The short answer is no.
I am fact checking claims about the academic credentials of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias made by atheist Steve Baughman. Baughman first raised his concerns in 2015 and then again earlier this month. My first post checking into Zacharias’ credentials was yesterday when I examined his improper use of the title “Dr.” Today, I take up Zacharias’ claim about being a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. As far as I can tell, this claim first showed up in Intervarsity promotional material in 1993.
There are some facts mixed in with a misleading statement, so let’s examine the details.
Zacharias said he studied at the University of Cambridge in 1990. In his book, Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows, Zacharias wrote:
He made the claim more succinctly in at least four other books. For instance in his 2004 book, Can Man Live Without God?, he wrote:
Was Ravi Zacharias a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge?
He very specifically claims in his books that he was invited to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. No other school or institution is mentioned. There is more to this story that he doesn’t say. Read on for the rest of the story.
This description of Zacharias has spread widely. The Colson Center‘s author page says Zacharias was “a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.” Lee Strobel, James Dobson, the people who put on the Worldview Apologetics Conference, the folks at Moody Bible Institute, the Oklahoma Christian University community, the 2015 commencement audience at Oral Roberts University, and many others believe Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University based on his word.
Regarding his studies at Cambridge, Professor Jeremy Begbie (Senior Member, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge; former Associated Principal, Ridley Hall, Cambridge) has provided the following written statement: “I can confirm that Ravi Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge in 1990, under my supervision. His courses included guided research with Dr. Begbie, lectures from resident and visiting instructors in the Romantic writers, lectures at the University’s Divinity School from Don Cupitt, additional course in quantum physics with Dr. John Polkinghorne, and studies in world religions with Dr. Julious Lipner and others.
I wrote Dr. Begbie, who is now at Duke University and asked if this statement was accurate. He replied:
Yes – my statement is accurate (although Lipner’s name is misspelt – it should be Julius). RZ [Ravi Zacharias] was invited by Ridley Hall, not the University. Ridley Hall is not, and was not then, run by the University. The lower case “visiting scholar” was chosen to make it clear that to my memory he was not given a formal title – but he was exactly what the words say: a visiting scholar. Polkinghorne taught courses in theology and science for many years after relinquishing his University position in physics.
Let’s unpack this.
Zacharias Was Invited to Ridley Hall Not the University of Cambridge
Several colleges and universities exist in Cambridge. As in many large cities, the schools are very close together and have agreements to work together on projects while they maintain their distinctive missions. Ridley Hall is an school in the town of Cambridge which exists to prepare people for ministry, primary in the Church of England. The University of Cambridge is a world class university. Both are located in Cambridge, England. As Dr. Begbie said, Ridley Hall wasn’t then, nor is it now, run by the University of Cambridge. Ridley Hall has a visiting scholar program which Zacharias participated in, but this had nothing to do with the University. When Zacharias said he was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, he wasn’t being truthful. He was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, which is an educational institution in Cambridge, England.
As a consequence of being in Cambridge, Ridley Hall has cultivated relationships with the University of Cambridge. This allows Ridley Hall students to take classes and attend lectures at Cambridge University. As Dr. Begbie told me, Zacharias did that as a part of his sabbatical at Ridley Hall by taking these classes and lectures with people at Cambridge. However, he was never an invited visiting scholar at Cambridge and did his work under the supervision of Dr. Begbie who was at Ridley Hall.
After this was pointed out to Zacharias by Steve Baughman, Zacharias changed his bio to the following verbiage (from his academy bio):
Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (then affiliated with Cambridge University, now more recently allied with Cambridge and affiliated with Durham University) where he studied moralist philosophers and literature of the Romantic era.
This is still a bit of an embellishment. It appears he really wants people to know he spent a few months attending lectures in Cambridge, England. However, there is no meaningful connection between Ridley Hall and the University of Cambridge which is relevant to a bio.
Prior post in this series: Is Dr. Zacharias in the House? Did Ravi Zacharias Claim to Have Doctorates He Doesn’t Have?