By Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Recently, Benjamin Wright wrote a review of the new book, Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer. This book is authored by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue. Several others on The Master’s Seminary faculty also contributed to this book, including myself (three chapters). Wright’s review is from The Gospel Coalition website and can be found at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/christs_prophetic_plans.
My general policy is not to respond to critiques and evaluations of books that I have written or contributed to. If there is a statement, however, that may mislead readers concerning what I believe on a crucial issue, I want to respond to the misrepresentation so that people are not confused as to what I and other dispensationalists hold and teach.
In his review, Wright made a statement that reflects the opposite of what I stated in the book. His claim actually goes against what I believe on a very important theological issue. Wright’s statement occurs in the section called “Hermeneutical Considerations” and is the first point of substance that he uses in his review, perhaps showing the significance that he gives to this point.
So with my comments below, please understand that I am not evaluating his review as a whole or going point-by-point through his entire critique. I do appreciate his interest in this book. But I want to point out an error so there is no confusion on my position.
The statement in Wright’s review that is not accurate is this:
“Michael Vlach succinctly surveys evidence that OT promises must be ultimately fulfilled in a future reconstitution of Israel. Nevertheless, his arguments for fulfillment exclusive of Gentile believers (and others elsewhere in the book) are ultimately unpersuasive.”
My focus here is on the claim that I think OT promises are fulfilled in a way exclusive of Gentile believers. It should be noted that there are no page numbers to support his claim, which should be the case since that is not my view. I would like to see the documentation that links me with denying Gentile inclusion in the OT promises.
I want to make clear that I do NOT believe that OT promises are exclusive of Gentile believers.
On the contrary, I hold that believing Gentiles are included in the OT promises and covenants. This was promised and repeated multiple times in the Abrahamic Covenant and came to fruition with the work of Christ. On multiple occasions in the book I stated that Gentiles would be related to the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant:
“Thus, Genesis 12:2-3 indicates that the purpose of Abraham and the great nation to come from him [Israel] is a worldwide blessing.” (p. 108)
“The implications of this passage [Gen 12:2-3] for the people of God concept are significant. First, from the very beginning, the Abrahamic covenant was intended for both Israel and the Gentiles. It is not just for Israel alone, although the covenant would be mediated through Israel.” (p. 108)
“This promise that Abraham’s seed would be the vehicle for blessings to Gentiles is explicitly stated again in three other sections of Genesis...” (p. 108) (It is here that I mention Gen 22:18; 26:4; and 28:14).
If you go to page 109 you will see that the entire page is devoted to showing how the Abrahamic Covenant included Gentiles from the very beginning. On page 106, in regard to Isa 19:24–25 I say, “These nations will become the people of God alongside Israel who is still God’s “inheritance.’”
On page 29 I link the covenants to “believing Gentiles”:
Dispensationalists do acknowledge that believing Gentiles have been brought near to the covenants of Israel (see Eph. 2:11-22)...”
On page 25 I mention the relationship of the church to the New Covenant:
“The author of Hebrews includes the church in the blessings of the new covenant.”
I also favorably quote Darrell Bock who stated, “The realization of new covenant hope today for Gentiles does not mean that the promise made to Israel in Jeremiah 31 has been jettisoned.” (p. 25).
So just to be clear, I do believe that the OT promises and covenants included Gentiles (i.e. believing Gentiles) from the beginning. Genesis 12:2-3 makes this clear. I also believe that Isa 52:15 indicates that the New Covenant would extend to Gentiles (“He will sprinkle many nations”). I also think the Davidic Covenant had Gentiles in mind from the beginning—“charter for mankind” (2 Sam 7:19). Ephesians 2:12–13 explicitly states that Gentiles in Christ have been brought “near” the “covenants of promise.” The Olive Tree analogy of Rom 11:16–24 indicates that believing Gentiles have been grafted into the blessings of the OT covenants.
Since Christ’s Prophetic Plans is an explanation of Futuristic Premillennialism / Dispensationalism, and this issue of Gentile relationship to the OT covenants is such a crucial issue, this point needs to be understood, especially since I think this was made clear in the book. This issue of Gentiles and the OT promises is not a secondary issue, but a crucial one. A lesser issue may not have needed a response. But if a reader of this book review goes away thinking dispensationalists do not believe the OT promises have a relationship to believing Gentiles, they are believing something that is not true.
I am convinced that if you read Christ’s Prophetic Plans you will see that I and other dispensationalists do believe the promises and OT covenants were intended for the Gentiles too and were not just for Israel. The promises to the Gentiles come through the instruments of Abraham and Israel, but they do go to the Gentiles because of what Jesus did. This is a both/and situation and not an either/or.
I appreciate Wright’s interest in our book. I am puzzled as to why he made this claim. To give him the benefit of the doubt I am thinking this is a case of not reading the book carefully or not understanding the real issues, rather than a purposeful misrepresentation. If I had to guess, I would say that maybe he has a perception of what Dispensationalism teaches on the issue of Gentiles, which for him is Gentile exclusion from the OT promises, and then he assumed that is what our book is teaching.
It is my hope that evaluations of Dispensationalism can focus on the real issues, even if one disagrees with it. Dealing with the issues presented in Christ’s Prophetic Plans is a good place to start.
Who Is a True Jew? • BPB (Tony Garland)
The Church and the Abrahamic Covenant • SpiritandTruth.org (Paul Henebury)
Introduction to the Biblical Covenants • SpiritandTruth.org (Tony Garland)
Israel-Church Differences • BPB (Andy Woods)