Review: Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths

Michael J. Vlachl.   Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths   .  Los Angeles, CA: Theological Studies Press, 2017, 112 pp. $13.02.

Michael J. Vlachl. Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths. Los Angeles, CA: Theological Studies Press, 2017, 112 pp. $13.02.

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In the closing chapter, Questions and Answers, Vlach gives his thoughts on the future of dispensationalism:

Dispensationalism has come under heavy criticism in recent years, and being a dispensationalist is not popular these days. Plus, it is becoming increasingly difficult for dispensationalists to publish their words with traditional publishers. In the academic realms of evangelicalism there is a scorn for dispensationalism that I have not seen before. Yet this scorn for dispensationalism has not been earned by defeating dispensationalism with better ideas. There is no book out there that offers a credible refutation of dispensationalism. Instead, victory has been declared without much proof (p. 102).

You’ll notice that the very work from which this quote is lifted is not published by Baker, Zondervan, or Moody. It would appear that, even for a clear-thinking theologian like Vlach, it has become difficult to voice the dispensational side of the argument.

That being said, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths is an excellent primer and introduction to both the systematic and the debate.

Vlach begins with a brief history of dispensationalism before listing what he believes are its sine qua non, or essentials.

  1. The primary meaning of any Bible passage is found in that passage. The NT does not reinterpret or transcend OT passages in a way that overrides or cancels the original authorial intent of the OT writers (p. 31).

  2. Types exist but national Israel is not an inferior type that is superseded by the church (p. 35).

  3. Israel and the church are distinct; thus, the church cannot be identified as the new and/or true Israel (p. 41).

  4. Spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles is compatible with a future functional role for Israel as a nation (p. 43).

  5. The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique functional role in a future earthly millennial kingdom (p. 46).

  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.”

After explaining these six essential beliefs, Vlach, with clarity and charity, addresses the objections most commonly levels at dispensationalists. I, personally, have experienced the flippant dismissal of dispensationalism rooted in a simplistic strawman or two. Thus, this section was cathartic to read.

Vlach next discusses the issue of continuity and discontinuity within dispensationalism. More specifically, he identifies areas where dispensationalism affirms both and how an understanding of the system being only the latter is a misrepresentation.

Finally, the author provides a brief discussion on the differences between dispensationalism and covenant theology. Vlach asserts that the difference mainly comes down to two things: hermeneutics and storyline. Regarding the former,

With dispensationalism, what you see is what you get in the Bible. Its meaning is on the surface (p. 87).

Regarding the latter, the difference in understanding of the storyline of Scripture is chiefly between Israel’s role in God’s purposes and whether there will be

a mediatorial kingdom phase to God’s kingdom program on earth after this present age but before the Eternal State (p. 89).

For a more detailed study of this topic, see Vlach’s He Will Reign Forever.

This book was intentionally brief but, for its brevity, did not fail to deliver worthwhile, clear, and biblical information. I would appreciate and be blessed with a non-dispensationalists’ response to this work, or a work like it.

The cause of truth is never served by confusion, misrepresentation, and straw men arguments (p. 11).

Isn’t that true.