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Dispensationalism according to J.C. O'Neill is a system of Biblical interpretation that began in the nineteenth century that allowed the students of the Bible to understand the Bible as one book. O'Neill (1999: 158). The concept being that no portion or part of Biblical Scripture would be understood apart from Scripture as a whole, in its entirety, a concept of C. I. Scofield (1843-1921). O'Neill (1999: 158). Dispensationalism is traced back to the teachings and writings of John Nelson Darby from Dublin (1800-1882) that was an early leader of the Plymouth Brethren. O'Neill (1999: 158). This system is referenced in the Scofield Reference Bible of 1902-1909, revised 1917 and 1966. O'Neill (1999: 158). The theology states that Biblically there is one redemption through Christ as planned. God deals with humanity through seven dispensations. These are Innocence (Genesis 1), to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden due to the Fall; Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Genesis 3) to the Flood; Human Government where God set this up, leading to the call of Abraham and following; Promise which is Israel's stewardship of God's law and truth, this would include the Mosaic law and Ten Commandments, Law, disciplinary correction up until the death of Jesus Christ; The Church and The Dispensation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) to Christ's return; and the 1000 year Kingdom of Revelation 20: 4 leading to the finalized everlasting state otherwise known as the 'eternal' state.
C.C. Ryrie reasons that at least three dispensations were mentioned by the Apostle Paul; one before the present time (Colossians 1: 25-26), the present time (Ephesians 3: 2), the future administration/Kingdom, and this assumes a fourth dispensation of pre and post fall. This makes five, the other two within Ryrie's view to make seven are after the Noahic flood and another with Abraham his call and followers. Ryrie (1996: 322).
Ryrie writes against a frequent criticism of dispensationalism by stating there have not been several ways of salvation in several dispensations, as the atoning death of Christ has always been the means of salvation. Ryrie (1996: 322). However, Ryrie, correctly on this point, I reason, warns against reading too much of the New Testament back into the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and reminds the reader that progressive revelation took place and that the context of faith changed in dispensations Ryrie (1996: 322). Or if we reject the concept let us state Biblical eras rather than dispensations. True enough as under the old covenant there was mosaic law and under the new covenant there in the atoning work and resurrection of Christ, but both rely on the work of Christ for ultimate completed atoning work.
Ryrie writes that the system was developed by John Nelson Darby in recent history, relatively speaking, but he does not agree concepts were not mentioned previously noting Johnathan Edwards as one older historical example.
To further note, dispensation is from the Latin 'dispenso' to weigh out, to administer as a steward. Richardson (1999: 158). Theologically a system to regulate human obedience to God in religious and moral matters and therefore there is the concept/theory that there have been Biblical dispensations established. C.C. Ryrie places the related words back to New Testament Greek concepts of regulating and administration. Ryrie (1996: 321).
Covenant Theology according to M. E. Osterhaven is from the Reformation, so from a Reformed perspective and the sixteenth century. Osterhaven (1996: 279). Early developments were from writings of Zwingli and Bullinger, Anabaptists and also John Calvin. Calvin being a major theological player. Osterhaven (1996: 279).
Covenant theology, also known as Federal theology views God in a covenant with humanity similar to how God interacts in the Trinity. Osterhaven (1996: 279). R. E. Clements describes the covenant tradition as developing very strongly in the Protestant tradition since the Reformation. Within the Westminster Confession of 1647 there is a concept of a unity of Biblical revelation with a denial of any concept that in the Old Testament there was any such thing as a covenant of works in regard to salvation. Clements (1999: 128).
Covenant of Works, this is also known as the Edenic covenant. This included a promise of everlasting life on the condition of obedience for a certain period, death as a consequence of disobedience, the existence of the trees of life and of the knowledge of good and evil. Osterhaven (1996: 279).
As there was a fall, there is good news that God did intervene with another covenant in grace (Osterhaven (1996: 279).
Covenant of Redemption, reasons the trinue God eternally had a plan to save humankind. Osterhaven (1996: 279-280). Readers of my blogs, this one in particular will see how this fits in with my Doctorate and a compatibilist understanding that God as the cause of all things willingly allowed the fall in order to atone for persons, the elect through Christ, because ultimately, in the everlasting completed Kingdom God wanted persons that had experienced the problem of evil, results of the fall, salvation, and now in the perfected state with the guidance of the Holy Spirit would without a sin nature, having being purged in the resurrection, never sin again, or be seriously tempted to sin again. These persons would have levels of maturity and understanding and experience that Adam and Eve did not have in the Garden. A key point from my PhD thesis.
Covenant of Grace, encompasses the Gospel, atoning work, resurrection, election and culminated Kingdom hoped for, and promised in Revelation and 2 Peter. Osterhaven (1996: 280).
Both approaches include elements of systematic theology and therefore deduction. When I attended Columbia Bible College which was Mennonite and Anabaptist I was taught that the entire dispensational system was too subjective with too much guess work. But at Trinity Western University/Canadian Baptist Seminary one of my theology professors was a dispensationalist and/his main point was that the system wished to take the Bible literally, plain literally when required by context, and figurative literally when required by context. This assuming the Scripture was never fictional or myth. I have never been convinced by dispensationalism, although this professor made very good points on the literal nature of Scripture. I suppose there is something to the point that in the New Testament era I reason that the Apostles has certain spiritual abilities that we do not have today, but that would only make the New Testament a different 'dispensation' in a sense and would not be classic dispensationalism. Rather, just a belief that the Biblical/Apostolic times or in that era it contained certain miraculous events not typical today. In those eras at times Prophets and Apostles performed miracles in order to foreshadow the coming culminated Kingdom of God. Miracles are possible today, no major theological argument here, but should not be expected, at least in that same context as we do not have Biblical Prophets and Apostles today.
A covenant/theology approach, although I do not list myself as a covenant theologian per say is in line with Reformed theological views, both Presbyterian and at times Baptist. Working through the speculative issues involved here seem less problematic with my Reformed compatiblistic views.
CLEMENTS, R.E. (1999) ‘Covenant’, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden (eds.), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, Kent, SCM Press Ltd.
O'NEILL, J.C. (1999) ‘Covenant’, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden (eds.), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, Kent, SCM Press Ltd.
OSTERHAVEN, M.E. (1996) ‘Covenant Theology’, in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, Baker Books.
RICHARDSON, ALAN (1999) ‘Dispensation’, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden (eds.), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, Kent, SCM Press Ltd.
RYRIE, C.C. (1996) 'Dispensation, Dispensationalism', in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, Baker Books.