In 2004, Ravi Zacharias became the first evangelical leader to deliver a major address from the Salt Lake Tabernacle pulpit in more than 100 years.
Nearly a decade later, Zacharias has returned. The Christian apologist and author is scheduled to speak at an open forum at Brigham Young University on Friday, Jan. 17, and also at a sold-out event at the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. Musical guest Fernando Ortega will accompany Zacharias at the Tabernacle. Both events are free and will be live-streamed on rzim.org.
"It is an honor to visit Utah again and I am particularly grateful for the invitations to speak at Brigham Young University and the Mormon Tabernacle," Zacharias said. "This is an extraordinary privilege the organizers have given to me, and I look forward to addressing key questions relating to life and liberty."
Zacharias' local host is Standing Together, a network of evangelical congregations along the Wasatch Front.
Zacharias is the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. RZIM is headquartered in Atlanta, with additional offices in Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
Zacharias was born in India and immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1960s. For four decades, Zacharias has spoken all over the world and in numerous universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Oxford, as well as in government settings around the globe.
Prior to visiting BYU and the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Zacharias was available for an interview in which he discussed his favorite Bible stories, a critical time in his life, his prepared messages, families and religious freedom. Here is some of the discussion.
Deseret News: Tell me about one of your favorite stories in the Bible and how it has inspired you in your work.
Ravi Zacharias: When you go to stories, there are so many ranging from historic to the parables. In the historic category, I would say one of my most moving stories was the story of Nicodemus and Jesus. You are a leader and profess to know so much, and yet you don't know about the new birth? You don't know that this is begotten of God, and how you enter into the kingdom of heaven?
It was a reminder to me that religiosity can often times block you from the most fundamental truth that God wants to communicate to us.
When I look at the story of the prodigal son, as an Easterner, both of these stories meant a lot of me. When you have wronged your father, and when you have treated him as if he were dead, which is the implication of "give me my inheritance," and then he goes and squanders it, then he comes to himself and makes his U-turn home, in an Eastern context, the father never would have left the home to meet him outside. He would have waited until the son came in flat on his face, begging forgiveness. But the grace of the father, to run to meet the son who is on his way back home, is so counterintuitive to the Eastern mindset. And there he was received and forgiven and robed and ringed and all of that.
To me, those two stories, one a historic encounter and one a parable, are the most powerful stories. I think it has something to do with the time in your life when you are reading, what it is that touches you in the most sensitive spot, in your own context.
DN: Who was the most influential person in your life growing up and what is one lesson you learned from that person that has stayed with you throughout your life?
RZ: I came to know Christ on a bed of suicide when I was 17. So the most influential person in my life was the man who brought me a Bible into my hospital room. Without it, nothing else would have changed. I was on my death-bed.
His name was Fred David. He just passed away in February 2013. We talked on the phone shortly before he died. He said to me, "Sometimes I've wondered if the sole purpose of my coming into this world was to bring you that Bible in your hospital room."
"Fred," I said, "You did a lot more than that."
He had an influence on many in my age bracket in Delhi (he was the director of Delhi Youth for Christ at that time).
After that, reading people like Malcolm Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, the revivalist Leonard Ravenhill; great writers have influenced me immensely and touched my life greatly.
DN: After you received that Bible in the hospital at age 17, your life changed when your mother read John 14:19, which reads, "Because I live, ye shall live also." How have those words continued to bless you and your life's work?
RZ: When you are dying, words like "living" take on a particular nuance. Nobody was explaining it to me, but what came to my mind was this must mean more than just physical life. As a youngster, I couldn't process it all, but I thought, you know, this is talking about a life that goes beyond physical walking and moving. This has to be rooted in your purpose for life and the essence of life, the very two issues in our time we never deal with. We talk so many subjects ad nauseam. We almost never sit around a table and ask what is life's ultimate purpose, who am I in my essence; we make decisions ad hoc.
To me, that spoke volumes. What it means now is the purpose for which I am here in life, and I don't mean just the particularity of my life, but the generality of what it means to be human. To me, what it has meant is the definition of purpose and the enjoyment of the wonder of knowing God and living for him.
DN: It’s been 10 years since you spoke in the Tabernacle and met with LDS Church leaders in “an evening of friendship” to build interfaith bridges of friendship. What has unfolded since then, and how would you describe these relationships today?
RZ: Because of the nature of my work, I cover the globe. I cover numerous countries and venues. I come as a guest speaker and deal with subjects. I'm an author and radio speaker. I do those things. Those who invited me are the ones who really have continued the dialogue. I don't intrude into that process. If I'm written and asked a question by my hosts, we correspond. My continuation is really through my friendship, Standing Together with Greg Johnson, along with Robert Millet, who hosted the venue in 2004, our friendships continue. It's always been on a warm and cordial basis, which is wonderful knowing that our fundamental beliefs are so different. We are still able to converse without rancor but with clear understanding of the terms and definitions.
DN: What does it mean to you to be invited to speak at the historic Salt Lake Tabernacle?
RZ: I am very, very honored by it. They never dictate the content of what I say. They invite me out of their trust and respect.
Here is the issue that I think is critical. No matter what our nation is dealing with, if we don't provide a rich, moral soil, all disciplines will end up with their feet firmly planted in midair. You must provide a rich moral soil. One thing we do have in common here is an agreement on the provision of rich moral soil. On that basis, we come here. I come here to present the message of Jesus Christ because I like to take it one step further.
In the Christian message, the problem is not really being morally better. In the Christian message, the content is that Jesus Christ didn't come into this world to make bad people good, he came into this world to make dead people live. We are dead to God, he makes us alive to God. That is the gospel message.
So we start off with the common ground of moral well-being, which is indispensable to any dialogue. As a Christian, when they invite me, I'm sure they expect me to present what the gospel is all about. That's why I'm here.
DN: You have titled your remarks at the Tabernacle, "Lessons from history and building a nation under God." What makes this topic so relevant and timely right now?
RZ: The problems we face are not new. What has happened in North America with the strident secularization that has taken place has been a loss of absolutes, a loss of moral underpinning. Relativism is just another word for autonomy. It sounds very good, but it is just, "I am my own lawgiver and lawmaker." You cannot but end up on a collision course with that. Just as tolerance sounds like a good word, but what it really means is I want you to be tolerant of my belief, I'm going to be intolerant of yours if you disagree with me.
When Manasseh, the Old Testament king, severed the knowledge of God from the people, it ended up with sacrificing his own children at the altar. How instructive that is for today. The biggest price we pay in any civilization is what we do with our children. That's what has happened in our time.
How did Josiah come and turn that cultural trend around? He turned it around by setting the house of God in order. That's where we begin. Rather than continuing to throw stones upon fingers, we set the house of God in order.
DN: How would you define religious freedom and why is it important today?
RZ: Religious freedom is the allowance in academic settings and the marketplace to not have a privatized faith but a faith you can present with impunity. Not enforcement, but with impunity, that you can discuss it. What has happened in the academic arena, in a total disingenuousness and a total hypocrisy toward the nature of truth, we have evicted the very worldview that made a nation like this possible. What brought this nation into being is the freedom to believe and to disbelieve, but living under the illusion of neutrality now, we have blocked discussion in the academy and mocked it. The public setting and the academic settings should allow for a free exchange of ideas with the knowledge that truth will win out in the end.
DN: What message would you give to parents and families about the importance of rich moral soil?
RZ: What we need to understand more than anything else is if our children and young people don't hear our voice, they will hear someone else's. The multiple highways into a person's heart and soul today are almost too numerous to counter because they invade the imagination and violate reason at ages in which our young people are most vulnerable. The younger they are, the more wrong-headed they become, the salvage operation is more difficult. Don't wait until they are reaching 16 or 17, but start off young in teaching them how to think things through — critical thinking — that's the best gift we can give them. I don't mean thinking that criticizes, but thinking that learns how to evaluate truth.
The means of electronic communication today are reaping a huge harvest on their way of thinking. We need to be alert to all of this.
DN: What do you do to relax?
RZ: In my teens and 20s, I was an avid tennis player. Before I came to Canada, I was an avid cricket player. I used to love getting up in the morning to play racquetball. I was very athletic. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had major back problems. I've had two major back surgeries and that changed my life. To be honest with you, what I love to do most is be with my family and go out for a nice dinner, or put up my feet at home and see our children and now our three grandchildren having a wonderful opportunity in life to live and enjoy. That is the most therapeutic for me.
If you go ...
What: Ravi Zacharias at the Tabernacle
When: Saturday, Jan. 18, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Tabernacle on Temple Square
Tickets: The event is sold out; standby seating may be available on a first-come, first-served basis; the standby line is formed at the flagpole on Temple Square
Notes: Event is for those 16 and older
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