AskRob: A question on initial thoughts regarding Dispensational & Covenant Theologies

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Q. I have a question that is probably best answered in a deep discussion, but I am really just looking for you to give me a few resources (online or in print) that would help us out. My accountability friend and I are starting a study of the book of Hebrews. She mentioned that she would also like to look a bit into the arguments for and against Covenant Theology since she has had several friends leave the church over this issue and she would like to have a better understanding of this for discussions with them and her family members in other denominations who believe in Covenant theology. WHEW! This is out of my zone but I’m up for the challenge. John’s got a lot more head knowledge for these types of discussions but I’m willing to learn more about what I believe so that I can have a good discussion with those who believe differently. Since Hebrews is about the Jews who were practicing a hybrid faith, I want to be sure I am not swayed in the wrong path as well. Do you have any starting points for us?


  1. Let me start by providing some starting points. You probably do not need them, but in case its helpful, let me build a perspective – if not, just humor me. ;P

–          All systems of thought, yea the very heart of Systematic Theology, are derived for logistical purposes – they help us organize . . . help us categorize.

–          The question is always whether or not our questions we use to formulate the system and our categories by which to organize the system are correct.

–          Therefore, all systems are a bit suspect – an organized list does not a reality make.

–          Second, the system, that may or may not be flawed, instantly takes on dangerous off-label usage when it is then turned around and superimposed back onto reality as some sort of rule. This is where syllogisms come into play. Just because all of the animals that you have seen have tales, does not mean that all animals have tales – unless you are sure that you have seen all there is in all time.

–          Now systems like Dispensationalism (D) and Cov. Theology (CT), and even the queen – Systematic Theology were not formed by one person in a vacuum, but the principle remains true

–          Finally, because these are made by us for us, they also take many forms and degrees.

–          There are spectrums of belief in all systems, and that is most certainly true with D and CT.

–                  – D: Progressive Disp . . . Revised Disp. . . Classic Disp.

–                  -CT: New Covenant Theology . . . Covenant Theology\

2. Ok. Now the first thing is that there are two main principles that divide the two camps: Israel and the Church; Continuity vs. Discontinuity

–          These are the purest principles of the views.

–          D believes that God set apart a specific people, Israel, and made covenants with them, that would bless the world also – through them.

–          CT believe that God’s covenants may have been made through Israel, but they applied directly and through all people

–          D sees Israel and the Church as separate. distinct, but related bodies of people

–          CT sees us all as God’s people – (all those who believe – not universalism)

–          D sees specific seams in human history that weave together a single programmatic plan of God

–          CT sees epoch-like ages that are working toward a fixed point

–          D would make distinctions between the sections, or dispensations, that are seamed together where some features of one section would not exist in the next, might exist in the next – or might even skip the next section and go to the next after that, altogether.

–          Bottom line:

–                  – D sees the Church and Israel as absolutely distinct, a single programmatic plan of God with distinguishable dispensations therein

–                  -CT sees the Church and Israel as sub-categorical and are therefore the same, and hold to a strong continuity between the Old and New Covenants

3. The struggles lie in the “turn-the-system-back-around-and superimpose-it-on-everything-else” stage.

–          Hermeneutics (the science and art of Biblical Interpretation) are executed with extreme bias

–          Possibilities for meaning are sometimes ruled out, because the system cannot hold it

–          Oppressing complexities overwhelm the glory of the Scriptures and eclipse their plain meaning

–          Etc.

4. So, Church/Israel & Continuity/Discontinuity

–          These are the basic starting points

–          Then you start getting more detailed:

–          -How many dispensations? D

–          -How does the Law apply today? CT

–          -What about the future? D

–          – Is Christ Ruling now? CT

–          Etc

5. I am attaching some docs and recommended reading to help further

–          Of course I am up for more on this issue, as well

–          If you end up with any questions regarding the Book of Hebrews, besides who wrote it – I don’t know . . .  – let me know.

Reading list:

–           – Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded – Charles Ryrie

–            – Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism – Herbert Bateman

–            –  Progressive Dispensationalism – Darryl Bock and Craig Blaising

–            – Introducing Covenant Theology – Michael Horton

–            – Understanding Dispensationalists – Vern Poythress

–            – New Covenant Theology – Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel

–          Blessings!

Pettegrews Notes on Cov and Disp Theology – STS Systematic Theology IV