By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
Editor’s Note: I have been following the teaching and writing ministry of Dr. Michael Vlach for several years—since the publication of his book called Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths (Theological Studies Press, 2008). I am continually impressed and challenged by his desire to apply Biblical truth with precision and clarity. Dr. Vlach is having a great influence at The Master’s Seminary—both as a professor and as editor of the school’s theological journal. It is my privilege to introduce him to you, our readers here at Dispensational Publishing House, so that you can learn more about this up-and-coming dispensational theologian.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
“I attended Roman Catholic schools from first grade through high school,” said Dr. Michael Vlach. “When I became a believer in Jesus Christ around age 15 in 1981, I attended a Pentecostal church that was dispensational in its theology. There was not much eschatology taught from the pulpit, but that church believed in a coming seven-year tribulation and a pretribulational rapture of the church.”
“For the next eight years I was influenced by the radio ministry of John MacArthur, who taught eschatology from a dispensational perspective,” Vlach explained. “When I was 22, I started attending a Bible teaching church in Lincoln, Neb., that taught a clear and strong dispensational theology. At that time I was drawn to studying eschatology more and saw the strengths of dispensationalism.”
“During the early 1990s, I was a dispensationalist but also was becoming more Reformed in my views of salvation. Since many Reformed theologians were anti-dispensational, I was curious why they rejected and even despised dispensationalism so much, and I was open to a certain degree to investigate and see if they had legitimate arguments against dispensationalism. So during the early ‘90s I was open to change if the evidence led that way. But the Biblical evidence kept pointing toward dispensationalism. One book that was very influential in my becoming a convinced dispensationalist was Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988) which was edited by John S. Feinberg. This book paired top-notch covenant theology scholars against mostly dispensational scholars on the key issues of hermeneutics: the people of God, the kingdom, salvation, the law of God and other areas. I was struck by how much more Biblical the dispensational scholars were. While the covenantal scholars were quoting other covenantal scholars, the dispensational scholars offered many compelling Biblical arguments for the dispensational perspective. I then became a thoroughly convinced dispensationalist.”
“I attended The Master’s Seminary from 1992 to 1995, and my dispensational beliefs were further solidified,” Vlach remembered. “During this time I read Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974) and Robert Saucy’s The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Zondervan, 1993). I also read a lot of anti-dispensational material, but was not impressed with what I read. As I continue to study the issues I am convinced that the dispensational view of hermeneutics, Israel, the church and end times is most accurate.”
When asked to describe himself in terms of various dispensational views, Vlach provided the following response: “Going off a scale that involves classical, traditional, revised and progressive forms of dispensationalism, I consider myself between revised and progressive dispensationalism, while also having a healthy respect and reliance upon traditional dispensationalism.”
“I see real fulfillment of spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants in this age, so on this point I have some progressive leanings,” Vlach said. “And with the progressive view I do not believe that when a Jewish person believes in Jesus in this age that he or she loses their identification with the nation of Israel and solely belongs to the church. Yet, like classical, traditional and revised dispensationalism, I do not believe that Jesus is sitting upon or reigning from David’s throne in this age. I also believe that there was a genuine presentation of the kingdom to Israel at Jesus’ first coming that Israel refused (Luke 19:41-44) but now awaits the future. This is consistent with the older forms of dispensationalism and not progressive dispensationalism.”
“Importantly, I view myself as a friend and ally of all forms of dispensationalism,” Vlach continued. “I learn from both older and newer dispensational scholars, and I go to meetings of traditional, revised and progressive dispensationalists. I truly learn and respect the writings from all four categories of dispensationalism. I do not feel like I have to own one camp and reject the others.”
“Concerning issues related to dispensationalism, I am very influenced by the theologians of Grace Theological Seminary and Dallas Theological Seminary, particularly the professors at those schools from the 1950s through the mid-1980s,” stated Vlach. “I was taught much from Dwight Pentecost’s book, Things to Come (Zondervan, 1965). I also learned from the writings of Charles Ryrie and John Walvoord. I have particularly benefited from Alva McClain and his book, The Greatness of the Kingdom, which may have had the greatest impact on how I view the Bible’s storyline. Those who have helped me the most concerning the Bible’s storyline and issues related to Israel and the church are Alva McClain, John Feinberg, Robert Saucy and Thomas Ice. Craig Blaising’s discussion on the models of eschatology—the spiritual vision model and new creation model—have also been very helpful. I am indebted to many more dispensationalists as well.”
Vlach summed up his view with the following statement: “Dispensationalism has had a strong last 150 years, but I think we are seeing a trend against dispensationalism today in higher education. It is very cool to be an amillennialist, a Laddian historic premillennialist or to have no millennial view today. But being a dispensationalist in the academic world is less popular. It is increasingly difficult for dispensational scholars to be published with evangelical publishing companies. There is much publishing of non-dispensational and anti-dispensational books, but not much from the dispensational side. On the other hand, there are still a good number of colleges and seminaries that teach a dispensational perspective. So yes, dispensationalism has fallen on more difficult times, but it is still doing well. The rejection of dispensationalism by the academic and publishing outlets does make getting the word out harder. So dispensationalists will have to be more creative. Fortunately, in the internet and social media age, it is possible to get your message out to a large audience.”
“At The Master’s Seminary we have many men who are already committed to what we believe and affirm in our statement of faith concerning hermeneutics, the church, a pretribulational rapture and premillennialism,” Vlach reported. “I am grateful for that. We also get some who need convincing and others who do not have an opinion yet. I have found the students as a whole to be remarkably open to going where the Scripture goes. Students respond well to seeing the Bible’s storyline laid out from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. This includes seeing Jesus’ identity and role as “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) and Messiah. It also involves seeing how the nation Israel, the nations, the church, the tribulation period and the millennium work in God’s purposes.”
“The students usually do not come in just blindly accepting a theological label,” said Vlach. “They want to see what the Bible says and I think that is a good thing. I personally do not push the label of dispensational upon anyone. I tell them that when we go through and understand the Bible’s storyline accurately we can look back and identify this most closely with dispensationalism. I know there are students at other schools who are more skeptical about dispensational theology, but on the whole I find today’s students eager to go where the truth is. If you can show them what the Bible text says and what the Bible’s storyline is, they are usually willing to embrace the truths that are often associated with dispensationalism or futuristic premillennialism.”
Previously in this series:
- A Dispensational Discourse: An Introduction (June 4, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Rich McCarrell (June 11, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Charles Dyer (July 2, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Ron Bigalke (August 6, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Christopher Cone (September 3, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Woodrow Kroll (October 3, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. J. B. Hixson (November 5, 2016)
- A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. Thomas Ice (December 3, 2016)
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