To say a buzz has been building on campus about Ravi Zacharias would be an understatement. In the cacophony of voices, is another opinion really necessary? I believe it is, especially when the media has played up the controversy as some kind of dichotomous Christian vs. atheist throwdown. It’s not that simple. Ready for a third way?
By all accounts, Zacharias has an incredibly strong faith and has dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel. I have not studied Ravi Zacharias intently, but even a quick review of his website tells me that his beliefs and methodology are very different from mine. For example, I do not believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, that homosexual behavior is aberrant or that the evidence for evolution is lacking. Typically, these stated positions are just the tip of the iceberg on deep foundational issues that tend to divide Christians, such as whether to read the Bible literally, whether accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is the only path to salvation and whether evangelizing is necessary to get people to know God.
I realize that for many devout conservative Christians, it appears I have just attacked the very essence of their faith. This not my intent, nor is Ravi Zacharias’ theology necessarily the reason why I am writing. I can’t sum up in a neat package who God is and then try to convince others to believe as I do. But I do know that Christ’s example of love and inclusiveness is how we are called to treat others, and is at the heart of Christianity.
Finding grace in the search for understanding and believing that there is more value in questioning than in absolutes prevents me from putting God in a box and keeps me humble. Knowing that I am deeply moved by Christ’s example and strengthened by God’s presence in my life is powerful. I know that as a Christian, I am called to strive for peace and justice, to protect the environment and to show Christ’s love by witness and example. In a strange sort of way, the fact that I don’t have it all figured out makes me feel like I am on the right track.
Presentations like Zacharias’ tend to bring about a predictable clash between believers and non-believers. People make judgments about what it means to have faith based on presentations like this. Moreover, media coverage based on limited review reinforces perceptions of what it means to be Christian. In fact, Christians are not a homogeneous group. The Penn community needs different expressions of Christianity and the DP needs to do its part in understanding the richness of the faith landscape at Penn when writing on the subject. Relationships and dialogue grounded in love, not vitriol, are what is needed to understand and appreciate these different narratives and have a better understanding of what Christianity can be.
Rob Gurnee is the executive director of the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania. His email address is email@example.com.