A Summary of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology

If you’ve had some theological education, or have been around someone who else who has, you may have heard of the terms dispensationalism or covenant theology (or reformed theology). But maybe you’re not entirely sure as to what they mean, to what they refer, or what these systems of theology propose. Maybe you are somewhat familiar with these systems, or one of them, and might benefit from a concise and precise summary. Or, maybe these terms are foreign to you and your curiosity has been tickled.

In the newly released book, Kingdom Through Covenant, author Stephen J. Wellum (the second author being Peter J. Gentry) provides a fantastic summary of these two positions–dispensationalism and covenant theology–and some of their various flavors (i.e., classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism). And lo and behold, Crossway books (the publisher) has generously provided an excerpt of the first 80 pages (download the pdf. here), which contains the fantastic summary of which I speak (pages 39-80).

There are two reasons I’ll encourage you to read these 42 pages (of course I could come up with more reasons, but these two will suffice).

  1. From my personal experience, as well as from the experiences of others, I have discovered that the debate between dispensationalism and covenant theology tends to contain much slander and misrepresentation, sort of like American political campaigns. Therefore, if you’ve been educated under one system, grew up under the teaching of one of these views, or have at all had any encounter with one of these systems, I highly recommend Wellum’s summary of each view. I believe he represents each position accurately and fairly (he himself holds a mediating position).
  2. If you know me personally you may have heard me say at some point in time that I believe the two most theologically significant issues that determine how one reads the Bible are first, the (“so-called”) Calvinism v. Arminianism debate, and secondly, the dispensationalism v. covenant theology debate. Many theologically untrained individuals have a tendency to deliberately avoid such topics. I understand their reasoning (i.e., avoid controversy), but since these debates are valid debates (they actually discuss real Biblical doctrines) and are at the heart of many important interpretive issues, I believe a mature Christian ought to at least attempt to become informed with these matters; they are rather significant.

Now, download the excerpt at the bottom of this page and read pages 39-80!