Citizen: You have an impressive resume by any standard, either evangelical or secular: The first African-American to earn a doctorate from the renowned Dallas Theological Seminary. Current chaplain of more than 30 years to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and past chaplain to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. You’ve published more than 100 books, booklets and Bible studies, and had a lot of influence on former President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives program. The president and founder of The Urban Alternative, a national ministry. A daily radio broadcast that reaches people through nearly 1,000 radio stations in more than 130 countries. A senior pastor to a megachurch. Still, even with all of that, you felt the drive to write Kingdom Citizen: Your Role in Rebuilding a Broken Nation. Where did the underlying philosophy of the book come from?
Tony Evans: This book comes from the same philosophy as The Kingdom Agenda [a previous book detailing what it means to live out the meaning of God’s Kingdom in every area of one’s life]. I’m talking about visible manifestation of the Kingdom agenda, but this time one specifically related to our civic engagement. So what does my civic life look in the marketplace?
C: Focus on the Family is publishing this book, and appropriately, you mention the topic of family many times in Kingdom Citizen. Your own family is obviously a top priority for you [wife Lois is senior vice president of The Urban Alternative; daughter Chrystal Hurst is a worship leader and co-author with her father of Kingdom Woman; daughter Priscilla Shirer is a New York Times bestselling author and founder of Going Beyond Ministries; son Anthony Jr. is a Christian music artist; and son Jonathan is a former NFL fullback, current chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and co-author with his father of Get in the Game]. What for you is the problem with the American family today?
TE: As I write in Kingdom Citizen, the root of individual, family, and societal mess stems from distance from God. The problem with our country today is not that God is not near. The problem is that we, the people, turn too quickly between near and far. We turn too quickly between God and other things that we look to in His place. As a result, the United States of America is undergoing the consequences of distance from God. We have removed ourselves from close proximity to Him.
C: You make that point abundantly clear more than once in the manuscript! For example, you write, “Our nations’ ills are not merely the result of corrupt politicians, terrorists, or extremists. Our troubles can be traced directly to ineffective Christians.” How do you want the average reader to receive that somewhat provocative sentence?
TE: Christians in this country have failed to be salt and light. We have been satisfied with attendance and Bible study, which are great in foundation, but not nearly enough for the purpose that God made for us here. He left us on this Earth for the express purpose of our influence and impact. Not only with other believers, but in the world in which we live. Christians are not having influence because they have not brought their faith into every area of their lives. It has opened the opportunity to allow anti-God forces to dominate.
C: You say you’ve been called to teach truth, not tickle ears. Do you anticipate losing any parishioners or readers over this book?
TE: No. People know telling the truth has always been my stand. The people who engage with me know; people who don’t engage with me may draw [their own] conclusions.
C: In this latest book, you talk about the minor prophet Joel being sent to help the Israelites of the Old Testament “catch the point.” Are there any modern-day Joels in America, in your opinion?
TE: There are several key pastors around the country who are sounding the alarm, and some key church leaders who are, too. They’re recognizing this is a spiritual war we’re battling; it is not purely political. But yet [the fight] should engage politics. The people in the pews are recognizing there’s something deeper going on that we’ve got to address, and that recognition is the starting point.
C: On that note, it seems like the people who most need this book—those who “play church”—probably won’t read it, while the ones who are already “Kingdom citizens” probably will. Does that fact matter? Should it?
TE: If the pastors in the pulpits do their jobs, they will be challenging those who sit on the fence. It’s up to us to be influencers, even within our own ranks.
C: Sort of like when you write, “We’ve had church, but we haven’t had transformation.”
C: So what, to you, is the difference between growing the church and the Kingdom?
TE: The purpose of growing the church is to develop disciples who service the Kingdom. The church is to prepare people to be representatives of the King and the King’s value system in every area of life, which we call “the Kingdom agenda.”
C: You say most Americans view God as a “harmless deity who doesn’t have anything significant to say about the educational, scientific, entertainment, civic, political, familial, legal or racial issues of the day.” Why is that?
TE: We have dumbed down the definition of God. The pulpits have dumbed down who God is; they talk about His love and grace, but not His justice and wrath. We have dumbed down our understanding of what is happening in the world.
C: Hence the “cracks in our nation’s foundation” you frequently reference throughout this book.
C: According to you, no other book in the Old Testament could be more relevant to our culture than Nehemiah. Why?
TE: When I write, “The book of Nehemiah, after all, is about a community gone bad. It is about devastation and all kinds of injustices. It is about family disintegration. You find everything in Nehemiah’s story from robbery to bad interest rates to employment problems. There exists all forms of relational discord, gossip, and sabotage, and all kinds of social and psychological trauma. Every aspect of the human dilemma exists in this book,” I am connecting what happened then to what is happening today.
C: When Nehemiah found out the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed, the Bible tells us he wept, fasted and prayed for days. You write: “This was a problem politicians and economists could not solve. It was a problem social scientists and the government could not solve. In spite of laws that were passed, the problem of the breakdown in society could not be solved. So what did Nehemiah do? Complain? Blame? Point fingers? Divide? Post polarizing opinions on social media? Mock others with disrespectful memes? Distract himself with entertainment? No. He did none of the above. When Nehemiah heard of the plight of his land, he took his very big problem to his even bigger God. Nehemiah was used by God to fix in 52 days what had lingered for 141 years.” What hope for us today!
TE: But first we must recognize there is no salvation by government.
C: It’s easy to feel depressed and hopeless when you realize the government can no longer, or never could, save us. What do we do with those feelings?
TE: Three things. First, the Bible says that we are to cry out to God; that’s why the Israelites called for a solemn assembly. Secondly, we must decide personally that we’re going to become full-time disciples, not part-time Christians. Third, we need to see the need for connecting with other believers who have influence with others, so that people can see, through our good works, the benefit of our faith.
C: That would seem to require an incredible amount of humility and a desire to truly seek God’s face, not just his blessings. You wrote that “most people in the U.S. do not want the true God interfering with their lives either, or reminding us that He has an agenda greater than our own.”
TE: Indeed. We have become far more fascinated with selfies than with service.
C: Another convicting quote from Kingdom Citizen was, “You can make an idol of the American flag, when you wrap civil religion in it and allow it to usurp the kingdom of God. Whenever you put America and God on equal footing, you have now created a false god called civil religion.” Can you give some concrete examples of how one might know this is happening in his or her own heart?
TE: One way is when someone can more easily talk about politics than talk about their own faith. They are looking to politics, in other words, to be the ultimate answer to our nation’s problems, rather than God’s view of government to be the answer to our problems. We are often looking to politics to do what it cannot do. We are supposed to be a nation under God, not a nation equal to God.
C: On that note, it is interesting to read in the text of Nehemiah that Israel still had plenty of priests during its time of crisis. It wasn’t the lack of pastors, in other words, that caused the spiritual despair, but instead the lack of, as Nehemiah says, “teaching priests.” What do you want America’s pastors to take away from this book?
TE: I want them to ask themselves, “Am I just having church or am I helping make disciples? Am
I preaching the whole counsel of God or just making people feel better about themselves?” We are actually contributing to our problems when we do that; we become co-conspirators to the issue.
C: This summer, we saw a lot of tragic events rooted in racial tension. One person you mention who tried to bring God’s value system back into the culture of His day was Martin Luther King, Jr. How do you personally answer his call to love?
TE: What MLK Jr. did with the Civil Rights Movement—churches coming together to change laws—is exactly what needs to happen today. We need to show that same kind of love, that same kind of influence.
C: What about all the Americans who are still following God in a Kingdom manner? What about when they too suffer consequences from God “giving them over” to the surrounding nation’s ungodly
desires, like what Paul talks about in the first chapter of Romans?
TE: The responsibility of Christians when they are suffering the consequences of their environment is to faithfully represent Christ like Daniel did in Babylon. The Bible says when we take a stand in an ungodly world, people will be looking for help and hope to proclaim Him all the more. We are not to turn away from exercising our faith because folks will need it; they will be even more desperate, in fact.
For More Information:
To learn more about Dr. Tony Evans, hear his sermons or watch his TV broadcasts, visit tonyevans.org. For further information on The Urban Alternative, see tonyevans.org/about/the-urban-alternative. Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship website can be found at ocbfchurch.org. To purchase a copy of the book, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com/KingdomCitizen.
Originally published in the September 2016 issue of Citizen magazine.