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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.