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
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 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.
- The Son' agreement - perfect obedience in death promised to the Father
- The Father' agreement - promised to the Son: 1) all the Son's needs to be
met; 2) Holy Spirit given to the Church; 3) salvation to all believers; 4)
exaltation of the son.
2. The Covenant of Works: Lasting from creation until the fall.
- Man's conditions - Adam must obey God
- God rewards obedience with eternal life, punishes disobedience with death
3. The Covenant of Grace: Lasting from the fall until the second advent.
- Man's conditions - saving faith issuing in obedience
- God's response - salvation in all of its phases
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
- Began at Creation and lasted until the fall
- People could have direct fellowship with God, but
they must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
- Final judgment: People expelled from the Garden
2. The Dispensation of Conscience - Cain & Abel
- Began at the time of the fall and lasted until the
- People were responsible to live according to their
- Final judgment: Universal Flood
3. The Dispensation of Government - Noah
- Lasted from the time when God offered Noah a covenant
with the rainbow until the Tower of Babel
- People were to follow God both through their own
conscience and by establishing just government
- Final judgment: The Tower of Babel - confusion of tongues
4. The Dispensation of Promise - Abraham
- From the calling of Abraham (Gen. 12) until the
- The Covenant People were to remain faithful to Yahweh
alone and practice circumcision
- Final judgment: slavery in Egypt
5. The Dispensation of Law - Moses
- From the giving of the law to Moses until the second
advent of Christ.
- The Covenant People were to be faithful to Yahweh
through obeying the Law
- Final judgment: The great tribulation (notice that the church age is inserted as an
unforseen haitus in the midst of the dispensation of law. The church is therefore removed
in the rapture before things revert to conditions as they were in the Old Testament
6. The Dispensation of Grace or the Church
- Lasts from the day of Pentecost until the Rapture
- The church is to render saving faith in following
- No ending judgment for this dispensation except for the counterfeit church, which goes
into the tribulation with the rest of the world
7. The Dispensation of Kingdom
- Corresponds roughly to the Millenium
- People are to obey Christ who reigns on earth
- Great White Throne
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.
- How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Eschatology?
- How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Bibliology?
- How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Ecclesiology?
- How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Soteriology?
- How might the Covenantal versus Dispentional view affect Pneumatology?
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