I just finished listening to the unabridged audio of Ravi Zacharias' autobiography Walking from East to West. I have recently enjoyed listening to audio books in the car as well as when running around the neighborhood to stay in somewhat decent shape. The Zacharias book was a special read for me as his ministry has been so important to my life and faith. There are a few people who have marked me through their writings and teaching - Zacharias is a looming figure in my growth as a man.
I first delved into all things Ravi when on staff with Athletes in Action as I devoured cassette tapes (for those unfamiliar with this ancient technology - see here) of his teaching and lectures which are rightly described as biblical preaching under girded by philosophical apologetics. I felt like I knew Ravi from listening to so much of his preaching. After reading this autobiography I was very moved by God's work in this man's life over the years. In this review I want to highlight the strengths of this book, one small drawback and then make a recommendation.
One thing I enjoyed about this book was that it focused on Ravi's early years in India. He speaks candidly about his family, his struggles as a teenager and the budding days of his conversion on a bed of suicide. Additionally, hearing how God used him as a young man in India was a story that reignited some of my own passions to be used in the master's hands. A huge bonus of reading this work (listening?) was the audio book experience. For one, Ravi did the reading of his own autobiography which adds a bit of emotional contour to the work. If you have not heard Ravi speak, let me just say he is as good as any voice talent you could hire to read an audio book. The reading was authentic and real due to this feature. Finally, Ravi's humility and Christ centered focus rang out from the book - he just seems like the real deal. Years ago I listened to some of his teaching out of 2 Cor 4 entitled - Three severe tests for authentic ministry. That message has marked my own ethos as one called to gospel ministry. From this book I now see that the man has lived this message for some time.
I also enjoyed Ravi telling stories of meeting some of his heroes - particularly the meeting of Malcom Muggeridge. I could see how much it meant to him to meet those who had stimulated his own thinking. Though I am very much against the making of Christian celebrities, in some way I felt similar feelings when I met Ravi ever so briefly in Blacksburg, VA this past October. Additionally hearing him speak of the meeting of his wife, the children raised in their home and the companions he has traveled life with was a human element to the story. He also shares his struggles of trying to lead an organization when his passion was writing and preaching. He acknowledges that he should have put more time into the organization in the early days - perhaps turning that portion of the work over to others. It seems this has been accomplished now but brought much stress and tension to him in prior years.
Finally, the stories told in this book are simply fascinating to hear. Ravi's youth speaking tour as a young man in India, his evangelistic tour in Vietnam during the war, his global jaunt in which he preached over 500 times in one year are amazing and testimonies to a singular passion to preach Christ and him crucified. Not everyone will have such adventures and global reach. Indeed, very few people's lives will straddle both eastern and western cultures as Ravi has. Perhaps this is why he has been such a unique minister of the gospel. Born in India, immigrated to the West and now calling both cultures to the gospel of Christ. Unique is the appropriate word which readily comes to mind.
There is one major drawback to the book which was done intentionally by the publisher. In order to tell the story of his life, the decision was made to not clutter the book with rigorous philosophical or theological discussion. This made the biography short and sweet without any reader being encumbered by high minded discourse. Unfortunately, many who have enjoyed Ravi's work, enjoy precisely the thing that was left out of this book. I used to love listening to him and having to get a dictionary afterward and search out a concept for further study. It seems several of Ravi's recent books have been marketed to the main stream church folk culture and thus lacking serious rigor. I think this is unfortunate and perhaps is a choice publishers are making to sell books. Much of Ravi's ministry has been spent of late in eastern settings, preaching and teaching in lands far away. I thank God for this. Yet something was left out of this biography - some of his ministry on campuses in the United State. It would have been fun to hear more of that.
Overall, the person most honored in this story is the creator God. It is clear that Ravi told his story in order to tell the story of another. One who once spoke words of life to a questioner named Thomas...the doubter. Ravi's life was marked by the same words "because I live, you will live also." It was this call of God to a young man that set a passion and purpose about in his life. A passion which led him to reach out to the skeptic, the thinker, the societal influencers in places all over our globe. Ravi has set out to reach out to "happy pagans" - those who feel no need of God. He has questioned the questioners and preached to such audiences for almost four decades, His story is worthy of your time - and I recommend getting the audio edition for the read.
More information about Ravi Zacharias and the ministry that bears his name may be found online at www.rzim.org.