Dr. Tony Evans
In his new book, Your Comeback: Your Past Doesn’t Have To Determine Your Future, Dr. Tony Evans, founding pastor of the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, journeys through the Bible to study examples of comebacks and the principles God prescribes for our lives.
Recently, he was picked as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English–speaking world.* As the first African–American to graduate with a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), he served as an associate professor in DTS’s Pastoral Ministries Department in the areas of evangelism, homiletics, and black church studies.
For three decades, Evans has served as chaplain for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, the longest standing NBA chaplaincy on record. He’s also the former chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys.
Through his local church and national ministry, Evans promotes a kingdom agenda philosophy that teaches God’s comprehensive rule over every sphere of life as demonstrated through the individual, family, Church, and society. This philosophy connects biblical spirituality with social responsibility.
Evans teaches that the Church is the best social service delivery system, since it is closer to the needs of the people, offers the largest potential volunteer force, has facilities for outreach programs, and provides a moral and spiritual frame of reference for making right choices.
You’ve spoken at several Salvation Army events. What is your personal connection with the Army?
When I was in college, I worked for one of the Army’s Boys’ Clubs in Atlanta. That’s how I paid my bills through a good portion of my college days. Through that mechanism, I got to know the Army a little bit more.
As I graduated and got into ministry, I was asked to come and speak at some Army events. What’s interesting is, today, my son Jonathan regularly speaks at men’s events sponsored by The Salvation Army. So we’re continuing this mini–legacy here!
You’ve written more than 100 published works. Why did you decide to write Your Comeback?
As a pastor, I realize that people are hurting. People need help. They need to understand that how they are now and how they have been, is not how life has to always be. I want to show, both through the Bible and in practical life, that God is regularly bouncing people back from their sins and their circumstances. That doesn’t mean they won’t have problems, but it does mean they’re not owned by them. God can lift you out of yesterday and give you a better tomorrow. So, the increase in hopelessness caused me to say, “You can bounce back. There is hope out there.”
What is causing this hopelessness?
[At the Urban Alternative] we divide the world into four categories; the individual, the family, the Church, and the broader society. You see breakdowns in all of those categories. Individually, people’s lives are being shattered by addictions, confusion, depression, and personal struggles. Family breakdowns are all over the place; we see divorce, abuse, and neglect.
We also see churches that are declining. We see the lack of unity within churches. Then we look at society, and we’re divided in every kind of way possible—politically, racially, culturally.
In every one of these categories, things seem to be spiraling downward. We see the violence that we’re dealing with everywhere we look. People just don’t know what to do.
When I look at the school shootings, I wonder, are they also an indication of the downward spiral?
Absolutely. That is what I call the dumbing down of the conscience. The less your conscience is operative, the less you care about yourself and others.
Your conscience is like the detector at the airport that would beep when you go through. The conscience is designed to beep when you are off. But if that detector is not sensitive, then it won’t beep. When it doesn’t beep, you don’t respond because there is nothing clueing you that you are moving in the wrong direction. That’s tied to the breakdown of the family, which is supposed to instill sensitivity to the conscience.
I also think about the shootings that occur daily, but don’t make the news. How do we come back from a consciousness that normalizes such events?
Well, we have to understand why we’re at this point; we are here because life no longer matters to a significant degree. So, you can take it away easily, if it doesn’t matter. But a lot of things have gone into that. Life doesn’t matter in the womb—abortion; life doesn’t matter in the family. The question now is, “where am I picking up my values; from the media? from the movies? from the gangs?” So we’re picking up a competing value system.
If that value system tells me, “in order to survive, I’ve got to get rid of you,” then I begin to operate out of that illegitimate value system. So, our next generation is being trained by the wrong people. This has become culture wide. Now, no matter where you go, including schools, like a pinball machine, you are bouncing into anti–God values.
We think we’re so in tune to what’s going on in the world, but are we actually becoming calloused to them?
Absolutely, and it’s spiritual in nature. When God is removed from any sphere, nature will create a vacuum that will be filled with things that are anti–God. God has been removed from lives, from families, from our schools, and from our culture. With that dissipation of the presence of God and the value system of God, our world is going to be filled with anti–God.
So what do we do to fill the vacuum and make our world more pro–God?
That’s a good question. Our churches of faith are going to have to go back to what I call “A Kingdom Agenda.” We define it as “The visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life.”
We’ve got to get back to infusing God’s value system into every segment of our society. That will come through disciple making, not just church going. We’ve got plenty of churches, but we’re not making enough disciples. Because we don’t have full–time followers, we wind up with part–time saints. So, it’s absolutely critical that the churches now re–infuse a value system into their individuals and families and then release them into the world—into the places where they work, play, and go to school.
Where in our country is this happening?
In our ministry, The Urban Alternative, we’re seeing in each one of those categories training for the individual, the family, the Church, and the community. As people are getting exposed to it, they are infiltrating these systems. So, we’re beginning to see it through what we’re doing and I know there are other entities that seek to do it too. But it’s a slow process. We didn’t get here overnight. So, we’re not going to get from here to where we need to be overnight.
How do the stories in Your Comeback address these issues?
Well, I show in a number of scenarios where people have made mistakes, where they have sinned, where circumstances have looked impossible. But God not only helped them, He actually reversed it. When you can see how that happened in biblical days, and when you learn the principles God uses for it to happen today, then you get hope.
You can go a long way with hope. Even if you haven’t seen something change yet, to know it could change, it might change, and it has changed for others before, will help you keep going, rather than give up and throw in the towel.
Why is the biblical character Naaman so important in Your Comeback?
Well, Naaman had leprosy. Of course, leprosy is used in the Bible as an illustration of the growth of sin in our lives. He had physical leprosy and there was no way to heal him. He’s in a hopeless situation. He’s told to go to Elisha, who has the answer. Elisha tells him to go wash in the Jordan River.
But then Naaman uses two words, “I thought.” He uses human understanding to say, “that won’t work. That doesn’t sound like a winnable solution to my everlasting problem.”
The servant of Elisha asks, “why don’t you just try what the prophet said?” Then, Naaman dips into the river seven times (the number of completion) and rises with skin like a baby.
Not only is his leprosy healed, it’s reversed. So, he’s actually better off than before because he followed God’s word, to the tee.
Are people such as Naaman actually getting in their own way?
Yes. We trip over ourselves regularly. We trip over each other, but our feet get entangled too—with ourselves, and then we blame it on other people. That’s because we do what Naaman did. We say, “I think,” “my opinion is,” “I feel.” When those thoughts and feelings go against God, we’re wrong, not God.
How have you made a comeback?
Well, there’s a couple of them. Many people don’t know that, when I was growing up, I stuttered badly. I could hardly get out a sentence without tripping over my words. Back then, no one imagined I would be doing what I’m doing today [preaching] as my work and profession. So, God turned that around. He used some godly people in my life so I could do what I’m doing now.
I also had a poor academic background. I was only allowed in school on probation. But I eventually graduated with a doctorate and with academic honors. You would not have thought this urban kid from Baltimore could have succeeded this way. But because of spiritual influences, my life got turned around. So, I’ve had some turnarounds too. We all need them on some level. I’m just glad God still gives them!
Will there be supporting materials accompanying Your Comeback?
Yes. We just launched a Tony Evans Training Center online where people can go and get training on some of the principles that are in the book. Just go to TonyEvans.org.
*Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching, Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary survey results for 2018.
Dr. Tony and Lois Evans are the parents of Chrystal Evans Hurst (author and speaker), Jonathan Evans (chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys), Anthony Evans (Christian vocalist), and Priscilla Shirer (evangelist and actor in “War Room,” and “If I Could Only Imagine”).
interview by Warren L. Maye