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BOOK REVIEW: Michael Vlach’s “DISPENSATIONALISM”

27 Nov

ESSENTIAL BELIEFS AND COMMON MYTHS

Dispensationalism Vlach

Book Review by David P. Craig

Michael Vlach (who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between Israel and the Church in 2004) has written a very helpful overview of what dispensationalism is, and is not, in this short book. In four chapters Vlach clearly articulates the history, essential beliefs of, and common myths regarding dispensationalism. Vlach not only does a great job of defining and explaining dispensationalism, but also answers some of its most outspoken modern critics such as John Gerstner, Keith Mathison, R.C. Sproul, and Hank Hanegraaf.

In Chapter One there is a general overview of the development of dispensationalism as a system of Theology. Dispensationalism is linked with John Nelson Darby who lived from 1800-1882. Vlach traces the development of dispensationalism from Darby to C.I. Scofield to Lewis Sperry Chafer. There is also a discussion of, and distinctions made between Classical, Revised (Modified) and Progressive Dispensationalism. Some of the key theological views of the aforementioned theologians along with Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, Charles Feinberg, Alva J. McClain,  Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, and Robert Saucy and several others are briefly discussed.

In Chapter Two Vlach highlights the essentials or sine qua non of dispensationalism that have been suggested by representatives such as Charles Ryrie, John Feinberg, Darrel Bock, and Craig Blaising. After his discussion of these “essentials” Vlach believes there are six common essential beliefs that make one a dispensationalist. These six beliefs are articulated along with substantial quotes from leading dispensational Theologians along with helpful commentary by Vlach.

Here are the six essentials according to Vlach: (1) Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical grammatical hermeneutics. (2) Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church. (3) Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel. (4) There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation. (5) The nation of Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth. (6) There are multiple senses of “seed of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

In chapter three Vlach evaluates and provides biblical and theological insight on five common myth’s about Dispensationalism: (1) Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation. (2) Dispensationalism is inherently linked with Arminianism. (3) Dispensationalism is inherently Antinomian. (4) Dispensationalism leads to Non-Lordship Salvation. (5) Dispensationalism is primarily about believing in seven dispensations.

In the fourth and final chapter of the book Vlach clearly and cogently answers some great questions he has been asked by his students about Dispensationalism: (1) You have been critical of how dispensationalism is often defined. What do you think is  a good short definition of dispensationalism? (He defines dispensationalism as “a system of theology primarily concerned with doctrines of ecclesiology and eschatology that emphasizes the historical-grammatical meaning of the Old Testament prophetic passages and covenants, a distinction between Israel and the church, and a future salvation and restoration of the nation Israel in a future earthly kingdom).  (2) Why are you a dispensationalist and how did you become a dispensationalist? (3) What is the main mistake that nondispensationalists make when evaluating dispensationalism? (4) Any other common mistakes? (5) Do you think dispensationalists could do a better job of explaining dispensationalism? If so, how? (6) Many like to point out that dispensationalism began with John Nelson Darby around 1830, thus dispensationalism is a new theology. How do you respond to the charge that dispensationalism should be rejected since it is a new theology? (7) What is the relationship between the pre-tribulation rapture position and dispensationalism? (8) What is your perspective on the internal debates and discussions within dispensationalism? (9) What is the future of dispensationalism?

Michael Vlach’s book is the new “go to” introduction on dispensationalism today. He has provided a readable, non-technical, concise, and helpful articulation of the essentials of dispensationalism and defended its essence well. I highly recommend this primer as an excellent introduction to anyone who desires to understand the eschatological/ecclesiological system known as dispensationalism.

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