Tony Evans on “Transdispensationalism”

In his book, Totally Saved, Tony Evans attempts to answer the question, “What about those who have never heard?” in the appendix section. Evans argues for an explanation which he calls “transdispensationalism” (rivaled only by transubstantianism in a contest for most theological syllables). What I did not know was that the appendix in which this material is found was NOT printed in the future paperback edition. Jim Sutherland, who recognized this problem, wrote the following:

"Not knowing if this appendix omission was due to criticism of Moody Press for printing the appendix, or due to a change in Dr. Evans’ position, I tried for over 4 months to determine from Dr. Evans if he still would continue to teach and promulgate this particular doctrine. I could get no reply, so must assume that he may continue to teach and promote “transdispensationalism.” What was said of learned Greek father Origin could be said of Dr. Evans, that in his pastoral concern he has turned a hope into a doctrine."

So what exactly is transdispensationalism? It is a whacky word for a whacky idea. But instead of attempting to sum up what Evans argues, I am reproducing the section of the appendix where Evans himself explains the idea (bold faced mine):

Now there’s a third way God can deal in grace with those who can’t believe because they have never heard the gospel. He can apply another dispensation and its criteria to them. A dispensation is simply an economy or an administration of God, a way in which He deals with people based on the information he has given them.

For instance, people in the Old Testament were saved without hearing the name of Jesus, because Jesus hadn’t come to earth yet. But they were saved because they believed in the revelation of God.

The Bible says Abraham believed God and was accounted as righteous, or saved, for believing in God’s promise of a son and a seed (Genesis 15:6). This was long before the Mosaic sacrificial system was ever begun.

Abraham believed without hearing about Jesus, but I am not saying that people can be saved apart from Jesus. Never. Nobody can get saved without Jesus, because He is the Savior of all men, as we read in 1 Timothy 4:10. Everybody is saved through Christ, even those who lived before Jesus came, because in the mind and heart of God, Jesus was already sacrificed to pay for sin before the world was ever created (see Revelation 13:8). So a person can be saved without knowing Jesus’ name, but not without Jesus’ provision for sin.

In the case of a person who never hears the gospel and never knows the name of Jesus, but who responds to the light he has, God treats that person like an Old Testament saint, if you will. That is, if the person trusts in what God has revealed, God deals with that person based on the knowledge he has, not the information he never received. I call this transdispensationalism.

By this I mean if a person is sincerely seeking God and desiring to know Him, and is responding to the truth he knows, if there is no missionary or direct manifestation of God, then God judges that person based on his faith in the light he has received. And as in the case of Abraham, God will retroactively count this person as righteous by applying the death of Christ from the dispensation of grace.

John MacArthur, in a question and answer session was asked about his reference to the idea of transdispensationalism in a message to which he replied:

“Obviously, there is no biblical defense for that, and none is attempted in the book—none. There isn’t even a verse to defend that. Furthermore, living up to natural human light, apart from the revelation of the true and living God, wouldn’t save anybody in any dispensation. But, it is a very—it is a very strange thing and, to this degree, to the degree that He gives salvation to those who have never heard the gospel, it’s a departure from what we believe the scripture teaches. . . .

There was a radio interview that followed that book that’s available. You can get the transcript of that radio interview, in which the host was interviewing Tony Evans and said to him, “You’re saying, if a Hindu looks up and says, ‘I know you’re up there somewhere. I don’t know who you are, but I’d really like to know you,’ God will count that as sufficient as salvation?” And the answer to that was “Yes.”

Evans recognized a future objection: “Tony, if you say people can be saved by general revelation, why preach the gospel? Why bother sending missionaries around the world and translating the Bible?” Evans gives two (really bad) answers to this objection:

1. Because Christ has commanded us to go and tell the whole world the good news of His salvation.

2. Because the process I just described for those who haven’t heard of Christ is far from automatic. Whatever we may try to deduce from Scripture about those who have never heard about Christ, we know without a doubt that those who hear and believe the gospel will be saved. (emphasis mine)

One answer to this question is “because I said so,” and the other is “well, it might not actually work.” After having read this piece one will easily see that there is no substantive biblical warrant for such a position. However, as I have come to find out, this is an argument being many by several inclusivists. In a follow-up post, I will provide quotes as well as the line of argument for what Millard Erickson called “chronologically displaced persons” (which is the same thing as Evans’ transdispensationalism).

What say you, so what happens to those who never heard of Christ and dies?

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Bro. Newman:

People are not saved because they die and they are not saved because they have never heard, they are only saved in Jesus name. And it is precisely due to the fact that millions are dying every day and going to hell because they do know have this knowledge of Jesus that makes the delivery of the Scriptures so urgent and important. Why God chose to work in this way I do not know and it is not for us to understand why. What I do know about how God works in through His Word and His Word is very clear about how people are save (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved - John 3:16).

After reading your post on pg 2, it appears that you are saying those who of the OT were condemned to hell because they did not know Jesus. Since Jesus was not born during those times, they didn't have one iota of a chance for salvation, including Noah and his family after being saved from the Great Flood.
Unfortunately, there are instances in the Bible where people are accused of things that they may have not been directly involved in. We all know the garden of eden account. Our foreparents sinned and the results were that the whole human race was condemned for it. It doesnt seem fair but who are we to question Gods program? Also in Hebrews chapter 7 we see where Levi, who was not yet born was accredited for the payment of the tithe to Melchizedek through his fore parent Abraham. Which God also accredited this same act to the whole Levitical tribe because they were in the loins of Abraham. Looking at these two bible truths, one may come to the conclusion that some of us end up in the position we're in because of a decision that our foreparents have made. Based on this I believe that their are tribes that exist in this world that have not heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of a decision that their foreparents made at some point in history. Someone in their past made a decision that caused that particular people to be in a position where they are not able to receive the gospel and based on that alone they can be condemned. It dont seem fair but who are we to question God? If somehow the gospel reaches them then that is only by Gods grace. Even in Romans 9 God says he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. Its all according to Gods purpose.
I can agree with you on this, totally.
Regardless of how people may feel about it, the fact of the matter is that JESUS said:

Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

So that raises the clear question of "how can I be judged a non-believer if I never received the chance to hear of the name of JESUS? Why am I judged as a doubter of Him if I never even heard of Him?"

No scripture is given that says that all people will hear the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST at all! N-O-N-E.

Genesis 20:4-5 "But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, LORD, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this."

This man plead ignorance in the court of GOD and was spared. GOD is a righteous judge who says that HE will judge you according to what you know and according to your deeds (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14;Romans 2:25-29; Revelation 2:24-25; Revelation 20:12). How can such say "go to eternal damnation for the crime of rejecting Christ" if your defense is "but LORD, I never even got the fair chance of knowing who you are"??

Be righteous and wise in your judgment people........
Excellent points Trevor,

For me, Romans 2: 12-15 highlights that the Spirit of God is at work to bring about salvation, where the gospel cannot be preached.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
The only problem I have with your statement is the fact that whether you are saved or condemned, God is greatly responsible for whatever your fate may be. He says in Romans chapter 9 Jacob I loved and Esau I hated before either of them even had the opportunity to make a decision for themselves. Can Esau say to God You made me like this? The same with Pharaoh in this same chapter. Can Pharaoh say to God you heartened my heart therefore I should be excused from condemnation? All I know is that somewhere within the sovereignty of God is the responsibility of man. Where the line is drawn we will never know on this side of eternity.
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Rom. 9:17
So where exactly is your problem with my statement then? Pharaoh's heart was hardened because he chose to go that route, therefore GOD accommodated for it. Did GOD select him for destruction? Yes He did. But to just leave it at that is foolish and th total opposite of what GOD wants you to do. The "why" question is always to be sought after. Just to say "its in His sovereign will" is to slap an excuse on the happenings and even the mishaps of life without explanation. This contradicts the GOD that Apostle James worshiped:

James 1:5-8 "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."

To one day say "GOD is the one who gives wisdom" but the next to say "its in His will" and leave it at that is double-minded. True GOD said "My ways are not your ways, neither My thoughts your thoughts", but who was He talking to exactly? Lets see:

Isaiah 55:7-10 "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:"

It is the wicked who don't understand His ways or thoughts, but to us the saints, the Apostle Paul said this:

1st Corinthians 2:9-16 "9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ."

Now with that said, you can easily know why YAHWEH said "Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated." Esau had a heart that was not to seek after pleasing GOD, or his father Isaac at all, but was for instant gratification. Pharaoh Ramses didn't want to obey the FATHER, but wanted to keep his status as "supreme god of Egypt", even after the evidence of there being one mightier than himself. Therefore, Pharaoh was used as an example for all who had that same heart.
Bless you Trevor

What great insights. I was really blessed by your post. Thank you brother.
Sure thing, Caral!
First of all let me say that though I am involved with another ministry, I am still an associate member of Tony Evans and OCBF. I still attend every chance I get. But I disagree with his view of transdispisationalism.

But back to Pharaoh. The question is who originally initiated the hardening of his heart? Was it Pharaoh or was it God who did it for the purpose of His glory? Reading Rom. 9 in its context clearly states that God initiated the hardening of Pharaohs heart. Because Paul is using the Pharaoh incident to explain Gods sovereignt will and purpose. We know this because it follows the Jacob Esau account where Paul states in verse 11(For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Also If you go back to Exodus 4:21it says "And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."

So it is God who hardened Pharaohs heart.

Because of this truth, it would be hard for any of us to fully understand Gods purpose. So adding explaination to Gods purpose without scriptural proof is a waste of energy. But dont get me wrong I love the discussion. I can appreciate you guys knowledge on this subject.
I have to research John MacArthur's past teachings on Romans 2:12-16. That passage at least hints at a saving utility to the general revelation of God:

"For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." [Romans 2:12-16]

I tend to think what Paul wrote here is a defense of Evan's overall theory. Of course, this type of speculation, while intriguing, in no way obviates our responsibility to spread the gospel to the farthest corners of the world.
So very true, but something must be made clear here: to spread the Gospel from the standpoint of a traditional Evangelist is a total error. This Gospel message was never "evangelistic" from the start, but political/Apostolic. When JESUS told them to tell the Good news, the good news was that there was a new ruler over them that redeemed them from the curse of the law, and His name was JESUS the Messiah. To take the Gospel purely from an evangelistic standpoint is to take it from a religious standpoint, and yet Evangelists are always the first ones to scream "its not a religion but a relationship!"


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