Covenant Theology (CT) is a medieval European philosophy. Covenant theologians chiefly interpret the Bible based on only two covenants: the Covenant of Works (Edenic) and the Covenant of Grace. Some also add the Covenant Of Redemption.
To further define CT and working backwards beginning with the “optional third covenant,” the Covenant of Redemption, we find an accord to provide a way of salvation by the principal members of the Trinity; the Father and the Son.
The second would be the Covenant of Works which asserts that God entered into a covenantal relation with Adam. Lastly and probably the most vital is the Covenant of Grace. God decreed this covenant with mankind after The Fall.
Reformed theologian Palmer Robertson states the Covenant of Grace is “the relationship of God to his people subsequent to man’s fall into sin. Since man became incapable of works suitable for meriting salvation, this period has been understood as being controlled primarily by the grace of God.”[i]
In fact, scripture teaches us that man has never been able to capture salvation by meritorious works—only by faith! Even in the Garden when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Life, he did not tell them why they should not. He did tell them what would happen if they rebelled, but the why was by faith.
Paul Enns explains that,
The covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace should not, however, be understood as distinct covenants. . . . The covenant of grace is said to cover the time from Adam to the end of the age, with no distinction being made between the differing covenants and covenanted people throughout this period . . . [the] Scriptures related to Israel are made to refer to the church.[ii]
Rather they are really two nuances that fall under mercy. To the unversed, CT may seem to be solid theology. However Covenant Theology is problematic in that it is an abridged version of God’s relationship to humankind.
Covenant Theology says that “the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and the Davidic, are within the one grand ‘covenant of redemption (i.e. grace).’” In other words, covenant theologians write off the covenants and relationship God made for Israel and fuse them to God’s covenants and relationship meant only for the Church. This cannot logically or theologically be done.
They spiritualize segments of the Bible that are plainly meant to be literal. There is a fundamental, total disregard for what God meant to be unilateral, and unconditional; the Abrahamic Promise and Covenant.
If the Abrahamic Covenant is not valid then the integrity of the Bible is destroyed. That is, it is not true. The natural conclusion necessarily must be God is a liar! If that is the case then the Gospel is not true and as Paul wrote “[If] we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
Premillennialism posits that Christ’s second coming occurs before the millennial kingdom. Christ reigns over the earthly millennial kingdom, for a literal 1,000 years as asserted in Revelation 20:1-6. If you are dispensational then it follows that you are premillennial, although the inverse is not necessarily true. There are also non-dispensational premillennials, known as covenant premillennialists. As these are few in number I will not go into further detail.
“A worthy eschatology must embrace all prediction whether fulfilled or unfulfilled at a given time.”[i] Scriptural neglect to prophecy is, unfortunately, prevalent among scholars who should be paying attention, especially in our milieu and not as Hodge stated above, that it should only be embraced by those who have “made the study of prophecies a specialty.”
The word “dispensation” comes from the Greek oikonomia which is made up of two other Greek words, oikos—house and nemō—to manage. As a whole oikonomia means “stewardship” or “economy” (cf. Luke 16-4; 1 Cor. 9:17; Ephesus. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25; and in 1 Tim. 1:4).
Charles Ryrie uses a fuller, more succinct definition of dispensationalism: “the world as a household run by God . . . [where] God is dispensing . . . its affairs according to His own will and in various stages of revelation in the passage of time.”[ii]
Thus we understand that “a dispensation is not a period of time,” rather it God’s stewardship in His creation. Additionally dispensations are the different means God uses to administer and rule the world; they are not merely changing salvific methods. Also each dispensation has features and revelations exclusive to it, with new responsibilities initiated by new revelation.
Theologians differ somewhat in the way they catalog or number the various dispensations; nevertheless “salvation by grace through faith” consistently runs throughout all of them, the Church and Israel stand as two distinct programs, and God’s revelation runs through all of them.
The dispensations may be charted thus:
Nowhere does the Church become the “new Israel, nor is the Church seen in the Old Testament. Christ is the Church’s cornerstone (Acts 4: 10-12) and the apostles are the foundation, there could be no Church without Jesus Christ’s advent, sacrifice, and death-defeating resurrection. Necessarily it follows that the Church is a New Testament organism.
Dwight Pentecost asserts that “inasmuch as the program for the church differs from that for Israel, each [program] may be terminated by the blowing of a trumpet, properly called the last trumpet, without making the two last trumpets identical and synchronous as to time . . . .”[iii]
The point being that there are two different programs; the Church’s and Israel’s. This is all grounded on the foundational Abrahamic Covenant.
To be Continued in End Time Brief III The End IS Coming!
[i] Chafer, 255.
[ii] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationaism, 28, quoted in Benware, 87.
[iii] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), 188.
[i] Quoted in Paul Martin Henebury’s, “Dr. Reluctant” blog, “The Eschatology of Covenant Theology”
[ii] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 508, 510.