What are the differences between covenant theology and dispensationalism? Dr. Guy Waters notes both the common ground and differences between covenant theologians and dispensationalists.
So what are the differences between covenant theology and dispensationalism? Well, as we address that question, it’s important first to note the similarities among dispensationalists and covenant theologians. We are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We uphold the Bible as the word of God, our ultimate authority, and we exalt Christ and him alone as the savior of sinners. And it’s important that we recognize these commonalities. But dispensationalists and covenant theologians, as brothers, we differ in the way that we read and interpret the Scripture.
Covenant theology helps us to see the grand and glorious unity in Scripture.Dispensationalists argue that throughout history, God has had two peoples: there is Israel and there is the church. And he has two destinies for those two peoples: Israel’s is an earthly one relating to the land and to the temple, and the church’s is a spiritual one, relating ultimately to heaven. And they see a series of dispensations, periods of history, that follow one upon the other in which God is testing Israel or the church. And inevitably, those tests result in failure, and so, the next dispensation.
Covenant theologians argue that God has one people, one people of God throughout redemptive history, called ‘Israel’ under the Old Testament, and called ‘the church’ under the New. And this one people, God has one saving purpose for them, and that purpose is to redeem sinners from every tribe, tongue, nation, and race through the blood of Jesus Christ. And that purpose is worked out in a series of covenants. We begin in history in the garden. We have the covenant of works. And Adam, when he disobeyed God, he fell into sin and we fell with him and in him. And God announced his purposes to save sinners through the last Adam, Jesus Christ. And he announces that as early as Genesis 3:15. And so the rest of the Bible is the outworking of that promise until in the fullness of time Christ comes. And by his obedience, his death, and his resurrection, he saves sinners from their sins. And so covenant theology helps us to see the grand and glorious unity in Scripture. It helps us to see how scripture exalts Jesus Christ as the savior of sinners. And it puts the spotlight on God as our maker and our redeemer.