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Ravi Zacharias dies at 74

Apologist and author dies of cancer after a decadeslong teaching ministry

Ravi Zacharias dies at 74

Ravi Zacharias (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries)

Christian apologist and prolific author and broadcaster Ravi Zacharias died Tuesday, his family announced. He was 74. 

In early May, his family announced Zacharias would suspend treatment for metastatic cancer—sarcoma—on his spine. Doctors discovered the cancer in March.

News then of his imminent death brought tributes from around the world. Heisman Trophy winner and sports personality Tim Tebow said in a tweeted video: “He is an absolute inspiration, a hero of the faith. He will absolutely be in the hall of faith.”

Zacharias grew up in Delhi, India, where his father was a prominent government official. Zacharias’ lackluster performance in the classroom and on the cricket fields made him the subject of his father’s physical and verbal abuse.  

As a teenager, he attended a local Youth for Christ (YFC) rally with his siblings, where he was the only attendee to respond to an altar call. But a few months later, Zacharias spiraled under his father’s scrutiny. He attempted suicide by poison at age 17. A YFC minister visited him in the hospital and gave him a Bible. After hearing John 14:19, where Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live,” Zacharias became a Christian.

He began taking school seriously and attending a local Christian youth group. Zacharias’ newfound purpose caught his father’s attention, and he stopped treating his son so harshly. The elder Zacharias later became a Christian himself. 

Zacharias began sharing the gospel publicly at age 19 and won a preaching contest.

When Zacharias was 20, he moved with his family to Canada where he obtained theological degrees from Ontario Bible College—now Tyndale University College and Seminary—and Trinity International University. 

After graduating from Bible college, Zacharias traveled the world preaching. He noted a lack of formal Christian apologetics training among Christians, which led him to found Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in 1984. Today, the organization employs about 75 Christian apologists who defend the faith and train Christian leaders around the world. The group’s headquarters is in Alpharetta, Ga. One of his daughters, Sarah Davis, is CEO. 

Zacharias’ love of cricket continued throughout his life. He stayed active, playing racquetball each day, until he had back problems in the 1980s and ’90s. He said he also loved the culinary arts, writing once, “My family still thinks that after I retire, I will open a small restaurant somewhere. If I ever did, it would be for great conversations around a great meal.”

Like many prominent Christian leaders, though, Zacharias was not immune to controversy. He faced criticism for occasionally going by “Dr.” Zacharias, despite the fact that his many doctorates were honorary. In 2017 a Canadian woman and her husband accused him of carrying on sexting relationship with the woman, whom he had met at a conference. Zacharias maintained that the explicit photos she sent him were unsolicited and unwelcome. He sued the couple, saying they had attempted to extort him. He apologized publicly for not drawing stricter boundaries that would have protected him from the “appearance of impropriety.” 

Many will remember Zacharias for his decades of ministry. One notable RZIM speaker and Zacharias acolyte was Nabeel Qureshi, a convert from Islam, whose book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus became a New York Times bestseller. Qureshi died in 2017 of stomach cancer. Speaking at Qureshi’s funeral, Zacharias recited lyrics from a favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord”:

“It may be that death’s bright angel / Will speak in that chord again; / It may be that only in Heav’n / I shall hear that great Amen.”

Zacharias’ wife of 48 years, Margie, survives him, as do three children and several grandchildren.

Katie Gaultney

Katie Gaultney

Katie is a senior correspondent for WORLD Radio. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism and Southern Methodist University. She previously worked in public relations, event planning, and speechwriting. Katie resides with her family in Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @gaultney.


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  • CM
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 01:53 am

    It is utterly unconscionable that, in an obituary of a long-working servant of Christ, you would include a momentary and baseless accusation against him.  What under the earth are you thinking?

    By doing so, you have elevated a crass accusation to a higher status than decades of devoted Christian service and leadership.  Indeed -- you are raising that (probably literally) insane accusation against him to a level higher than Zacharias' consistent arguments against pornography.  Where is your discussion of his stand against that?  Where is your discussion of his dozens of books?  Where is the presentation of his calm, reasoned apologetic debates with atheists and other anti-Christian opponents [who, by the way, held him in high regard]?  Where is any mention of his ministry to far-flung Christians and would-be Christian seekers, from war-torn Vietnam to rural America?  Where is your discussion of his radio ministry, stretching over decades?   No, none of that.  But you do manage to spend a full paragraph on a single point of crass political accusation against the recently deceased.

    Where is your mind?

    (As a postscript:  I understand that you have a desire to journalistic integrity.  Great.  But this reporting is totally off-base.  An unsubstantiated, denied, and disproven accusation -- especially of such a lurid nature -- has no place in a short article.  As another commenter has noted, perhaps within a full-length autobiographical book, perhaps then it could be mentioned and its utter lack of merit then also explained.  But to even mention it in a short article like this is a travesty and an injustice, of a high magnitude.)

  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 01:45 pm

    Yeah, I kinda agree with this comment.  Ravi's impact for the Gospel of Jesus Christ has had a profound effect on thousands, if not tens of thousands of people.  He always showed, love, gracy and mercy to even the most ardent opponent of the Gospel.  He never backed down from even the hardest questions that most of us wouldn't have a clue in how to respond to.  Not only did he respond, but responded boldly with the Gospel truth.  If there is one Christian that has left a legacy beyond measure for his unending devotion to the truth of the Gospel, it's is Ravi Zacharias.  God was glorified through Ravi, and he simply allowed God to use him as a vessel to reach those who would otherwise not give Christians or Christianity the time of day.  Let's try and remember him for this, and not for some negative footnote to an otherwise flawless legacy.  And frankly, there are tons of PhD's who insist on being called "Doctor" that can't hold a candle to Ravi Zacharias' ministry and legacy.  99% of those PhD's will die nameless and faceless, having done nothing for the cause of Christ.  Ravi will be remember for many years and decades for the work that the Lord allowed him to do, all for the glory of God.

    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 09:04 am

    "An unsubstantiated, denied, and disproven accusation."

    Unfortunately, the accusation was only denied. RZIM settled out of court and the woman signed a non-disclosure agreement. While I have deeply benefited from RZIM and Ravi's ministry, it would have been a failure for World to not cover this sad part of his public ministry.

  • CM
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 11:56 am

    To Tim Miller,

    No, it really as been pretty much disproven.  Read the (much better) obit of Ravi on  OK, it's not "disproven" as in science, nor even in a court of law;  but it was investigated and dismissed, as you can read about over there.

    Posted: Thu, 05/21/2020 11:33 am

    Thank you for so eloquently stating what needed to be said. Mr. Zacharias deserved honor and you spoke the truth.

  • AMartinez from Clovis
    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 03:11 pm

    What a thoroughly disappointing snapshot of a wonderful Christ follower. It appears you are unfamiliar with the life's work and calling of Ravi Zacharias; perhaps you have never heard him speak or read one of his many books? World Magazine, you should have put more effort into memorializing a man who made such a huge impact for the Kingdom of God. 

  • JLCrowell
    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 04:00 pm

    How utterly grotesque that Katie Gaultney would include false accusations from extortionists (which ended with litigation) as well as petty sniping from 'critics' about his honorary doctorates, in summarizing the life of Ravi Zacharias.    This garbage supplants reference to his authorship of many books, and other notable aspects of his life and ministry?  What bunk!

  • Wayne Asbury
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 06:19 am

    I own and have read several of Mister Zacharias' books, and my favorite is "Cries of the Heart." One thing he taught me is whenever we speak to people about God we need to not just talk to the intellect but also touch the heart.  Few will do this as well as he did, but that is a goal every Christian who tries to communicate the love of Christ should strive for.  Another thing I always admired was his gentle kindness towards everyone.  I never met Ravi in person, but his words have blessed my life, and the ministry he started will endure for many many more years. What a legacy!


  • MC
    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 10:09 pm

    I always appreciate World for giving the full picture and not sugar coating anything or showing favoritism, but to have included those negative comments required about 200 pages of Ravi's positive contributions to be even remotely balanced.  Truly not appropriate in such a short piece; could merit a mention in a full biography.  I am expecting a more detailed article in the next edition covering his contributions to 20th and 21st centurty Christianity.  I think the estimate above of the people he affected is off by probably 2 orders of magnitude, perhaps more.  

    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 10:28 pm

    Lynde Langdon's short piece has a "Dig deeper" link to "Katie Gaultney’s obituary of Zacharias for more stories about his life and ministry." This is a shallow "obituary" with little evidence of deep knowledge or research about Ravi's ministry. The one paragraph especially is commentary on par with "yellow journalism." I'm not looking forward to receiving the print magazine if this article is in it.  

    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 12:08 pm

    On the other hand, in the May 20 podcast of The Word and Everything in It, "Katie Gaultney remembers apologist Ravi Zacharias" with more in-depth detail. I welcome that detail being included in the print magazine article.

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Tue, 05/19/2020 10:54 pm

    Just as I have been soundly influenced by World Magazine and the many writers who have personally shaped my thinking and perception, I was profoundly influenced by Ravi Zacharias.  He was a brilliant individual who dedicated his life to compelling people to think, and to think in light of the Word.  His apologetics ministry was one of his most important gifts and he approached that ministry fearlessly because he had a baptism of truth and humble intelligence. Humor was always lurking, even in the most serious of discussions, making truth palatable to believer and unbeliever alike.  I look forward to the day I will meet him in glory.

    Those are things that could have been said of Mr. Zacharias.  I too wonder what you and the editorial staff were thinking in this article of his life and death.  I had not known he was ill and was shocked and saddened at his passing when I read your headline.  I was even more saddened when I read the content of the article.  It was a heartless recount of his life.  He life was worth more than this.

  • Rich277
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 07:34 am

    i can get this kind of gutter journalism from the Main-Scream News Media.  I am trying to think of a reason to keep paying for a subscription, but am coming up short.

  • KS
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 10:04 am

    Wait, Ravi, I have one more question ...

  • Linda Bronkar
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 12:20 pm

    I really appreciated the obituary on The Gospel Coalition website, written by Ravi's longtime colleague, Alister McGrath.

    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 12:33 pm
  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Wed, 05/20/2020 08:16 pm

    Thankfully, we can still find many of his videos on Youtube!

    Posted: Thu, 05/21/2020 11:25 am

    Ravi Zacharias was a humble, kind, gracious child of God that served the Body of Christ for decades. He was an honorable man. I wept at the news of his passing, not only because I will miss his voice and ministry personally, but for the gaping hole that it leaves in the church in this hour.

    I have been a subscriber to World magazine for 20 years and listen to the World and Everything In It every single day. When I heard your obituary on Tuesday and then read this I was shocked at the level to which you sunk. Without providing any context (and there is a LOT) you threw mud at a fellow believer for reasons no one who read this article or heard your report can understand. There is a time and a place for all things and you grossly missed it. I have never commented on a single article in all the years I have been a subscriber (and I have disagreed with you before) but I will not remain silent at my total and complete disappointment in your lack of honor for this incredible man of God. You owe him and his family an apology.

  • zonie
    Posted: Sun, 05/24/2020 12:48 am

    There's a "kinder, gentler" review of Ravi's life, ministry and huge accomplishments here:


    Posted: Sun, 12/27/2020 12:50 pm

    The Gospel Coalition's kinder, gentler review of Ravi Zacharias’s life seems to have been removed.