A Review of He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God, by Michael J. Vlach: Silverton, OR. Lampion Press, 638 pages, hdbk.
Dispensationalists and open-minded amillennialists know that a book or article by Michael Vlach is going to be worth reading. His contributions are always well thought-out, and his style is usually analytical yet easy to follow. He has written several useful works, including Has the Church Replaced Israel? and a recent e-book, How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament? This book, running for more than 600 pages, is his most ambitious yet.
He Shall Reign Forever is Dr. Vlach’s attempt to write a whole Bible biblical theology; something that Dispensationalists, in whose company the author counts himself, have often shied away from, although commendably the author does not structure the volume around “dispensations.” What we get is a must-have piece of biblical theology.
Vlach has taken as his central idea the theme of God’s Kingdom. There is no argument here with the choice. It is perhaps the primary theme of the Bible (25-26). But the Kingdom of God has proven to be a very mutivalent concept in the hands of Bible scholars (e.g. 29-30, 32). Therefore, any writer who wants to put out a big book on the Kingdom has his work cut out for him. The question is, how to both persuade the reader of ones own take while showing why other views of the subject – e.g. the Kingdom is the Church, or the Kingdom is the inheritance of the Church – fail in their understanding of the Scriptures (e.g. 16).
Although there is some interaction with other positions, the writer is clear that what he is concerned with is a positive presentation of his view of the kingdom (17 n.11). Vlach offers what he calls “a new creationist perspective” (11), by which he means that the Bible presents the Kingdom as the goal of creation. This is in opposition to a “spiritual vision model” (12), which tends towards spiritualization. As the title suggests, the Christocentric thrust of Scripture features strongly, but without the debatable practice of seeing Jesus in every verse.
The author affirms the continuity of God’s plan in line with His promises. The spiritual promises of inward renewal have been shown to have had literal fulfillment. So too will the physical promises (14, 49). The form that this takes is “fulfillment of the particular (Israel) leads to fulfillment of the universal (the world)” (15 – all italics are those of the author).
There are five parts to the storyline of the Bible (23). The first is pivotal:
the kingdom is present with creation as God the King of creation tasks his image-bearer, man, to rule and subdue His creation.
This linking of eschatology to creation is vital for the future of premillennial eschatology, as it prevents one dealing with the Last Things independently or lastly , as so often happens in Dispensational publications. His definition of Kingdom as “the rule of God over His creation” (30) reinforces the need for a biblical theology of the Kingdom. With the concept of the “mediatorial kingdom” (via Alva McClain) wherein God rules via man, providing the mode of Kingdom rule (ch. 3).
I should insert here that even though I would not disagree with Vlach that the Kingdom is primary as a theme, and I would even say that “covenant” is subordinate to the aims of the Kingdom (26), I do not think that that the Kingdom theme as Vlach sees it is established outside of God’s covenants. He quotes Goldsworthy to this effect (26 n. 10), although ironically in the piece he cites; “The Kingdom of God as Hermeneutic Grid”, I believe Goldsworthy gets things exactly the wrong way round. It is the covenants which provide the interpretive grid for the Kingdom idea to fully emerge (though see 28 n. 14). This is why the present writer advocates a “biblical covenantalism” as the backbone of proper hermeneutics.
The second chapter seeks to establish the methodology of the rest of the book. Adequate grounds are given with good examples. I heard echoes of some of my own emphases in this chapter: like the stabilizing authority of the covenants (42), the objection that if the original audience couldn’t know the path of fulfillment the revelation could not have been for them (42), the problem with a hermeneutics geared mostly to the first coming (43 n.21), and the fact that spiritual qualifications precede and guarantee literal fulfillment of God’s promises (44). Vlach does not need me to tell him these things, but I was very pleased to see them stressed.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis is where the rationale for Vlach’s five parts of the Bible Story must be established. He does this in chapter 4, “The Kingdom and Creation (Genesis 1- 11)”. Good creation, fall, and the foundational first (Noahic) covenant are handled neatly, so that the transition into Genesis 12 and following flows logically and inevitably. I think the author does a great job in these pages, achieving the programmatic cohesion that exists from the flood to the call of Abraham. This is a skillfully written chapter; the best in the Old Testament portion of the book.
We are then treated to solid expositions of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, the historical books (with the Davidic covenant), and the Psalms (chaps. 5 – 8). These chapters cover a lot of history in just over sixty pages, which is a tall order. I think that on the whole what needed to be said was said, but I felt that the author’s analytical skills, save perhaps for the royal psalms, were not as sharp as in chapter 4. One example will have to do: Vlach puts his finger on the first use of “kingdom” for the rule of God, quoting Exodus 19:5-6 (95), and rightly says that it reveals God’s mediatorial kingdom program, but I wish he had expanded upon rather than simply noted the importance of this text for the theological credentials of the mediatorial kingdom concept. Perhaps I am being too pedantic, but having noted the point, I would have expected this writer to have drawn out the implications for the student. Also, in an informative treatment of the Psalms, the author notes that some Jewish sources saw Psalm 2 as messianic, but unfortunately he gives no sources.
These rather minor quibbles aside, we are off to a good start. Vlach now turns to the Old Testament Prophets (145-252).
*A note of no importance, the quotation on pages 35-36 repeats the footnote on 34 n.6