You are herePlanetPreterist.com Interviews Dr. John Evans
PlanetPreterist.com Interviews Dr. John Evans
Dr. John Evans, author of The Four Kingdoms of Daniel and retired Professor of Economics and Finance from the University of Alabama granted an exclusive interview to Planet Preterist. John was kind to share with us his perspective on Economics, Finance, Fulfilled Prophecy and his own view regarding the book of Daniel and the liberal bias which pervades the academic community regarding the historical aspects of Daniel.Virgil Vaduva: John, thank you for sitting down with us for this interview. You have been an active columnist on Planet Preterist and many readers have been enjoying your articles for a while now, especially your in-depth articles on the book of Daniel. Before we delve into Christian Theology, can you tell us a bit about your background in education and Economics?
Dr. John Evans: After graduating from Amarillo (Texas) High School in 1948 at the age of seventeen, I attended Amarillo College for two years in a pre-law program. I was selected as the outstanding athlete of Amarillo College in 1950 because of my achievements in golf and also because I was one of the few athletes with a good academic record. In 1950, I entered the University of Texas at Austin. I tried law school in 1951-52 but decided that I was not cut out for the legal profession. I received a BA in economics from the University of Texas in the spring of 1953 and my MA in economics from that institution in the fall of 1954. In September 1954, I went into the U.S. Army as an enlisted man and wound up being sent to Germany as an intelligence agent. There was nothing glamorous about that job, for I sat at a desk in Stuttgart and processed the applications of European refugees for emigration to the United States. In September 1956, I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin with the intention of obtaining a Ph.D. in economics. I majored in international economics, minored in public finance, and took an outside minor in geography. I married a fellow grad student (from Pennsylvania) in February 1957. After my wife's pregnancy required her to abandon her plans to take a public school teaching job, I decided to take a full-time job at the University of South Dakota in 1959 without having written my doctoral dissertation.
The South Dakota phase of our lives lasted eight years. At USD, I taught twelve hours and three preparations per semester with three different preparations each semester, and I taught an additional course in the summer. In other words, I taught seven different courses per year! I also played a little golf in the summer and once shot the local nine-hole course in 30 strokes, thereby setting the course record. But I couldn't write a doctoral dissertation that way, so in the summer of 1967 I took my family back to Madison, where the University of Wisconsin was kind enough to hire me as an instructor and give me a nice office. They also allowed me to take three weeks in the spring to go to Mexico and do interviewing for the writing of my doctoral dissertation on the evolution of the Mexican tax system. In the fall of 1968, we moved to the University of Alabama, where I remained until the spring of 2000. I finally completed my dissertation in the fall of 1970, typing it myself. It was over 620 manuscript pages long.
From 1968 until 1982, I regularly taught several courses at 'Bama. I especially emphasized international economics and economic development, and I regularly taught principles of economics and intermediate macroeconomics. I also taught environmental economics. My research was largely on the economy of Mexico, and I took my family on numerous visits to Mexico in relation to my work. I taught the entire calendar year of 1976 as a Fulbright Lecturer at the State University of Nuevo Leon (Monterrey), where I lectured in Spanish. Around 1978, I was invited to the Brookings Institution to co-chair a panel discussion on Mexico's unemployment problem after a paper I had co-authored on that topic caught the attention of a prominent State Department official. With the collapse of the peso in 1982, however, I gave up on the Mexican economy after reaching the conclusion that Mexico was unable to adopt policies that would lead to sound economic growth. During the period 1968-82, I moved politically from being a moderate liberal to being a staunch Reaganite. In large part, my conversion reflected my experiences in living in Mexico and studying the Mexican economy. I also reacted negatively to what was going on in the academic world following the Viet Nam War, which I had supported.
Beginning in 1982, I restructured my professional career around a specialty in international finance. That led to the production of a textbook on international financial markets, which was published by Dryden Press at the beginning of 1992. The book was adopted at quite a few leading universities and would have done better, I am sure, if I had completed the instructor's manual about four months earlier and Dryden had not undergone a major corporate reorganization. In any event, I think my main reason for writing the book was to show what I could do if I put my mind to it. I never made a serious effort to do another edition or version because (1) I was getting close to retirement age and (2) I had developed a strong interest in making writing about the Book of Daniel my next (and last) major project.
Now that is a rather lengthy answer to your first question, but I have had a long career and want to my acquaint the visitors to planetpreterist.com with my background. I shall close my answer to this question by saying that I was a demanding instructor in the classroom. I did manage to lower my standards over the years under the pressure of keeping in line with national trends, but I had difficulty lowering them fast enough! As a result, by my final year, some of the victims of my large lecture classes in principles of economics were getting rather restless. I just had not caught on yet to the significance of the self-esteem movement.
Virgil: We often observe that many Christians ignore the field of Economics and simply are not interested in this topic. Why do you think that is, and how does this affect our society and culture?
John: Well, economics does not ordinarily concern itself with spiritual matters, and the way it is generally taught assumes them away. Consequently, people who are deeply concerned about spiritual matters often have no interest in it. Also, most students find economics to be rather difficult. It puts great emphasis upon abstract thinking, and while the ability to memorize is very helpful in economics, as it is in other fields, the ability to think abstractly and logically is far more important. I have noticed, incidentally, that many people who know little about economics have a capacity to remember and quote passages from Scripture that I lack and greatly envy.
Compared to theology, philosophy, law, medicine, and the physical sciences, I believe it is accurate to say that the formal study of economics developed late. That indicates, I think, that there is something about the study of economics that repels many people. The great breakthrough, of course, was Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Smith taught at the University of Glasgow, where he shared the teaching of philosophy with none other than David Hume, the great skeptic. Often overlooked is the fact that Smith believed that a sound moral order was absolutely essential to the achievement of economic progress, and he took it for granted that Britain and the colonies had established the requisite moral order under Christianity. Today, however, many people study economics without ever taking up the study of how social institutions impacting upon morality condition the economy's operation. Introduce free market capitalism into a nation whose social system condones thievery and has a long tradition of political corruption, and what do you get? Today's Russia is, I believe, and outstanding example.
I have not encountered many economists who are deeply spiritual people, but there are exceptions to that rule. To the extent that the study of economics turns off committed Christians, our society suffers. For one thing, materially oriented entrepreneurs and speculators (like George Soros) who place a high value on understanding economics exercise an enormous influence on our society and culture that is quite harmful. If there were more people in the world of economics and finance who grasp the importance of a sound spiritual and moral foundation for the achievement of economic success, as Adam Smith did, our society would benefit enormously.
Virgil: Do you believe that there is a mentality of "economic entitlement" in the United States and is it related in any way to the rising of Dispensational theology in the early and mid 20h century?
John: There is indeed a mentality of "economic entitlement," not just in the United States but in much of the rest of the world. I don't really see the connection between it and the rise of Dispensational theology, though there could be a connection, I suppose. I ascribe the development of the entitlement mentality to the growth of secular ideologies that have attacked the inequalities that occur under capitalism, encouraged envy of those who are financially successful, and taken advantage of the natural tendency that people have to feel that someone else is responsible for their problems and failures. In the 1830s, Alexis de Toqueville observed in Democracy in America that America's spiritual underpinning was behind its success and that its future health would depend upon the maintenance of that underpinning. Toqueville also warned that American democracy would be imperiled once a majority of the voters came to look upon government as the instrument for redistributing income and power in their favor. As far as I am concerned, he has proven to be all too accurate. Regaining the nation's spiritual underpinning is essential if our democratic institutions are to work to our maximum benefit.
Virgil: Holding to mostly a Libertarian philosophy myself, I also see a tendency of believers to give too much trust to governments, especially from an economic perspective. How do you feel about the tendency of believers to depend on a government, especially for economic reasons?
John: I accept that government has some responsibilities in the economic realm but that the scope of those responsibilities should be considerably less than it is at the present time. We are overly dependent upon government, and government, particularly the federal government, is overextended. Ideally, I believe, government should have a few basic functions and discharge them well. Instead, we ask govenrment to do many things, and our political system prevents it from performing them efficiently.
Take the field of education. I consider it a government obligation to see to it that all children receive sufficient education at public expense to be able to become productive citizens. Does that mean that government should encourage everyone to go to college, which was what Bill Clinton asserted? I don't think so. But K-12 is a different matter. Does that mean, however, that the best way to provide that basic education is to turn the money over to the education establishment and let them run a monopolistic public school system whose first objective is to benefit the members of that establishment? Millton Friedman began advocating a voucher system over forty years ago, and look how far we've gotten! By the way, both my parents were public school teachers.
Most believers have attended public schools, and the idea that American democracy requires the existence of a public school system like what we have today is deeply ingrained in the public's thought patterns by their education and by the continuous bombardment of nonsense coming from the entertainment and news media. They have been conditioned to look to government for all solutions to economic and other social problems, and all too often, the pastors and priests to whom they look for spiritual guidance are proponents of "the social gospel" in which the welfare state looms very large. People who become clerics generally have a strong desire to "do good," but their general ignorance about basic economics often causes them to be badly mistaken about how to achieve what they want to accomplish. Overcoming all the obstacles to clear thinking that we have erected is not going to be easy.
Virgil: So, when and how were you introduced to Covenant Eschatology, and what was your first impression regarding Fulfilled Prophecy?
John: That is a difficult question to answer because I'm not exactly sure just when my introduction to Covenant Eschatology occurred. I am fond of saying that I became a preterist before I knew what one was. From the time I was in high school, however, it was obvious to me that the NT portrays Jesus, Paul, and the other Apostles as anticipating the destruction of Jerusalem in the near future. Moreover, it was also obvious to me that Paul and the others expected Jesus to return before all of them had died. Consequently, when I was assured by people in ministerial garb that Matthew 24 and numerous other parts of the NT refer to events that have yet to occur, my reaction tended to be to dismiss organized Christianity as a bunch of hokum. Functionally, I became an agnostic; but I never quite escaped the Bible's intellectual power, nor could I understand how Paul and the other followers of Jesus did what they did unless they absolutely believed in Christ's divinity.
Many years ago, I read most of Wlll Durant's multiple-volume Story of Civilization, which he wrote in partnership with his wife. Durant was a humanistic philosopher with a Catholic background and, I think it is fair to say, an inclination toward atheism. He was also a talented writer and phenomenal scholar with a strong commitment to presenting the truth. In his volume Caesar and Christ, he confessed that he believed that something extraordinary happened ca. AD 30 that brought about the remarkable behavior of the followers of Jesus, but he could not explain what that something was. He provided a sympathetic portrait of Paul, whom he believed to be delusional. I was not at all persuaded that he understood Paul correctly. In an earlier volume, he treated the development of the OT sympathetically, though skeptically, and allowed for the possibility that the Book of Daniel was more accurate historically than was generally believed. My dissatisfaction with Durant's treatment of the origins of Christianity led to further investigations on my part, and somewhere along the line I came into contact with Walt Hibbard's Great Christian Books. I think it was from that source that I obtained Ken Gentry's The Beast of Revelation, which I found to be convincing evidence supporting the pre-AD 70 writing of Revelation. I did a good deal of reading about the Shroud of Turin and found the case for its authenticity to be very strong. I still believe that is the case, notwithstanding the carbon dating controversy. Then I ran across Eyewitness to Jesus, which presents the work of the late German papyrologist Carsten Peter Thiede, who argued with great persuasive force for the pre-AD 70 writing of the Synoptic Gospels (What a loss to biblical scholarship his premature death is!). I bought and read much of Bishop Robinson's Redatring the New Testament, which reinforced what I had come to believe. Next came Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell, which I regard as a truly masterful work. By this time, I was writing on the four kingdoms of Daniel. I guess it was on the Internet while working on Daniel that I ran across references to John Noe's Beyond the End Times. It was then that I finally learned what a preterist was and came to realize that I was one. I contacted John, and it was he who recommended that I contact you. And that is how I came to be a preterist.
Virgil: We all have certain Biblical passages we hold dear and consider crucial to our theology. When learning about Preterism, was there anything in particular that made you realize the truth of Preterism or made it more relevant for you?
John: One passage that stuck in my mind early and I could never forget was Matthew 24:34: "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." I could never accept the claim that "generation" really meant "race." That claim just did not seem to fit the context. Other passages that were particularly important in bringing me to preterism are Daniel 7:13, Daniel 9:24-27, and the references in the Synoptic Gospels to these passages.
Virgil: You put a lot of work into studying the book of Daniel, and particularly a few chapters from Daniel. What attracts you to the book of Daniel, and why are these chapters so important to you?
John: In large part, my attraction to the Book of Daniel results from the economic principle of comparative advantage, whose applicability is general and not confined to international trade. I knew that I could never match or improve upon the work of first-century fulfillment scholars on the NT. When it came to Daniel, however, things were very different. At first, I could find virtually nothing on first-century fulfillment other than the work of Philip Mauro. Conservative commentators seemed all hung up on applying futurist and historicist interpretations to Daniel 2 and the visions chapters (7-12) that I found to be unconvincing, to put it mildly. Critical-historical; i.e. liberal, scholars had succeeded in erecting a paradigm of Danielic scholarship in the domain under their control that had almost relegated the possibilities that there was a real Daniel the prophet in sixth-century BC Babylon and that the Book of Daniel is genuinely prophetic to the intellectual scrap heap within their domain. I perceived, however, that there were great weaknesses in the arguments presented by critical scholars in support of the proposition that the Book of Daniel as we have it today was finalized in the second century BC, and I resolved to do my best to hammer away at those weaknesses while offering an alternative exegesis that I found to be much more plausible. I am happy to report that I detect some weakening in the overall liberal position on the Book of Daniel since I began working seriously on it about ten years ago. There remains much work to be done, however, if first-century AD fulfillment is to obtain the status that I believe it merits.
My attraction to Daniel rests fundamentally upon my conviction that there was a real prophet Daniel who lived in the sixth century BC in Babylon and that to the extent that this becomes understood, the entire structure of critical-historical biblical scholarship will be seriously undermined. In my judgment, chapters 2, 7, 9, and 11-12 all can be best understood as having been fulfilled in the first century AD. I am particularly interested in Daniel 7 because it is so clearly Messianic in character, but chapters 2 and 9 are also of great interest to me. I take the position that the one like a son of man in 7:13 is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ, and that the everlasting dominion to which that verse and 7:27 refer began to be formed in the first century and is still in the process of being erected. I also take the position that when Christ referred to Daniel in the Synoptic Gospels, He was not adapting prophecies with primarily second century BC fulfillments to His own purposes but was validating that some Danielic prophecies applied to Him and only to Him. Note that while I consider some prophecies in Daniel to have had first-century fulfillment, I understand the prophecy of the rock of Daniel 2 and the prophecy of the everlasting kingdom in Daniel 7 as having fulfillments that extend to our day in the sense that the promised everlasting kingdom is still being established.
Virgil: When talking about Fulfilled Prophecy, we know that Josephus provides excellent historical insight into what happened in A.D. 70. What other historical events do you believe are important when it comes to learning about Daniel? Are there any authors or books you recommend that could help readers learn more about history as it parallels the book of Daniel?
John: Josephus is a wonderful source, but there are quite a few other sources that I have found to be invaluable. One and Two Maccabees are, of course, essential. For other sources on the first century AD, I recommend going to my book and perusing the endnotes. I regret to say that my book does not have a bibliography for the simple reason that by the time I finished writing the text and preparing an elaborate subject index, I was exhausted! In doing research on Daniel it is necessary to study the history of the Near East in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The work of Donald J. Wiseman, a conservative English scholar and a master linguist is absolutely essential in that regard. I also particularly recommend The Gentile Times Reconsidered, by Carl Olof Jonsson. Jonsson is a Swede who was once a Jehovah's Witness and wrote this book with the intention of utterly refuting JW theology. He has brilliantly succeeded, but beyond that, he has done a masterful job of helping to demonstrate the validity of the case for believing that there was a real prophet Daniel who was taken to Babylon in 605 BC. I also recommend some of my own writings on planetpreterist.com, especially my very first one, which presents the argument for believing that the Daniel to which Ezekiel 14 and 28 refer is the Daniel of sixth-century Babylon. For numerous other sources on the relevant history of the sixth and fifth centuries BC, check the endnotes to my book.
Virgil: How was your book "The Four Kingdoms of Daniel" received and what did critics have to say about it?
John: The reception to my book has been modest. Total sales have been a few hundred so far. I did not write the book with the intention of making a profit, but it would be nice to break even! As for the critics, the only real written review I know of was that by Tim King, who panned it. He feels that I was unduly dismissive of critical scholars and charged me with not living up to the high standards in my own exegesis of Daniel to which I hold others. At the outset of my book, however, I make it very clear that I intend to be very critical of critical scholarship, and I make no apologies to Tim King or to anyone else for adopting a polemical approach to the study of Daniel. I also make it clear that I do not claim to have all the answers as to how the Book of Daniel should be interpreted. I disagree with King on several other points he makes in his review. For example, he labels me a partial preterist even though I support the idea of the Second Coming as having occurred in the first century.
I have had very good feedback on my book from several individuals who are well-known to visitors to planetpreterist.com. John Noe has credited me with doing a good job, and Sam Frost once referred to it as "a magnificent work." Don Preston and Dave Green have been highly supportive. I also want to acknowledge the encouragement I received from William (Bill) Shea, the prominent historicist and biblical linguist. Bill read drafts of several pieces I wrote on Daniel and gave me strong encouragement. I hope he does not now regret having given me that encouragement! I am happy to say that Gary DeMar offered the book for sale on americanvision.com and that it is offered on other sites as well, including planetpreterist.com, preteristarchive.com, and armageddonbooks.com. Its amazon.com ranking has been as low as 33,000, but it is not close to that at the moment.
The encouragement I have received is sufficient so that I intend to keep working on Daniel. If all goes well, I may offer a new and improved version of my book in a couple of years. I also would like to do a book about Daniel that is more in the nature of popularized work that could reach a wider audience. Such a work would go beyond the four kingdoms issue and consider such matters as the Qumran evidence, but it would also be a good deal shorter.
Virgil: If there was one important thing you wanted to get across to the readers of "The Four Kingdoms of Daniel," what would that thing be?
John: I simply want more people to recognize the weaknesses of critical scholarship on Daniel and that the case for AD 70 fulfillment is a strong one.
Virgil: As you continue to be a part of Preterism with articles and books, do you have any comments regarding the current state of Preterism and perhaps its future?
John: Preterism has a great future because it makes sense. Moreover, I am confident that the world has entered a phase of its history in which profound social and cultural changes are occurring in exponential fashion. Liberal-socialist utopianism has lost much of its allure and is on the downslide. Liberal biblical scholarship is showing some cracks in its foundation. I honestly believe that Islam has entered the crackup phase because it cannot be reconciled with modernity. Largely unobserved by our very secular mainstream media observers, a rapid growth in the ranks of serious Christians is occurring in China, elsewhere in Asia, and in Africa. In Latin America, Christian evangelism is on the move. Even in Europe there are signs of spiritual hunger that are leading some people to take Christianity seriously. The religious situation of the world is very fluid. We live in violent times, and I believe things will get worse before they become better. All this is not at all to say that I anticipate a Second Coming. That, I am convinced, occurred long ago. But I do believe that God (Christ) is not indifferent to the world's fate and that Preterism stands poised to become a very important factor in molding the world's future.
Virgil: In your opinion, and since you do not believe that the world will end soon, what advice could you give us regarding planning for a sound future, for both the welfare of our country and of our families?
John: Now that's a tough question! Personally, I left too much of my own retirement funds in stocks after 2000 and have lived to regret my gamble. Now I have become rather pessimistic about our economic prospects for the next decade because I see so much turmoil ahead, buth domestically and internationally. I am trying to diversify my own financial assets and obtain a modest return while protecting my capital. When we moved to our present location in 2001, we bought a nice home with a thirty-year mortgage. That was after paying off an earlier thirty-year mortgage in thirty years! I am paying our new mortgage down as quickly as I can afford to do because I consider home equity to be a good personal investment at the present time. We may be in a real estate bubble, but I do not expect a collapse of the housing market for homes that most people can afford to buy. Despite my pessimism about the immediate future, I advise younger families to hold some of their assets in stocks and ride out the ups and downs of the market over the long haul. If the political situation has cleared up greatly by the end of another decade, both domestically and internationally, a greater weight for stocks (equities) will be justified. I do believe that this country will weather the storms ahead. Over the long term historically, stocks have returned better than bonds, and I think that relationship will probably continue to hold. I have been preaching the privatization of Social Security for two decades, but I gather that those who want to keep people as dependent on government as possible have managed to forestall reform until we enter the crisis stage, which will most assuredly arrive all too soon. From the perspective of long-term financial planning, things are tougher for young families than they were for me several decades ago; but that does not mean we might as well eat, drink, and be merry. Putting as much personal saving as you can into financial assets that at least keep up with the overall inflation rate is a prudent thing to do.
Virgil: John, thank you again so much for your time and your willingness to share with our readers more about your work and your background. I hope that God will continue to bless your effort to further the knowledge of sound Economics, especially from the perspective of Covenant Eschatology. Thanks!