As the pastor of a Bible-believing church, one question I'm often asked is whether or not I am a dispensationalist. The question itself causes me to hesitate, because even though I am decidedly dispensational on most of the key issues, I like to think of my theology as being driven by biblical exegesis rather than by a system which is imposed on Scripture. My reluctance to use the term, however, has much more to do with several beliefs often associated with the system, beliefs which I reject.
For example, it is often said that dispensationalists dismiss the relevance of the Old Testament and the Gospels for today's church. A few dispensationalists have suggested the existence of two new covenants—one for Israel and one for the church. It is said that others have taught that the cross was Plan B in God's economy; that Old Testament Jews were saved by works; that Israel is God's earthly people while the church is His heavenly people; that Paul's gospel is not the same as the one taught by Jesus; and that Israel will be saved apart from believing in Christ. Others are Arminian or antinomian, or both. Still others have become obsessed with identifying the antichrist, pinpointing the date of the Rapture, and connecting the dots between current events and biblical prophecy. None of these are part of the dispensationalism I embrace, and if they are required to be considered a dispensationalist, I simply do not qualify.[i]
Ironically, my dispensationalism has much more to do with the biblical covenants (and how and when they will be fulfilled) than it does with any so-called dispensations. More specifically, at the heart of my own dispensationalism is the conviction that the ethnic nation of Israel has a future in the plan of God in which He will restore her to the Promised Land in fulfillment of the covenant promises He made in the Old Testament. The resources that I mention in the links below provide a more thorough explanation of what I see in Scripture regarding these things. But for now, let me give a brief overview of what I mean.
In the book of Genesis, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham in which He promised to bless Abraham, to make his name great, to make him a great nation, to give his descendants the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, to establish a relationship with those descendants, and to bless the nations through Israel (Genesis 12:1, Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:7; Genesis 17:1). Although some aspects of this covenant have already been fulfilled, the ultimate fulfillment God's promise to give Israel the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession is yet future.[ii] This is evident, in part, because of the nature of the covenant the Lord made with Abraham.
At the risk of oversimplifying, a covenant is an agreement made between two parties. When the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, He instructed Abraham to bring to Him various animals, which He cut in two, laying each half opposite the other (Genesis 15:9). This was in keeping with the custom of the ancient Near East in which both parties of a covenant would ceremonially walk between the pieces, saying, in effect, "If I fail to keep my half of the agreement, may it happen to me what happened to these animals." Because God alone passed between pieces of the animal (Genesis 15:12), He made it clear that He had obligated Himself to keep His promise to Abraham and his descendants. The covenant, in other words, was an irrevocable and eternal promise of God that He would be sure to fulfill.