Reviewed: He Will Reign Forever, by Michael J. Vlach (Lampion Press: 2017), 638 pages.
For years The Master’s Seminary professor Michael Vlach has brought a needed, unique insight to the study of Biblical prophecy. Vlach appreciates the insights of Reformed and other scholars more friendly to Covenant Theology and the modern fervor for “realized eschatology” – yet applies grammatical-historical exegesis to Biblical prophecy as well as to other passages. That is, Vlach approaches inerrant Scripture as perspicuous, and so affirms an unabashedly plain-sense hermeneutic, yielding a futuristic eschatology. The Biblical prophets meant what they said; they did not speak in code. Vlach locates the meaning of the text in the text. So he sees the fulfillment of much of prophecy as still lying in the future.
Vlach has previously written smaller articles and books dealing with the issues such as the definition of dispensationalism, and the meaning of “Israel” in the Bible. In this long-awaited book, Vlach delivers a deeper and fuller study of the whole Bible’s teaching regarding one central theme: the kingdom of God.
Vlach opens what might be mistaken for a purely academic study by confessing that the Kingdom of God is an “intensely personal and practical” pursuit for him, given how disease has touched loved ones, how his own mortality looms, and how sin’s ruinous effects dominate the cultural landscape (p. 7). The kingdom of God reveals how God will address all that has gone wrong. So Vlach’s goal is a “comprehensive biblical theology of the kingdom of God from a new creationist perspective” (p. 11). He sees all Scripture uniting to show God moving towards a restoration and Kingdom that is both spiritual and material, addressing and redeeming sin’s physical and moral miseries with a “holistic” remedy assured by God’s promises and Christ’s work.
As to the book’s layout, Vlach first introduces the Kingdom in a very clear, helpful, well-documented overview. Then four main parts open up the Kingdom program, survey that program in the Old and then New Testaments, and then deal with theological issues. The first part gives a Biblical introduction and synopsis of God’s kingdom program, arguing well that it is a central connection theme in all of Scripture (pp. 19-56). He distinguishes God’s universal kingdom (sovereign, eternal, providential rule over all Creation), and His mediatorial kingdom (rule through man as a delegated authority—ruined by Adam, gloriously restored by God Incarnate, Jesus Christ).
Then in part two Vlach surveys this theme throughout the Old Testament, going through selected passages in canonical order (pp. 59-252). Genesis, Isaiah and royal psalms are among passages that receive closer treatment. Vlach approaches the text in a way that respects authorial intent, respects the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and brings in its canonical meaning. Vlach sees NT authors as building on the plain sense of OT texts, not as reinterpreting them in ways that would effectually turn them into cruel jokes on the original authors and hearers.
The New Testament is then studied at greater length (pp. 255-531). Vlach shows that the Kingdom announced by John the Baptist and then the Lord Jesus is the same Kingdom promised throughout the OT. He demonstrates from the text how Jesus called Israel to the repentance that must precede the coming of the Kingdom, and how Israel’s rejection of Him led to withdrawal of that emphasis. Uniquely (and correctly), Vlach affirms a purely futuristic view of the kingdom, noting that any other view of John’s and Jesus’ preaching would “affirm the kingdom of heaven could be established before the cross” and other key requirements (274).
So, for instance, Vlach sees the Kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount as future, though the Sermon itself does have present implications for Christian citizens of that kingdom (pp. 301-302). The function of the Mystery parables is “to offer new truths about the kingdom program in light of Israel’s rejection of Jesus” (p. 325, emphasis original). Vlach studies at length the Gospel teachings, those in Acts and the apostles’ letters, and the book of Revelation.
The final section is more thematic and systematic (pp. 535-582). Vlach deals with the Kingdom’s implications for main characters, shows the Kingdom connection between the first and last Adam, opens the necessity of a future earthly kingdom, and expounds the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. The book ends with a twenty-page bibliography, and indices for Author, Scripture, and Subject.
I can scarcely exaggerate what a good and necessary book this is. Vlach combines theology and careful exegesis with a clear manner of communication, and backs it all up with a wealth of footnoted documentation. He’s not afraid to follow Scripture when it leads him against the current fads, standing athwart luminaries such as Ladd, and criticizing trends such as the overused “already/not-yet” paradigm. This book is a feast for student and academic alike. Give it to your pastor as his belated “Pastor Appreciation Month” gift, and get a copy for yourself as well.
Though the material is solid, Vlach is readable, clean and engaging. Chapters tend to be brief, which helps move his case along. The publisher did two great services, and two disservices. First, they published the book; second, they provided footnotes for Vlach’s many citations rather than horrid end-notes. However, the book would have been served far better by margins wider than the under- ½-inch ones they employ, so as to facilitate note-taking. Also; if they have supported the book by any advertising or other notices, I have not seen it.
This is a shame. Vlach’s work deserves a very broad reading among pastors and all students of the Bible. I think his perspective is Biblically-faithful, and more Christians need to see how the Word – allowed to speak for itself – holds together in its portrait of the faithful, plain-spoken, promise-keeping God of Scripture.
Get a copy, read it, and tell everyone you can. As I’m doing!
[Disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy with no promise of a positive review. Also, I had offered Professor Vlach some input on parts of early drafts of the book.]