Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 1: Thesis

Last fall, I took a class with Founders on Covenant Theology. It is not one of my better papers, but I thought I'd share it.

Over the past century a relatively new system of theology has arisen and has since gained great acceptance among conservative American Evangelicals. Dispensationalism, which first began among The Brethren movement in England in the early 19th century, came about due to the study of John Nelson Darby while studying Isaiah 32. His conclusion was, “Israel, in a future dispensation, would enjoy earthly blessings that were different from the heavenly blessings experienced by the church.”[1]

The Dispensational viewpoint was popularized among Evangelicals initially through the Bible Conference Movement beginning in the 1870s and later through the Scofield reference bible. After War World I, many schools were formed to promote this new system. One of the most well known is Dallas Theological Seminary.[2] Over the years, the system has changed and progressed through at least three stages, Classical, Traditional and Progressive.[3]

Although there are significant differences among the views of Progressive Dispensationalism from the Classical and Traditional, they all share similar views that the Christian church is distinct from National Israel. This is due to the presuppositional interpretive approach to the Bible, especially in how we understand the covenants through the Bible. As Ken Gentry states,
“A revision of the Israel/Church distinction, allowing that Israel and the Church are two phases of the one people of God. Classic Dispensationalists argued for a radical distinction between Israel and the Church…”[4]
 Dispensationalism arose due to at least a sub-biblical view of the covenants, especially the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. Because of its overly literal presuppositions that one must interpret the New Testament in light of the Old Testament, the Dispensationalist sees the church as an unpredicted mystery that was not known until the kingdom was rejected by National Israel. As Pastor James Healan states,

“The Church is a mystery (Eph. 3:6; Col. 1:26-27) not predicted in the Old Testament. Nothing indicates that it was part of anything “prior or will be part of something future other than itself—the Body of Christ.[5]
 This understanding also directly affects the separation of the “Kingdom of God” from the church and is only fully applied to National Israel.[6] The purpose of this paper is to look at the New Testament’s understanding of the New Covenant in contrast with Dispensationalism as a whole.

[1] Michael J. Vlach, “What Is Dispensationalism?”
[2] Ibid.
[4] Ken Gentry, “Progressive Dispensationalism”
[5] James Healan, “Is Dispenstionalism Progressing or Regressing?”
[6] Ibid.

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