Ravi Zacharias, a well-known American theologian, died in May of 2020. His worldwide ministry focused on apologetics, which involves defending the Christian faith. He was a much sought-after author and speaker in the Evangelical world. Millions of Evangelicals saw him as a valuable partner.
That all changed soon after his death. It was disclosed that he was a hypocrite. He had a problem with the sin of sexual lust. His private life did not match his public persona. Numerous women, including many massage therapists, recounted stories of his sexual abuse towards them. He was, not surprisingly, deeply involved in pornography.
Another theologian died in 1982. He was not as well-known to the general public as Zacharias, but he was very well-known among Evangelical scholars. His name was George Ladd. I remember being told in seminary that his book, The Theology of the New Testament, was a must-read. If you have heard about the kingdom of God’s being “already/not yet,” you may not know that the phrase originated with Ladd. One major Christian publication rated his book as the second most influential Christian book of the 20th century. Many Evangelical scholars claim to be indebted to him and his Biblical knowledge. During my days in seminary, I never heard a negative word about him. He was always described as an NT scholar of the highest order. He was a long-time, respected professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.
However, I did not know something that was known among Christian scholarly circles: Ladd was not what he appeared. I only recently discovered that, like Zacharias, he was a hypocrite. A recently published biography of Ladd discusses the unflattering details of his life. These details were not unconfirmed gossip but things Ladd himself readily admitted.
In the biography, A Place at the Table, by John D’Elia, the reader is told that Ladd was a raging alcoholic. As a result, he mistreated his wife and children. His daughter hated him because he was not loving towards her brother, who was ill. He was estranged from his wife, practically ignoring her.
He also loved the world’s applause. Ladd sought the approval of scholars, even those of the liberal persuasion. When he did not receive it, he spiraled down into depression. He was a bitter man. John Piper, an Evangelical who says he benefited greatly from Ladd’s teachings, says that Ladd loved to brag about the royalty payments he received from his writings. To Ladd, this showed that the world approved of his work.
Why does the Evangelical world evaluate the two men very differently? When Zacharias’ sins and hypocrisy were revealed, I often heard that he was clearly not saved. No true believer could do what he did.
But that is not what I have heard about Ladd. Even though his sin and hypocrisy were known, I never heard about them until I saw his recent biography. Even after it came out, one reviewer commented that Ladd was “a flawed Christian whom God used mightily.”i Another pointed out that the entire Evangelical world is indebted to his Biblical scholarship. Even though I am sure some have, I have never heard anybody question Ladd’s eternal destiny.
Both of these theologians were hypocrites who were slaves of the flesh. Why does it seem that grace and mercy are extended to Ladd when evaluating his life but not to Zacharias? Perhaps it was because Ladd was a scholarly Evangelical who studied at Harvard, while Zacharias’ academic credentials were meager at best. Perhaps it was because Ladd openly attacked Dispensationalism and Free Grace theology, winning over many theologians who shared those beliefs. For many, it is probably because Calvinists and Lordship Salvation adherents see Zacharias’ sins as worse than Ladd’s. Sexual lust and abuse disqualify somebody from being a child of God. Addiction to drugs, mistreating your family, love of the world, and pride do not. At least not if you’re a respected theologian.
That’s nonsense. If being a hypocritical, carnal believer means that Zacharias will not be in the kingdom, then let’s be consistent. The same is true for Ladd.
However, there is a better way to look at these two theologians. It is the Biblical way. If either or both believed in Jesus for eternal life, they were children of God. They will be in the kingdom.
Call it Free Grace. Call it what you will. But there will be many carnal hypocrites in the Lord’s kingdom. If they believed, that includes Zacharias and Ladd.
i Trevin Wax at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/book-review-a-place-at-the-table/. See also Changyoung Lee’s review in Seminary Studies (Spring 2010): 123-25.