to be valid. And that intrinsic worth can only come if we are the creation of God himself, not the random product of time plus matter plus chance.
Ankerberg: Ravi, another student talks about Richard Dawkins, and I think everybody around the world knows this famous atheist. And Dawkins says he's got four gaps that need to be filled in his philosophical framework. What are they? He says they're how life came from non-life, the gap of morality, the gap of consciousness, and the gap of sexuality. The student would like you to comment.
Zacharias: Yes. And as I always say, those are pretty big gaps, you know! Quite a hard pill to swallow! I mean, if we had those gaps in our theistic framework we would be laughed out of court. An interesting story about Dawkins, by the way. Some time ago he was on the BBC with Giles Fraser, the former dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. And Dawkins was mocking Christians as he loves to do, you know. And he made the comment, he said, you know, "Most Christians cannot even name the Gospels". And Giles Fraser looked at him and he said, "Richard, ah, your Bible is the origin of species, isn't it"? And Dawkins said, "Yes, it is. You may call it that". He said, "Alright. Can you give me the full title of the book"? And Dawkins sort of paused. He said, "Yeah, I know it's a long title". Giles Fraser said, "Go ahead, Richard. Can you give me the full title"? And he started by saying, and I'll quote it exactly. People will have to forgive me for the quote, but this is the way it went.
He said, "The origin of species, um,... The origin of species, um.... Oh, my God, for the life of me I can't remember the rest of the title," he said. And, you know, it's a long title! I remember at that point saying, you know, it's the ultimate proof of the sovereignty of God that even an atheist had to call upon God to remind him of the title of the book which caused him to disbelieve in God in the first place. And the next day the newspaper headline on the interview said, "It's been a bad day for atheists when he couldn't even name the full title". But, you know, he's a mocker. In fact, in Washington when somebody said how you do deal with people who have faith in God. He said, "Mock them". And I want to say to the Islamic world, he's not just mocking our belief in God as a Christian: he's mocking all belief in God. Take note of that. He is anti-religion, anti-the person of God. He's just a coward in the fact that he doesn't come right out and say what the implications really are.
But think of the gaps: the origin, for example, of life. How does life come from non-life? How does consciousness come from non-consciousness? How does amoral beginning or non-moral beginning give you moral reasoning? And what about sexuality? But this is really what is going on. The gaps are huge: the God of the gaps has shifted from being charged against the believer to be, to be charged against the non-believer. How do we fill these? These gaps can only be filled by Almighty God. That's why some famous scientist like Faraday and newton and all were true believers. They believed there was no way to explain this universe outside of a theistic and a transcendent framework. As Solomon himself said, to turn your belief towards him in the days of your youth, otherwise everything becomes meaningless.
Ankerberg: Ravi, here's an interesting question that arises from a student in Europe. Apparently there was a conversation between the Dalai Lama and the late pope, where the pope said that faith is not merely belief, but it's likewise a way of life. And then the student says, "But wasn't it G.K. Chesterton who wrote that a man who is a Christian that professes belief in the incarnation and the resurrection may behave in a completely unchristian manner, while a man that does not believe in Christ may behave in a completely Christian manner". What would you say to that?
Zacharias: I think it's a good question, and if we unpack that a little bit, John, actually it's one of the hardest questions to think about. But the answer has to begin with this: for the true follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot amputate in the middle of your belief and act inconsistent with it. Jesus reminded us of this again and again. And he said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven". However, doing things doesn't make you a believer in Jesus Christ. Who "If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord," that's when you shall be saved. But your actions should then follow accordingly. A person who thinks just by doing good and doing the right things therefore they attain their way to heaven, is actually discounting what Jesus actually taught about this.
The whole book of James focuses on how faith without works is actually dead. What he's really saying is, if you say you have this belief, but you don't live this way, you really don't have that belief-it is purely a cerebral thing. For the Christian the belief and the action has to connect. Paul says to Timothy to guard your doctrine and your life: both of them have to be protected. And you never judge a philosophy by its abuse. So I think the fact of the matter is, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder". If I keep promising my wife that I love her, and give her all the most beautiful cards and do everything, but never demonstrate it, she may have a serious question as to what I really mean by love. Because both the word and the deed must be in sync. Words are disclosures of reality, and they ultimately communicate from the head to the heart.
Ankerberg: I want you to compare a moment Buddhism and Christianity. Because you have two worldviews that are in collision. And the reason I bring this up about Buddhism is that it's one of the most popular questions at our website, not only here but in Europe. And so people are kind of fascinated with that. Some of the movie stars in Hollywood have gone to Buddhism. And I'm saying, let's talk about comparing worldviews at this point.
Zacharias: You're absolutely right. As I travel, even one-on-one or in our mail or whatever, there's this real delight in, you know, what about Buddhism, what about Buddhism? People actually forget that Buddhism has one of the most dangerous seductions possible. It can make you believe that you can be good without God. Because there's no God in Buddhism, there's no teaching about God in Buddhism. And what I had was a conversation once with a very renowned monk in Thailand. She was the first woman monk ordained, PhD McMaster University from Canada, and had come back to Thailand, went to Sri Lanka to be ordained. And I contacted her for the privilege of talking to her. We had a fascinating conversation.
So at one point I said to her, "Who do you think is the quintessential expression of your faith"? She said, "The Dalai Lama". I said, "And the goal of your faith is to cease desiring, right? You don't want to will anymore". She said, "That is right". I said, "Can you tell me why the Dalai Lama wills for the liberation of Tibet? When the best expression of your faith violates the ultimate precept towards which you are moving, how do you respond to that"? She was very quiet. She said, "May I say he wills to do so"? You could tell she was getting upset at this point, so I backed off. I said, "I have one more question for you, ma'am. And I said, "That is this. You believe that every birth is a re-birth in your faith". She said, "Yes". I said, "But if you start from now and move backwards, okay: you start from now and move backwards: you've had a finite numbers of births. Is that correct"? She said, "I would say so".
I said, "Since you believe every birth is a re-birth, and every birth is a payment for the previous birth, and you have a finite number of births, that must mean you had a first birth. Is that correct"? And she paused and said, "Yes, I would have to say so". I said, "What were you paying for in your first birth"? She was visibly shaken by the question. She said, "We choose not to ask such questions". Ironically, she had left her family just like Buddha had. She'd left her children and her husband and had renounced all of that. I asked her if she longed to see her kids, and I could see the tears welling up and the lips quivering. She could see the breaking point out there.
One of my Hindu friends once said to me who came to know Christ: he said, "You know, Ravi, I woke up one morning and I was thinking of our conversation. And I thought to myself, even my bank manager tells me how much I owe and how long I have to pay it back". He said, "In my karmic cycle I have no idea how much I owe and how long I have to pay it back". He said, "It's a heartless system". And he ultimately gave his life to Christ. So, those of you who live by these ethical views, I commend you for wanting to lead a good life. It tells me a lot about who you are. You don't want to bring hurt: you don't want to bring pain. But let me just remind you: goodness doesn't come from within you.
The biggest problem in the world is not outside of you, it's inside of you. And the transformed human heart and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and his presence with you gives you the right kind of hungers and lets you know that "It is appointed for you once to die," and after that you meet your Creator. If you look at the countries in this world that have ethical systems for religion, you will find them to be the most unethical today. Because ethics alone doesn't have within itself the imperative: it only has the draw that this is the way you should be. God gives you the strength and the Christian faith to do what is right.
Ankerberg: I want to switch hats. You've been asked to speak to the leaders at the United Nations at their prayer breakfast, which is the opening session of the United Nations. So talk about what you told them, and then there's a parable at the end that you gave them that I want you to share with our audience.
Zacharias: By God's grace recently they asked me for the third time there too, John, and I went and spoke to them. It's quite an honor, you know. It's a nerve- wracking thing. You have about 15-18 minutes, and you have to be sensitive to all of the faith systems. I spoke to them on a search for absolutes. And at the end of that - you know, they were listening. And I will tell you, when they line up at the end of it, the ambassadors will tell you things that are very, very personal-and one of them, I won't even name who asked me, if I would come into his office and pray with his whole staff. And one from an atheist country said to me, "I always wondered why I came here". I'll tell you what he finished his statement with.
I ended with this, a parable. A parable of a very rich man who had a son, who, the son was a tenderhearted guy: he would walk around town and talk to a beggar often on the streets. And the beggar grew to like him. And he would leave some money, and so on. And one day he stopped coming. And the son walked over to the big mansion and saw the watchman outside, and he said, "I don't see the young man anymore". And he said, "No, he suddenly passed away". And he said, "You know," the beggar said, "He used to talk to me about his father's art gallery, that his father was a lover of art. I want to do something". And so he went and he sketched a portrait of this son and brought it back, gave it to the watchman and said, "Give it to the father. I loved his son. He was a good man".
Years go by, and he finds out the father has passed away, and the whole art gallery is going to be auctioned out. He wondered if he could get in. Got some nice clothes, managed to get in. And he wanted to see if that painting of the portrait of his was in the gallery. And sure enough, it was right there, center piece. And as he's watching, he's quite moved, you know. He knew his father loved his son too. And the auction begins, but the auctioneer went to that portrait first and said, "The will of the father was to auction this one first". And everybody didn't want it, nobody bid on it, and the beggar said, "I'll give what I have and I'll buy it". And he bought it. Then the auctioneer said, "Now we move to the rest". And the gavel was pounded by the auctioneer, as everyone said, "Yeah, we want the real paintings out there".
The auctioneer said, "Uh-uh. The man who passed away in his will put whoever bought the portrait of the son would inherent the whole art gallery". In an easterner's love of parables, they love a story, there was a visible response from the UN ambassadors. And I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, when you get the son you get all of ultimate reality in Jesus Christ. And I brought the Gospel in that way. They were lined up, John. And one of the ambassadors, as I said, from an atheistic country, said, "Mr. Zacharias, I don't like being here. I don't know why I came here. I've always wondered why. I found the answer today. I came here in order that I might find God". What an incredible story to end a story with. And to you who are listening, when you get Jesus Christ, and you get the Son, you get the entire inheritance of your Heavenly Father. You can trust in him.
Ankerberg: For folks that are just hearing about Jesus Christ and having it make some type of sense to them, alright: maybe they've had it stereotyped to them, or maybe they're hearing it for the very first time. What is the Gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ brought? How do people come into a relationship with Jesus Christ and experience the power for themselves?
Zacharias: That's the turning point. Turn your eyes away from humanity. Turn it away from even people who have been hypocrites, and they have caused you to doubt, or wrong teaching. Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me I will in no wise him cast him out". The apostle Paul said that he "Preached Jesus Christ and him crucified". And so I say to you, wherever you are, bow your head and invite him into your life. If you have a child and the child said, "Dad, can I sit on your lap? I want to be near you. I want to get a, get a hug". You'll give that you your son. How much more your Heavenly Father? Say "I receive you, I trust you, be my Savior". That's the prayer.
Ankerberg: Say a prayer for the folks, those that would like to say this prayer and invite Jesus Christ into their life. Give them a model that they could use right now.
Zacharias: I'll be happy to do that. And to you who are listening, wherever you are, just, don't look around. Bow your head and repeat this prayer one line at a time as I am praying for you. It is simple, but profound implications: dear Lord Jesus, you offer yourself as the Savior of the world. And you have offered yourself to me. I receive you. I trust you. I commit myself to you. I want to follow you. Help me to read your word and be closer to you. Lord Jesus, I invite you as my Savior, and turn away from any other belief that would come in the way of your relationship with me. In your holy name I pray, amen.