“Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures will harmonize.”
– Augustine (Caveat: Sadly, Augustine was not consistent in applying the sound hermeneutic of a literal/normal principle of interpretation resulting in faulty conclusions.)
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (emphasis mine)
A FEW QUALIFIERS
I am a dispensationalist! As I address errors and concerns regarding Covenant theology I speak in general terms. In both Dispensationalism and Covenantialism, there is often a wide variety of views amongst those that would still be in the same general camp. Also, at various points, there is some overlap.
Within the last three to four hundred years, Bible-believing scholars have developed two distinct approaches to expositing the Bible’s philosophy of history. Each approach has produced a system of theology. Those two systems are known as Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. –Renald Showers – THERE REALLY IS A DIFFERENCE, Pg. 6
WHAT IS DISPENSATIONALISM?
Dispensationalism begins with the letter “D” and “D” stands for DISTINCTIONS. God’s sovereign plan involves DISTINCT ARRANGEMENTS (economies or administrations) of human responsibility in the outworking of progressive revelation.
A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose. -Charles Ryrie – DISPENSATIONALISM, pg. 28
Dispensational Theology can be defined very simply as a system of theology which attempts to develop the Bible’s philosophy of history on the basis of the sovereign rule of God. It represents the whole of Scripture and history as being covered by several dispensations of God’s rule.-Renald Showers – THERE REALLY IS A DIFFERENCE, pg. 27)
Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees a distinction between God’s program for Israel and His dealings with the church. –John MacArthur – FAITH WORKS, pg. 219)
THREE DEFINING POINTS of Dispensationalism
- Dispensationalism sees the unifying theme of God’s plan as being the GLORY of God.
- Dispensationalism seeks to consistently interpret the whole of Scripture in a plain or normal/literal manner. It applies the maxim: “When PLAIN SENSE makes good sense then seek no other sense.”
- Dispensationalism makes a clear DISTINCTION between Israel and the Church. In addition, Dispensationalists would be Pre-millennial in their theology, believing that Christ will come prior to His literal 1000 -year reign as prophesied in Revelation 20.
Many dispensationalists have recognized seven dispensations in the Scriptures: 1. Innocence (Gen. 1:3-3:6). 2. Conscience (Gen. 3:7-8:14). 3. Civil Government (Gen. 8:15-11:9). 4. Patriarchal Rule (Gen. 11:10 – Ex. 18:27) 5. Mosaic Law (Ex.19:1 – Jn. 14:30). 6. Grace (Acts 2:1-Rev. 19:21). 7. The Millennium (Rev. 20:1-15).
Each of the dispensations has corresponding human responsibilities and accountabilities in conjunction with the unfolding of God’s progressive revelation. All who have ever been saved have been saved on basis of grace through faith. Those of true faith throughout history reflected the obedience of faith in accordance with the revelation they had been given by God up to that point (cf. Heb. 11).
WHAT IS COVENANT THEOLOGY?
Covenant Theology begins with the letter “C” and “C” stands for CONTINUITY. Covenant Theology is an approach to Scripture that sees the whole of God’s dealings with mankind in terms of two main Covenants. They are the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. This terminology is foreign to Scripture but it defines their position. The Covenant of Works related to Adam. He failed. Ever since God has been dealing with mankind in conjunction with a Covenant of Grace. All of redemptive history since the fall of mankind fits into this scheme of these two covenants.
THREE DEFINING POINTS of Covenant Theology
- Covenant Theology sees the unifying theme of God’s plan as the salvation of men.
- Covenant Theology approaches the interpretation of Scripture inconsistently. They interpret some of it literally, but often prophetic passages are interpreted allegorically.
- Covenant Theology holds that God is finished with physical Israel and that now the Church is spiritualized Israel. The O.T. promises to Israel now find spiritual CONTINUITY and fulfillment in the Church.
In addition, it should be noted that Covenant Theologians may be Premillennial, Post millennial, or Amillennial in their eschatology. The Amillennial view holds that we are now in the kingdom in some form. The Postmillennial view holds that the church is to usher in a golden age through social and political activism and then Christ will come after this Kingdom Age.
THREE SERIOUS CONCERNS WITH COVENANT THEOLOGY
- Those holding to the view that the church is going to usher in the kingdom through political and social activism prior to Christ’s coming often lose sight of the mission of the church. Instead of “gospel activism” the emphasis becomes “political and social activism”. Instead of the “blessed hope” (Ti. 2:13), the emphasis becomes more earth-centered.
- The CONTINUITY emphasis sees N.T. baptism as the counterpart of circumcision in the Old Testament. In conjunction with the ritual of baptism, one is supposedly brought under the Covenant of Grace. Logically this gets entangled with BAPTISMAL REGENERATION which is another gospel! God has no grandchildren – only children who are personally and individually born again through faith in Christ (cf. Jn.1:12).
- By saying that God is completely finished with physical Israel the very INTEGRITY of God is called into question. After all, if He doesn’t keep His PROMISES to the nation of Israel (Jer. 30:11) why would we think He would be faithful regarding those to the church? (cf. Rom. 11:13-32)
WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM?
In recent years a MEDIATING position has been put forth which is called Progressive Dispensationalism. It holds to an “Already – Not Yet” view of the kingdom. Thus it blurs proper biblical distinctions between Israel and the church.
Thought: If Israel’s judgment passages were literally fulfilled why not the blessing passages?
Pastor Dwight Oswald is pastor of Southview Bible Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, one of the churches on our Dispensational Church finder.
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