Tony Evans, Race, and the Bible
Pastor John, you spoke in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Kainos Conference in 2014 along with Tony Evans. Do you have any impressions or thoughts you want to share about the event, the movement, or what you heard there?
Yes. I want to celebrate the Kainos event and the Kainos Movement. I also want to celebrate Tony Evans’s message, which he gave on April 16 in Memphis. My heart is brimming with those two things right now.
Bryan Loritts is the lead pastor for Fellowship Memphis. He was part of the church when it was founded in 2003. They aimed for a multiethnic church of disciples and disciple-makers in the old south of Memphis, the very city where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. To have a vision of multiethnic churches is to swim against the current there. The Kainos Movement wants to encourage pastors to grow those kinds of churches. I believe Bryan’s church is about sixty percent white and forty percent black, and there are other ethnicities in the mix as well. That is what the Kainos Movement is.
I was a part of the event held in Memphis, along with Tony Evans. The event encouraged pastors to move toward diversity. Because I love this vision, I was also happy to be a part of the newly released book called Letters to a Birmingham Jail, which contains responses from Bryan, John Perkins, myself, and others.
I want to celebrate what Bryan is doing. I want to encourage people to be aware of it and to dream their own dreams about growing the church of Christ into the kind of multiethnic face it will have in the kingdom.
“Jesus is not calling white to be black or black to be white, but both to be biblical.”
I also want to celebrate Tony Evans’s message. I had never heard Tony Evans preach in person. Tony was the first African American to get his doctorate from Dallas Seminary, and today he is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. He and I did a Q&A together where Bryan asked us questions. We were the two old guys (I think he is 65; I am 68). Because we are older, we have lived through a lot of racial history. Bryan wanted us to tell our stories. My head just spun with amazement as I listened to all the ministries that Dr. Evans’s church has spawned. But I mainly came away with a very happy, celebrative response to his message that evening.
He preached first, and then I preached. When he preached, I sat enthralled at the way he used the Bible and spoke from the Bible to the issues of racial diversity and harmony. He took his text from John 4, which is about the woman at the well. He walked us through it, dropping nuggets of wisdom everywhere. Let me give you just a few.
In John 4, Jesus is passing through Samaria. Jews did not go through Samaria. They went around Samaria. Why did he go through? Dr. Evans said, “Spiritual needs overrode cultural differences.” That was the banner flying over Evans’s whole message. And he was so right.
The woman at the well knew that Jesus was a Jew. She called him a Jew. But how did she know? He didn’t say, “I am a Jew.” But Jesus looked like a Jew. He dressed like a Jew. He acted like a Jew. Thus, she knew he was a Jew. He did not stop being a Jew in order to reach this half-breed Samaritan. You need not stop being who you are in order to reach across the line. However, you must not let who you are get in the way of reaching, either. Those are the two prongs that moved me. Do not stop being who you are and do not let who you are get in the way of reaching out to people different from you.
Stunningly, as Evans noted, Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He was going to put his lips to the very vessel that this unclean non-Jew carried. Evans pointed out that Jesus was going after this woman’s soul. That is clear. He would try to reach her. He wanted her to be a true worshiper of God. However, Evans said, Jesus did not touch her soul until he was willing to drink from her cup. That was very, very insightful.
“American racism would not have lasted so long if things had been right in the pulpits.”
Best of all, because of the long-term implications, was the forceful way in which Dr. Evans used the Bible as the plumb line. We should not use racial preferences as the plumb line in all of our activity regarding race and ethnicity. Dr. Evans said, “Jesus is not calling white to be black or black to be white, but both to be biblical,” and, “Biblical truth overrides cultural difference.” He said, “Adjust your humanity to your faith, not your faith to your humanity,” and, “Black is beautiful only when it is biblical. White is right only when it agrees with holy writ.” That not only sounds good; that is good. Those words are powerful and good.
After John 4, Dr. Evans took a side trip over to Galatians 2. In Galatians 2, Paul writes how he scolded Peter for not walking in step with the gospel. Clearly, Evans said, the gospel has implications for relational behaviors. He used the terms “content of the gospel” and “scope of the gospel.” He defined the “content” of the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus died for us. He rose again. We must believe in him. If we do, he will give us eternal life. But the “scope” of the gospel has radical implications, like, Do you eat pork chops with Gentiles or not?
He said one last thing very confrontationally that I took to heart. He said that American racism would not have lasted so long if things had been right in the pulpits. He pled with pastors, with myself and others, to see these things and to proclaim them with clarity and power. I came away from the Kainos Movement, the Kainos event, and that time with Bryan Loritts and Dr. Evans greatly encouraged. I hope lots of people get on board with what Bryan is trying to do. It was an honor to be part of that event.