Charismatic preachers use an appeal to spirituality to strengthen the faith of believers and win converts. Theologians use appeals to logic and reason.
In his first speech in Cape Girardeau Saturday night, internationally known Christian author and radio host Ravi Zacharias used both to argue for absolute truth and its divine source.
Saturday night La Croix United Methodist Church played host to Zacharias for the first of three speaking engagements over two days. A near capacity crowd filled the church’s 940 seats to hear his message.
“I think what he has is a rare gift between the scholar and evangelist,” said the Rev. Ron Watts, La Croix’s senior pastor. “His words touched hearts … and went into the head.”
Zacharias has built a reputation as a premier thinker in Christian philosophy through several books and speaking engagements that have taken him to esteemed centers of thought like Harvard, Princeton and Oxford , where he is a visiting lecturer.
Last year he was the first evangelical Christian philosopher to receive an invitation to speak at the Mormon Tabernacle in more than a century.
His travels have taken him to Asia and Africa and, most recently, on a tour of the Middle East. So the congregation at La Croix was delighted to have Zacharias speak in Cape Girardeau — a rare opportunity gained through his friendship with a congregation member.
Zacharias spoke for about an hour, delivering a message that delved into the centuries-old philosophical search to define truth. While great minds have pondered how to establish the objectiveness of truth throughout the centuries, Zacharias unabashedly said he knows the nature of truth.
Truth is objective and its essence is God, Zacharias told the audience of church members and nonmembers.
“It is imperative that your life and my life conform to the truth,” he said.
Of all world religions, Christianity is unique in that it defines the nature of the human spirit unlike any other — that man is born a sinner, said Zacharias. The teachings of Christ hold a monopoly on truth among world religions because more than anything else they describe the true nature of man.
“Everything he says fits together and exists not just in isolation,” he said. “The older I get, the more convinced I am of the truthfulness of who Christ is.”
Zacharias has had a long time to think about truth and its relation to Christianity. He was born in 1946 in India and began studying theology at around age 20 after moving to Canada.
His arguments are structured and complex. Saturday night Zacharias used basic tenets of Christianity like the sinful nature of man, the breakdown of morals in a climate of relativism and the unification of the world’s many diverse aspects as building blocks for his argument.
Touching personal stories were often used to drive the points home.
Zacharias related a story told to him by a human rights worker of a sexually abused 18-month-old to illustrate the absence of values when morality was made relative. The story drew gasps from the audience.
“What has happened to a man who has reached that point?” Zacharias asked. “Is that evil, or is it merely a subjective experience of his?”
Evil, said Zacharias, is inherently present in the human heart. Thus, an objective moral definition from God is needed, he said.
The service was free and open to the public, and afterward Zacharias made himself available to those interested in further discussing his arguments.
The message was on point with Joan and Dennis Roth of Cape Girardeau and their friend, John Kretschmann of St. Louis. For them the mix of emotional and intellectual appeal made Zacharias’ argument even stronger and fortified their faith.
“He was really able to get at the differences between major world religions with just a few distinct statements,” Kretschmann said. “God drew us to himself through our hearts, and he’s able to argue that intellectually. We’ve all heard the message, but this was a unique way to present it.”
Joan Roth said the talk both stirred her heart and strengthened her belief.
Zacharias will speak again today at two services, one at 9:15 a.m. and one at 11 a.m. The first service will be a continuation of the Saturday night talk, while the second service will be an encore, said Watts.