NASHVILLE — Moral and societal issues are worsening across the United States because Christians are becoming more “cultural” than “biblical,” and the country is facing God’s judgment as a result, according to pastor and bestselling author Tony Evans.
“We’ve been more cultural Christians than biblical Christians,” Evans, the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, told The Christian Post in a sit-down interview.
“Our identity is to be rooted in the Imago Dei, in the image of God. But we’ve gotten so ingrained in the thinking of the culture, that we wind up being parakeets to what the society is saying, rather than taking a solid, loving but clear stance on what God is saying,” he continued.
The 72-year-old founder and president of The Urban Alternative is the author of over 125 books, booklets and Bible studies. The first African American to earn a doctorate in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, he recently released an updated version of his 2015 book, Oneness Embraced: A Kingdom Approach to Race, Reconciliation, and Justice.
In it, he offers an alternative way of looking at the racial tensions seen across the country and a biblical framework for unity, why it matters, what it is, and how it works.
“From womb to tomb, God identifies the person as a bearer of the image of God, so much so that James 3:9 says that you can’t even curse a person because they are created in the image of God,” he said.
“The dignity of every human being has to be held in the highest standard less you insult God. And when you understand that, that is how God made us and that is how he wants us to relate, God is not colorblind, He’s just not blinded by color. He recognizes and has created the uniquenesses of the cultures in which we are born and the ethnicities, but He never wants that to be the deciding factor for decision making in our lives.”
Evans explained that elevating anything — identity, race or national allegiance — above Christianity “is idolatry,” and “whenever that national allegiance causes you to have non-Christian perspectives, underneath the flag, then what you have done is you’ve created a national idol that God must resist, reject and judge.”
“I think one of the things we’re facing now is the judgment on America because the failure of the Church to be the people of God that represents His Kingdom more than we represent the nation,” the pastor said.
God’s judgment is currently playing out, he said, as evidenced by the conflicts that seem unending in recent years. He cited 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, which reads, in part: “One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress,” and Romans 1, which speaks of God removing Himself from those who remove themselves from Him.
“What we’re seeing now is conflict, and the conflict is the judgment because God has been removed and the idolatry of culture, nationalism, and race has replaced God’s primacy in our lives,” Evans said. “He’s allowing a conflict until it gets so bad that we wake up and look up.”
“What God does is He lets things continually decline until we get desperate enough to return to His standard, and His standard is biblical unity,” the pastor continued. “God has one goal line and that’s His kingdom, and His kingdom is His divine rule. And He wants to rule and overrule our ethnicity. He wants to rule and overrule our skin color. He wants to rule and overrule our human relationships when they get in the way of His divine standard. So there must be a radical return to biblical truth, biblical standards and biblical unity.”
He explained that whenever God sees disunity, “He keeps Himself away because He can’t be Himself because of His unified nature.”
“So we’re actually praying, preaching and having worship services while telling God He’s not invited, because of our illegitimate disunity, which means we just wasted our time,” he said.
The answer, Evans said, is reconciliation and unity, and that’s something the Church desperately needs. He encouraged Christians to act as “bridge builders” and foster relationships with those across the racial and cultural lines “without compromising the essentials of the faith.”
“From God’s throne comes righteousness and justice. Righteousness is the standard of right and wrong that is established by God. Justice is the equitable application of God’s moral law applied in society. So one is vertical obedience, and the other is a horizontal relationship. And whenever you have the vertical and horizontal you can have the cross.” Evans contended.
“The way you know you’re being serious about the conflicts in the culture is that you are visibly and verbally involved in reconciling things that have been historically divided. If all we’re doing is discussion, discussing our division and not creating the windshield of reconciliation, because we’re living in the rearview mirror of our past history, we will not be moving where God is moving. And if we’re not moving where God is moving, we’re moving by ourselves.”
Evans shared his thoughts on some of the other issues plaguing the church, including the exodus of young people from the Church. A recent study found that Generation Z, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is now the least religious generation yet, with 34% of them identifying as religiously unaffiliated.
To combat this trend, the father-of-four said “we must speak in the language that people are listening to today,” and for the younger generation, social media and technology will be a driving force in communication. He stressed the importance of “relationship and relevancy” when it comes to getting young people involved in church.
“I think we need to amp up how you can use that to share your faith, because now you’re being relevant to the communicative mechanisms that are relevant in the culture, but then it must be combined with relationship,” he explained. “Because their generation is so relationally driven, we want to provide points of connectivity … they’re so engaged in improving things in the in the culture, this gives them a tool they can use to make a difference while they’re sharing their faith.”
Evans also issued a challenge to pastors and church leaders as scandals within the ministry continue to arise and reports reveal that just 37% of pastors have a biblical worldview.
“I want to challenge them to stay tethered to the Word and their relationship to the Lord as their primary goal, because ministry can become a God within itself; it can become your idol,” the Winning Your Spiritual Battles author said.
“And when ministry becomes your idol, God is in the background, and when God is in the background, you become vulnerable,” he continued. “So I would say keep that dynamic to God’s Word and God’s person as a promise in your life, and then have people around you who can speak into you with authority. Don’t be an isolated Lone Ranger, because like a salmon swimming upstream, a bear can pick you off if you’re isolated. So you want to make sure that you’re in relationships that can be sustainable, and that can be authoritative in your life.”
But though times can seem bleak, Evans emphasized that “we can still have hope,” because one of two things is happening: God is allowing chaos because He’s setting things up for His return, or, if He’s not returning on the short term, He’s doing a “divine reset and reshaping culture, because He’s been marginalized too long.”
“He’s upsetting the applecart until we get back in line with Him so that He can do something new,” Evans added. “Either way, we’re going to be better off.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: [email protected]