Tony Evans on Living Life without Bounds

Karen Jones

Born into an environment marked by racial segregation and social disparity, Dr. Tony Evans saw the need for something more in his community—something that could not be provided by the government. He looked to the “hands-on church” for help. “The Church is the best social service delivery system in the country. It is the largest social institution and has the greatest potential volunteer force. It also has a standard to judge right and wrong—the Bible.”

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Throughout his life, Evans has been an advocate for racial reconciliation and strengthening communities through the Church. In 1982, he became the first African-American to graduate with a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. Currently, he presides over Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, which has over 100 ministries and a social outreach program called The Turn-Around Agenda. He is also the president of The Urban Alternative, a national ministry that seeks to bring about spiritual renewal in America through the Church.

RECONCILING DISPARITY

Born in 1949 and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Evans came from a hardworking urban family that did not tolerate laziness. His father, Arthur, made a living as a longshoreman. It was Arthur’s conversion to Christianity that started 10-year-old Tony on his own spiritual path. Evans saw his father turn to God for answers to racial inequality and other “inner city problems” in his working-class neighborhood. But something still disturbed him—in Oneness Embraced, he observes: “I could not comprehend why the Chure spiritual while neglecting the social, or why social activism should be done—as it was so often done—absent of a sound theology integrated in and through the local church.” Because of this, by age 18, Evans knew he wanted to go into ministry.

FAITH ISN’T PART TIME

In 1968, while studying at the Carver Bible College in Atlanta, Evans wrestled with issues of race, evangelicalism and what he saw as the apparent disconnect between theological study and practice. This ignited his interest in kingdom theology, which he defines as “the visible manifestation and application of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life—the individual, the family, church and society.”

Since then, Evans has lived and taught this philosophy. “We teach that no life is out of bounds for the rule of God, and the rule of God is to be manifested over every aspect of life. Everything has to have God’s viewpoint as the foundation.” He adds that separating the sacred from the secular can cause people’s lives to be chaotic. “All of life is sacred because it is ruled by God,” he says. And that rule is 24/7—not just when people grant God “visiting rights now and then.”

COMMITMENT TO GROWTH

Evans says that commitment is key when it comes to personal Bible study. He carves out time early in the day to make sure his hectic schedule does not inhibit his study. Three times a year he goes away to do concentrated Bible study for a couple of days.

Evans says that no matter how many times you read the Bible, you can always expect to grow in the Word. “You can never fully exhaust Scripture because it’s authored by an infinite person with infinite wisdom.” He adds that as you grow in the Word, it becomes clearer. “Hebrews, for example, is going to be a tough book without an Old Testament background. Once you learn one part of the Bible, it helps you learn another.” Evans’ favorite book is Ephesians because it is all about the Church. “In my heart I am an ecclesiologist. My view of the Church and love for the Church causes me to be in love with this book.”

He also has a specific routine for personal growth. “I try to take things I am ministering on and make them things I am learning about myself. As Paul told Timothy, ‘Let people see your growth in the Word.’ I am studying the Word [to learn] about things for my own personal growth.” Evans studies anything he is interested in or going to be speaking about. “I read as much as I can on that subject from other biblical writers and teachers. That is an ongoing enterprise.”

NEW ENDEAVORS

Evans advises Christians just beginning to study the Bible to read the book of John, which introduces Jesus. He then suggests a route: Review what you are learning in church, go back to the Gospels, read the rest of the New Testament and then start back at Genesis. “Reading the Bible is to become more acquainted with what God says; studying the Bible is to become more acquainted with what God means. Sometimes what God says is sufficient, but there are times when we need to go deeper.”

Evans also encourages Christians to get involved in a group Bible study through a local church. “It can put you in contact with other believers where you can grow together in God’s Word. I believe there ought to be connected relationships where you are learning and applying the Word together—you cannot maximize spiritual growth as a ‘Lone Ranger’ Christian.”

DEALING WITH DEFEAT

As former chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys, Evans presided over weekly chapel worship and was available for spiritual councel. He worked through his ministry and his relationship with NFL players to save marriages and families—recognizing that the greatest social challenge for Christians today is the breakdown of the family.

“I remember a leading NFL player coming to my house and saying, ‘I am a winner on the field and loser in life. Let me win both places.’ ”

Today, Evans serves as chaplain for the Mavericks. It is sometimes a challenge to counsel a tough team of professionals who are trained to win. When the team loses, Evans offers John 16:33, which says: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” He emphasizes that “being in the world does not mean you win all the time—that’s a false view. It does mean that your circumstances do not define your well-being. If you can establish that your well-being is defined by your spiritual relationship and not by one day’s outcome, it changes how you view defeat. Let hopelessness drive you to Him, and He can give back what you thought you lost.”

A COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE

Evans is confident in the Church’s ability to provide social services to communities—locally or worldwide. “The goal of the Church is to influence culture through good works. Good works are things that benefit others who are in need, for which God gets the glory. We need to be known for the good works we do.”

The power of this faith-based force was evident during the Hurricane Katrina crisis in New Orleans. “The Church has facilities from which social services can emanate. Churches were more important than anyone realized when Katrina hit.” While the government was slow to react and respond, the churches were there immediately. “Compassion is part of our DNA, and churches are closer to the needs of the people. No other national entity can bring eternal value into temporal reality.”

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 1

Redeeming Disillusion

Wendy Alsup

There is blessing in disillusionment.

I always felt that I was living my life according to God’s plan. I built dreams and created expectations, assuming that they would be fulfilled if I made the right choices. But then I woke up to a reality that didn’t match my hopes.

As a young woman, I desperately longed for a child. I looked forward to being defined by motherhood. Instead, I was crushed by a season of miscarriage and infertility. After finally experiencing the joy of giving birth to my first child, I found that my vision of motherhood was naïve; I was challenged at every level. Nearly crushed with the emotional fatigue, I felt brokenhearted and disappointed.

My beliefs about how my life would turn out were pleasant but false. I was forced to recognize that I was clinging to a pretense.

We often build pretenses for how our Christian lives should appear: ideas we imagine should govern our lives, rights we perceive we have. Yet our pretenses often lack the foundation that God has His own plans for our lives.

We long for a path free from pain and barriers, but God doesn’t always follow the easy trail. Fortunately, when we are crushed and brokenhearted—even from our own pretenses—we know that the brokenness doesn’t separate us from God. It draws us nearer to Him.

Psalm 34 meets us in our affliction: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.… The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned” (Psa 34:18–19, 22).

Scripture promises that our pretenses will be surpassed by God’s far greater purpose for our lives. Romans 9:33 assures, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Whatever it is that has disillusioned you, believe confidently that God has not squandered His plan for you; He will redeem your pain. Take refuge in Him, as the psalmist proclaims, knowing that His plan eclipses your own. When you finally sit with Him face to face, you will not be disappointed.

Biblical references are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 1

Connecting the Stories

John D. Barry

Isaiah 1:1–2:5; Luke 1:1–38; Job 1:1–12

The connections between the Testaments aren’t readily apparent, but a closer reading—empowered by the Spirit—can reveal them. Such is the case with the connections among Isaiah, Luke, and Job. The authors of each of these books begin by introducing a person, and then they invite us into the story.

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright and God-fearing and turning away from evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him” (Job 1:1–2).

“The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, heavens, and listen, earth, for Yahweh has spoken: ‘I reared children and I brought them up, but they rebelled against me’ ” (Isa 1:1–2).

“Since many have attempted to compile an account concerning the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning passed on to us, it seemed best to me also—because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning—to write them down in orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty concerning the things about which you were taught” (Luke 1:1–4). Although these three introductions represent a simple pattern repeated among the books, only later do we see the deeper parallels. Isaiah draws on the thematic framework of Job: People need an advocate—someone righteous to stand between themselves and God—because all people are unworthy (Job 9; compare Isa 49:1–3; 52:13–53:12). We then find that Luke draws upon Isaiah’s framework: He identifies this advocate as a savior who will suffer on behalf of God’s people (the Suffering Servant; Luke 4:22–30; compare Isa 52:14–15; 53:3).

The narratives in these books quickly lead us in directions we don’t expect, and as we begin to feel the tension and disorientation of the characters, the focus of each shifts to the savior at the center of God’s work in the world. In the midst of the pain these stories record, we see God working out something great—something beautiful. The world will be saved through one man: Jesus, God’s Son. This Suffering Servant will pay the price for the sins of us all. No matter the time, the place, or the people, God’s work in the world reflects and builds on itself to accomplish His great purpose of salvation.

How does your story fit in the story of God’s saving work? What part do you play? How will your story be told?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels

James R. Hamrick

James, Paul, and the Gospels
Eerdmans, 2011

In this work, James D.G. Dunn explores the origins of Christianity. Beginning with Jesus and the Gospels, he discusses characteristics of the historical Jesus, the reliability of the Gospels, the oral nature of early traditions about Jesus, and the emphases of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Dunn also dedicates a chapter to the relationship between the teachings of Jesus and Paul.

Discussions in the final section of the book focus on Paul’s understanding of himself and his mission, the nature of his conversion, his relationship to Judaism and his understanding of the body of Christ.

Dunn argues that the similarities and differences between the Gospels are the result of oral tradition. He holds that the inclusion of the Gentiles among God’s people is the driving factor in Paul’s mission and theology. This book is an excellent resource for anyone who is curious about the beginnings of Christianity.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 1

The Ancient’s Guide to the Galaxy

Michael S. Heiser

God chose a specific time, place and culture to inspire people to produce what we read in the Old Testament: the ancient Mediterranean and the ancient Near East of the second and first millennia BC. Understanding the worldview of this culture can lead to more faithful understandings of Scripture on our part, especially when it comes to understanding how the Israelites viewed God and the universe.

OLD TESTAMENT COSMOLOGY

“Cosmology” refers to the way we understand the structure of the universe. The biblical writers’ conception of how the heavens and earth were structured by God represents a particular cosmology.

The Israelites believed in a universe that was common among the ancient civilizations of the biblical world. It encompassed three parts: a heavenly realm, an earthly realm for humans and an underworld for the dead. These three tiers are reflected in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exod 20:4).

THE HEAVENS

We find an Israelite understanding of the heavens in Genesis 1:6–8, which describes it as an expanse, with waters above and below: “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse (רקיע, raqia’) in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ … And it was so. And God called the expanse (רקיע, raqia’) Heaven.”

The sky, thought to be a solid firmament, separated the waters above from the waters below: “When he established the heavens, I [Wisdom] was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep” (Prov 8:27–28).

The firmament dome surrounded the earth, with its edge meeting at the horizon—“the boundary between light and darkness” (Job 26:10). It was supported by “pillars” or “foundations,” thought to be the tops of mountains, whose peaks appeared to touch the sky. The heavens had doors and windows through which rain or the waters above could flow upon the earth from their storehouses (Gen 7:11; 8:2; Psa 78:23; 33:7).

God was thought to dwell above the firmament, as described in Job 22:14: “Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see, and he walks on the vault of heaven.”

THE EARTH

The earth sat upon the watery deep. The “waters below” speak not only to waters that people use, but also the deeper abyss. Thus, the earth was surrounded by the seas (Gen 1:9–10), having arisen out of the water (2 Pet 3:5). The earth was thought to be held fast by pillars or sunken foundations (1 Sam 2:8; Job 38:4–6; Psa 104:5).

THE UNDERWORLD

The realm of the dead was located under the earth. The most frequent term for this place was sheol (שאול; Prov 9:18; Psa 6:4–5; 18:4–5). The word for “earth” (ארץ, ʾerets) is also used—the graves dug by humans represented gateways to the Underworld. In Job, the realm of the dead is described in watery terms: “The dead tremble under the waters and their inhabitants. Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering” (Job 26:5–6).

Jonah’s description is perhaps the most vivid. Though in the belly of the great fish, Jonah says he is in the Underworld: the watery deep “at the roots of the mountains,” a “pit” that had “bars” that closed forever (Jonah 2:5–6).

Becoming familiar with the ancient Near Eastern worldview can help us interpret the Old Testament. By understanding the Israelites’ concept of cosmology, we have a better idea of their perceptions of God.

GOD HEAVEN OF HEAVENS

The Israelites’ conception of the universe encompassed three parts: a heavenly realm, an earthly realm for humans and an underworld for the dead.

The heavens separated the waters and had doors and windows through which rain or waters above could flow upon the earth.

The earth sat upon the watery deep and was surrounded by the seas, having arisen out of the water.

The underworld, located under the earth, was the realm of the dead.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 1