Edited by Richard J Sherratt
What is dispensationalism?
It is a system of theology that recognizes different stewardships of man under God. According to Charles Ryrie “dispensationalism views the world as a household run by God. In His household-world, God is dispensing or administering its affairs according to His own will and in various stages of revelation in the passage of time. These various stages mark off the distinguishably different economies in the outworking of His total purpose, and these different economies constitute the dispensations.”
What is a dispensation?
A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of the purpose of God. They are, according to P. Nevin, “God’s distinctive method of governing mankind or a group of men during a period of human history, marked by a test, failure and judgement.”
What are the features of a specific dispensation?
How do we know that one dispensation has been replaced by another?
- There are two parties: the one whose authority it is to delegate duties (God), and the one whose responsibility it is to carry out these charges.
- There are specific responsibilities.
- There is accountability: a steward may be called into account for the discharge of his stewardship.
- The stewardship can be removed: a change may be made at anytime unfaithfulness is found in the existing administration.
There will be (1) a change in God’s administrative relationship with man; (2) a resultant change in man’s responsibility, and; (3) a corresponding revelation necessary to effect the change.
How does the dispensationalist read the Bible?
The dispensationalist has a consistently literal method of Biblical interpretation. They give to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage. Sometimes called the grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations. Symbols and figurative language are interpreted plainly and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer, but it is the literal, normal or plain meaning that they convey to the reader.
What are the key features of dispensationalist eschatology?
A. The Covenants
1. Abrahamic Covenant: This promised Israel a land (further developed in the Palestinian Covenant), a posterity (further developed in the Davidic Covenant) and blessing/redemption (further developed in the New Covenant). The Abrahamic Covenant is found: Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15; 15; 22:15-18; 26:3-5, 24; 28:13-15; 35:9-12 and 2 Kings 13:23.
2. Palestinian Covenant: Guarantuees Israel’s permanent right to the land and promises their return to it. Found in Deuteronomy 30:1-10.
3. Davidic Covenant: Promised David an eternal house, an eternal throne, an eternal kingdom, and an eternal descent. It promised Israel that the messiah would come from Judah and have a throne and a kingdom, ruling over Israel. It is found in 2 Samuel 7:11-17 and 1 Chronicles 17:10-15
4. New Covenant: This promised Israel the spiritual means whereby the nation would enter into blessing and receive forgiveness. It is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36. Note that the Church has no relationship (directly) to the New Covenant. R. Decker states that the New Covenant “is made strictly with Israel and will be fulfilled by Israel in the future millennial kingdom. Because of Israel’s unbelief, the covenant is not now in effect with that nation. Instead, the church participates in the New Covenant, not as a legal party to the covenant, but as recipients of the blessings of the covenant which come about by virtue of a union with Christ, the mediator of the covenant, and are placed into effect at the time of his death.”
B. The Rapture
This is found in scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and it is when Christ returns to the earth prior to His second coming to take away the Church from the earth to return after the tribulation. The rapture must be pre-tribulational because the tribulation is a period of seven years wherein God pours out his wrath on an unrepentant world and we know that God will spare the Church from His wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) and therefore we shall not be upon the earth during the tribulation. (See also Revelation 3:10)
C. The great tribulation
This is the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:20-27) and its major purpose is to reconcile Israel to God (Deuteronomy 4:27-31; Ezekiel 20:37). Another of its functions is to judge unbelieving gentiles. The tribulation begins with the beast and Israel signing a covenant. This beast is likely to be from the European Union.
D. The millennial kingdom
When Christ returns to earth He will establish Himself as King in Jerusalem sitting upon the throne of David (Luke 1:32-33). Only believers will enter the millennium. This kingdom will last 1000 years. All the covenants will have been fulfilled as Israel is regathered, converted and restored.
E. The eternal state
Following the millennium, the eternal state will be ushered in. Here we have the new heaven populated by the ‘resurrected’ church and Old Testament saints, and a new earth populated by Israel and believing gentiles due to the central dualism.