Christian Theology

Dispensationalism: what is it? Does anyone know of any concise discussion of what seperates it from other views, and whether the view holds water? I need to familiarize myself with it, right or wrong, and I’d like a little more reliable source than wikipedia. (:

If you have an opinion, feel free to share. If you have a book or paper to suggest reading, please suggest. Thanks!

  1. Alistair McGrath has a brief (three or so paragraphs) bit of exposition on dispensationalism in Christian Theology: An Introduction. If he is to be believed the major characteristics of dispensationalism are a division of history into separate periods, or dispensations, ; a distinction between Israel and the church in which Israel is ‘an earthly people whose hope focuses on an earthly kingdom’ and the church ‘a heavenly people whose destiny lies beyond this world’; and also the ideas of the rapture and the tribulation. Prominent figures mentioned are John Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield.

    The periods cited by McGrath are, apparently, sourced from the Scofield Reference Bible (quoted from McGrath):
    “The most distinctive feathure of dispensationalism is its periodization of history. Scofield divided the history of salvation into seven periods or ‘dispensations,’ each of which represents a distinct covenant between God and God’s people. These are:
    1. Innocence, between creation and the Fall.
    2. Conscience, between the Fall and Noah’s flood.
    3. Human government, from the flood to the call of Abraham.
    4. Promise, from Abraham to Moses.
    5. Law, from Moses to the death of Christ.
    6. The church, from the resurrection to the present.
    7. The millenium.

    While other schemes of dispensations have been put forward within dispensationalism, Scofield’s has had particular influence.”

    McGrath has a little more information, but that comes from midway through the very last chapter, 18, of the book (and I’m slogging through this book slowly enough that I’m only on about chapter 5).

    I really can’t offer anything else, though, as I’m really out of my depth here.

  2. Dispensationalism underlies a couple of interesting bits of theology which seem to be specific to American evangelicalism and with which (despite being an Evangelical and an American) I tend to disagree. Most dispensationalists buy into a literal millenium of Christ’s reign on earth and play Apocalypse watch with the book of Revelation in one hand and USA Today in the other. The whole Left Behind series is a hotbed of this premillenial dispensationalism.

    Premillenial dispensationalism also gives rise to the somewhat unusual support of the state of Israel in the whole Israel/Palestine crisis. Apaprently, they link the Kingdom of Israel described in the Scriptures with the state established in 1948.

    I was going to post something to my rather disused blog in light of Pat Robertson’s idiotic comment about Ariel Sharon’s stroke being God’s judgement for leaving Gaza, but it turned into a critique of dispensationalism and an examination of the history of the movement, and the ensuing scope creep sort of killed the whole thing. Maybe I’ll try to animate its corpse and post it one of these days.

    Anyhow, as a bit of fun, do some brief searching on Cyrus I. Scofield of Scofield Reference Bible fame. Let me know if you find any evidence of actual biblical or theological training. Or evidence that he wasn’t a deadbeat dad. Needless to say, I haven’t found any.

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