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PostThe Pragmatic Theology of Ravi Zacharias (David Duggan, USA, 05/26/20 5:45 am)
John Eipper asked how many of Ravi Zacharias's 33 books I've read, and how to characterize his theology. The answer to the former is none, and to the latter though not a theologian I'd describe it as pragmatic: take the world as it is and try, as Milton said, to justify the ways of God to man. Though made by a Creator in His image, we humans have an indelible desire to have things our own way. That leads to unfortunate consequences, whether in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the rice paddies of Vietnam, or the World Trade Center of 9/11.
You can access probably more than 100 of Zacharias' lectures and symposia on YouTube and perhaps glean more from the 100th than the first, but the overarching message is that the greatest philosophers of the age have no more cogent answers to the fundamental questions of our existence--our origins, the cause of our present condition, our way out of that, and our destiny--than the answers provided by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, David and Jesus, Paul, Augustine and Luther. That answer is provided by the person of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead to unite all of God's creation under His realm. In this sense, Zacharias may be likened to that great popularizer of the Western canon, Mortimer Adler.
Like Zacharias, Adler too had a "deathbed conversion" experience. At Chicago's Northwestern Hospital, with an undiagnosed illness, Adler felt the power of prayer from his wife and the minister at St. Chrysostom's Episcopal church and came to believe that the God of "ontological perfection," the God who had created the universe, was also the God of "moral perfection" who loved him. Adler, who had debated Thomistic theology with Clare Boothe Luce as a New York City dinner companion, was drawn to Roman Catholicism's moral certainty but couldn't fully accept it until after his wife, an ardent Episcopalian (and former philosophy student of his at the University of Chicago), had died when Adler was 95. As a late-in-life second act, Adler spent his eighth, ninth and tenth decades defending the faith in philosophical terms: "How to Think About God" (perhaps a play on his 1940 "How to Read a Book") and "Truth in Religion" were written as Adler approached his 80th and 90th birthdays, respectively.
Pragmatic theology has unfortunately a degree of solipsism to it: that is as long as I can justify my actions through scripture, squaring my life with my beliefs is a big "so what." Jesus never condemned sin as such, but rather advised his followers to "sin no more" (cf. John 8:11, viewed by many scholars as the apocryphal tale of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery). If all that humans can do can be justified, can be expiated by some simple act of confession, then what is the purpose of an atoning sacrifice on the cross?
Zacharias' response to this hypothetical is to refer to the conventional morality which may or may not be ingrained in us (socio-biologist E. O. Wilson believes it is part of our hereditary DNA). If a world can allow the horrors of Auschwitz, the banality of Vietnam, the nihilism of 9/11, then there's no exit from our earthly condition and we might as well pack it in. But if there's a glimmer, a hint of goodness in the world, a glimpse at the eternal, then we disregard that at our peril. As the priest at Dartmouth who first saw me as an individual apart from my upbringing wrote in his Christmas letter last year: "There was a Frenchman whose name I can't remember who decided that there were two possibilities; he could expect extinction at death, or he could look for the Kingdom of Jesus. He decided that he would prefer the second. I've decided the same. That's where I put my money."
JE comments: Theology is one of my weak suits, but isn't Pascal our Frenchman? One rub according to my Methodist upbringing: wagering is a sin! Does this include betting on the existence of God? Let's hear from the official United Methodist website:
Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.
I'm always reminded of standard practice in the US Civil War. Throw way your cards and dice before battle. No one wanted to be caught dead (literally) with the tools of sin. My maternal grandmother, a stern Methodist, wouldn't allow playing cards in her house.