Covenantal Vs. Dispensational Theology


Gary DeLashmutt and Dennis McCallum

General Background

Covenantal Theology is typical of reformed theologians. This includes the Reformed and Christian Reformed, the Presbyterian, the Anglican (or Episcopal), and to some extent, the Lutheran. The Catholics also recognize the same approximate divisions of scriptural history, while differing on the question of man's responsibility in the covenant of grace. Taken together then, the covenantal view must be considered by far and away the predominant view.

The dispensational view is of more recent origin, arising from the evangelical awakening in American and England. Through the work of Jesse Penn-Lewis, T. Austin Sparks, J.N. Darby (who is given credit for formally bringing the view to light) Dwight Moody, C.I. Scofield (who included it in the Scofield Bible) Watchman Nee, and Lewis Sperry Chaffer, this view has become widespread and popular today. It is the view of most pentecostals, Brethren, many Baptists, and most independent Bible churches.

Covenantal Theology

Covenantal Theologians organize all history and theology around several covenants, or arrangements between God and humans or the Son. They are:

1. Covenant of Redemption. This covenant is optional. It occurred before creation.
2. The Covenant of Works: Lasting from creation until the fall.
3. The Covenant of Grace: Lasting from the fall until the second advent.

Dispensational Theology

Dispensational theology organizes history and theology around a series of dispensations, which are each different "economies" or arrangements decreed by God. Each dispensation begins with an offer of blessing by God, and ends with failure by man to meet God's conditions and a resulting period of Divine judgement. Old line dispensationalists taught 7 dispensations. Newer, moderate dispensationals focus only on #1, 5, 6, and 7.

1. The Dispensation of Innocence - untested Holiness
2. The Dispensation of Conscience - Cain & Abel
3. The Dispensation of Government - Noah
4. The Dispensation of Promise - Abraham
5. The Dispensation of Law - Moses
6. The Dispensation of Grace or the Church
7. The Dispensation of Kingdom

Discussion Questions

After reviewing and gaining a good understanding of the strengths and weakness of each view from a biblical point of view, discuss the following questions.

  1. How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Eschatology?
  2. How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Bibliology?
  3. How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Ecclesiology?
  4. How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Soteriology?
  5. How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Pneumatology?

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