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.”
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.
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.”
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.”