A CHART COMPARING DISPENSATIONAL & COVENANTAL SYSTEMS
Pattern of History:
Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works with Adam; Covenant of Grace with Christ on behalf of the elect (some distinguish between the covenant of Redemption with Christ and the covenant of grace with the elect).
Classical Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations (usually seven); e.g., (1) Innocence (pre-fall), (2) Conscience (Adam), (3) Human Government (Noah), (4) Promise (Abraham), (5) Law (Moses), (6) Grace (Christ’s First Coming), (7) Kingdom (Christ’s Second Coming).
Progressive Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations, of which four are prominent: (1) Patriarchal (Promise); (2) Mosaic (Law); (3) Ecclesial (Church); (4) Zionic (Millennium, the New Heavens and New Earth).
Revelatory View: Revelation and election initiatives succeeded by human failure to respond appropriately. Periods of transition then lead to further initiatives.
God’s Purpose in History:
Covenant Theology: There is a unified redemptive purpose.
Classical Dispensationalism: There are two distinct purposes, one earthly (Israel), one heavenly (church).
Progressive Dispensationalism: To manifest His glory in a progressive redemption that covers every sphere of creation and every structure of human relationship.
Revelatory View: The objective of self-revelation is pursued culminating in the revelation of a plan of salvation, whereby the goal of relationship may be achieved. It is a unified purpose, but not soteric throughout.
View of Biblical Covenants:
Covenant Theology: They are different administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Temporal promises are conditional and applicable to the church.
Classical Dispensationalism: They mark of periods of time during which God’s specific demands of people differ. Temporal promises are unconditional and are applicable to ethnic Israel.
Progressive Dispensationalism: The biblical covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) are made originally to His people, Israel. Believing gentiles are included through Christ, who is the means of blessing for all who believe. All covenants have an “already-not-yet” structure.
Revelatory View: There are revelatory initiatives facilitated through various types of election. Temporal promises are conditional but remain applicable to ethnic Israel. The covenant is characteristically redemptive; ultimately soteric; but essentially revelatory.
Relationship of the OT Law to the NT:
Covenant Theology: Acceptance of OT teaching required unless specifically abrogated by the NT.
Classical Dispensationalism: OT prescriptions are not binding unless they are reaffirmed in the NT.
Progressive Dispensationalism: Individual aspects of the Law are assessed canonically on a case-by-case basis. Christ completes and fulfills the law.
Revelatory View: OT legal passages function within the covenant serving a revelatory purpose that continues to be relevant. The law of Christ has been superimposed on the law of Moses.
Relationship Between Israel and the Church:
Covenant Theology: The church is spiritual Israel, in continuity with true Israel of the OT.
Classical Dispensationalism: The church is the spiritual people of God, distinct from Israel, the physical people of God.
Progressive Dispensationalism: Church = the unified community that receives God’s spiritual blessings in Christ. Israel = the national and political community in the midst of nations that ultimately will be blessed fully by God. Ultimately united in redemption.
Revelatory View: The Church is the people of God defined soteriologically. Israel, previously the revelatory people of God, now may cross over and become a subset of the soteriological people of God (now that their revelatory function is complete) if they respond by faith to the plan of salvation.
Old Testament Prophecy:
Covenant Theology: Refers to God’s people, the church.
Classical Dispensationalism: Refers to ethnic Israel.
Progressive Dispensationalism: Fulness of blessing to be given to believing Israel (and those in the nations who believe) in the final dispensation.
Revelatory View: Refers to ethnic Israel but conditional upon their faithful response.
Covenant Theology: God’s redemptive purpose continued to unfold.
Classical Dispensationalism: There is a parenthesis between past and future manifestations of the kingdom.
Progressive Dispensationalism: From Pentecost to the rapture, a phase in the progressive outworking of God’s wholistic redemption. It is not a parenthesis in the kingdom program.
Revelatory View: The period begun when the people of God are defined soteriologically as a result of God’s plan of salvation being reveled.
*Chart adapted from John H. Walton. Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. John H. Walton has proposed the “Revelatory View.”