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).

To read some rebuttals to Evans’ transdispensationalism, check out:

Jim Sutherland. “Can Faith in Christ Be Attributed?: ‘Transdispensationalization’ and Dr. Tony Evans”

J.B. Hixson. “A Response to Dr. Tony Evans’ Teaching Regarding the Eternal Salvation of Those Who Can’t Believe.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Gospel, Religious Pluralism, Research

14 Comments on “Tony Evans on “Transdispensationalism””

  1. deines Says:

    I am glad you brought this up. Being a Dallas grad myself Dr. Evans is treated as one of the “big dawgs” at the school and I have always wondered why because I have known about his transdispensationalism that he clearly lays out in his book. He’s an inclucivist in regards to the gospel of Jesus Christ but since he’s got the big church and he’s a big name it seems that no one pays much attention to it. Your post and blog show that you believe doctrinal purity is vastly important and I appreciate that in your posts. As Paul says in 1 Cor 15, “bad company corrupts good character”, and it’s in the context of bad theology taking place in the church, those denying the resurrection, not just moral living. Keep preaching it brother!

  2. This teaching is more prevalent than we wish it would be. I attended undergraduate at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina and heard variations of this teaching from many (not all) of the professors that I took. This is the danger of viewing Scripture through the lens of any theological system instead of the other way around.

  3. Gordan Says:

    I’m no expert on Dispensationalism, but I believe I have heard Dispensationalists argue that they definately do NOT believe in multiple avenues of salvation, with respect to the dispensations. It’s just that the requirements demanded on the peoples’ faithfulness change from one to another.

    But Dr. Evans seems to pretty clearly be saying that the “means” of salvation are not the same from one dispensation to another.

    Am I reading that wrong?

  4. Timmy Says:

    Charles Ryrie states it well when he says that “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Jesus Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations.”

    This quote is used by both Clark Pinnock and John Sanders in their books. The issue comes down to the content of saving faith. What does a person have to know in order to be saved?

    Dispensationalists argue that the content changes from dispensation to dispensation but the object is the same.

    I will elaborate more on this in a future post and will also provide some quotes from Ramesh Richard, a dispensationalist (from DTS) who argues against the inclusivist usage of dispensational framework to support their position.

    I hope that helps a little bit. I am short on time as my wife and I are heading down to the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn) – the biggest football rivalry in all of football. Oh, and my prediction:

    Alabama 24
    Auburn 21

  5. Troy Says:

    This is a horrible teaching. I know that Tony Evans is greatly respected in many “evangelical” circles. But this teaching is heresy.

    Even in past dispensations, we are only saved by faith in the true God and Lord of the universe. This God is YHWH. His son is YHWH, therefore when we believe on the Jesus of Nazareth as God and Lord — we are in fact believing in GOD, YHWH, the “God-man” who has come in flesh. Every man and woman in every dispensation is saved by believing on this one and only true God. To suggest Romans 10:14 is a lie…

    “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

    or John 3:18-19…

    “18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

    I would be interested if any of you have Moody Press’ formal response to this heresy. I would have to think that their editors really blew it on this one.

    Christ is all,

  6. […] modalism the church teaches. And even with Oak Cliff, I’m not too fond of Evans’ transdispensationalism either. I always joke with my friends that the problem I have here in Texas is finding a solid […]

  7. Glenn, Louisville Says:

    I have just finished an extensive research paper on Dr. Evans for seminary in which I have chategorized every written work by Evans that I know exists (which is nearly 100 in number). Allow me to say that though I believe it was a major error for this appendix to be included in his book and that his view as stated is entirely wrong, we should be very careful about how we characterize Evans.
    Other than this appendix, which was removed from later printings, I have not discovered an unorthodox shred of evidence that would characterize Evans as a heretic. His ministry is thoroughly rooted in the Word, and I praise God for his influence. I cannot explain how it is that he expressed this transdispensational view, but he is certainly not preaching it or spreading it in his writings beyond that appendix.
    Perhaps a spirit of grace should assume that the removal of the appendix from later works reflects Dr. Evans’ own reservations concerning the view?

  8. Glenn,

    Thanks for commenting. I am not sure that I ever characterized Dr. Evans as “a heretic.” It was about a year ago when I wrote this article, so if I did, please refresh my memory.

    I would be interested in knowing if Dr. Evans holds this view today, even though it is no longer in print. The fact is, howver, that many inclusivists who deny the necessity of believing in Christ for salvation use the very same argument that Dr. Evans purported. That is not to say I am making the “guilt-by-association” argument but merely to note that his idea of transdispensationalism is common among those who want to change the gospel in order to satisfy their belief that many (if not most) will be saved who are “inculpably ignorant” or have never heard of Christ.

    Just curious, but would you consider soteriological inclusivism as unorthodox?

  9. […] with the Jews, is soul destroying heresy. I wonder also if it is related to what has been termed transdispensationalism. __________________ Chris Pineville Presbyterian Church (OPC) Attending Trinity Presbyterian […]

  10. We dealt with this in Volume One of The Late Great Planet Church (DVD): The Rise of Dispensationalism though we did not use the word “transdispensationalism.” To check out this DVD go to

  11. Mario Indino Says:

    Dr. tony Evan’s view seems to many be very strange and unconventional. I have been asked on the same in my personal experienced in ministering in many countries as missionary. A passage in Romans 1:20 shows that creation reveals God’s nature. In chapter 2:14-15 Gentiles who did not have the law will be judged according to their conscience a non-absolute basis for judgment. It’s not easy for us who are directly involve in the real life question knowing in actual of so many haven’t really heard the gospel.

  12. […] modalism the church teaches. And even with Oak Cliff, I’m not too fond of Evans’ transdispensationalism either. I always joke with my friends that the problem I have here in Texas is finding a solid […]

  13. Bruce Says:

    I don’t know if this is an “active” article, but here are my thoughts…

    “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” [Is. 53:1] …. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:14-17

    I’ve heard this preached many times. Just this passage (sometimes with vs. 13 added). However, I think that exegetically evaluating this passage gives some credence to Evans’ position (as long as you keep reading the passage). Usually the sermon stops there and a call to surrender to the pastorate or the mission field is given. However, Paul states, “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.'” What is Paul speaking about? He is quoting Ps. 19:4, which is speaking of general revelation (creation).

    So, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” “How can they call on the one they have not believed?” “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” “How can they hear without a preacher?” – Through belief in what God has given to them, general revelation.

    Couple of more comments…”Seek and you will find.” I believe that if one believes in the revelation given to him or her, even if it is not full revelation, God will give him or her more revelation. This is what happened to the Etheopian eunach. Those who have not heard are suppressing the truth available to all, that God is divine and that He is creator (Rom. 1:19-20), trading in the truth that is available to them for a lie (worshipping the tree, sun, ancestors, etc.).

    Second, there are those who apply this part of the Rom. 10 passage to just Israel. While I agree that Paul is dealing with Israel in ch. 9-11, he makes clear that this aspect is the same for both Jews and non-Jews (v. 11-13). If vs. 18 is not applicable to the non-Jew, then neither is vs. 13 (which I doubt any evangelical would claim) and neither is the passage dealing with the pastor in vs. 14-15 (which I doubt any evangelical would claim).

    Although the appendix secdtion didn’t give any support for the view, I think Evans explains it well:

    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…

    Certainly we should evangelize out of obedience and devotion to Christ above all else. Any other reason elevates that reason above Christ (even if that reason is our heartfelt concern over the lost). Although it is our duty to preach the gospel to every nation, we cannot forget that God is sovereign and His will will be done regardless of our action(or inaction).

  14. martyworld Says:

    Whacky, just plain whacky… equivalent to William Lane Craig’s “transworld damnation”… Tony Evans is tying himself in theolgical knots trying to understand why God doesn’t love everybody in the same way so this idea (and others) have to be concocted, Romans 9:15.

    I call it “Rube Goldberg” theology.

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