I mentioned in a previous post that “Dispensationalism” is a poor soubriquet for our system of belief. My reasons included the patent fact that “Dispensational Theology” is really not about the dispensations, but about the biblical covenants. Thus, for my part, I prefer to be identified as a “Biblical Covenantalist.”
Now, I admit that “Biblical Covenantalism” is not the most attractive name. But it is far more accurate and more helpful than “Dispensationalism” – and that name hardly trips off the tongue with ease.
For me, then, Biblical Covenantalism fits more comfortably. It describes more what I am than what I am not. The covenants of Scripture map out God’s intentions for His world and our future. They position us within the revealed game-plan of God. They were made for our sake. We should, therefore, give more heed to them.
Now, whenever you believe the system now called Dispensationalism was first taught, it is important to note that prior to C.I. Scofield and his Reference Bible (1909, 1917) and quite often after it, dispensationalists did not apply that moniker to themselves. Therefore, we would not be committing the unpardonable sin if we chose to call ourselves by another, more appropriate name.
Dispensationalism, or Biblical Covenantalism, is, at its core, not a Systematic Theology but a Biblical Theology. Systematic Theology is the bringing together of the several teachings of the Bible about God and His works. The “system” is extracted, both exegetically from studied attention given to the meaning of the text, and inferentially from a thoughtful comparison of texts which speak to the same issue (though perhaps from different perspectives). This is done in order to build up a comprehensive picture of reality as God has revealed it to us.
Clearly, whether one stresses the dispensations or the covenants it should be apparent that these have to be identified and their implications drawn out as they show up in the Old and New Testaments. This procedure is not Systematic Theology but Biblical Theology. And Systematic Theology may save itself from falling into traps such as rationalistic speculation by supporting itself by the findings of Biblical Theology.
This being so, we need to start where Scripture starts – with God and creation. This we might call, “the original intent of God.” The constituent pieces of this creative intent are: God’s prerogative; God’s rule; God’s creatures; God’s land; God’s ethics, etc. These draw into their orbit such necessities as God’s redemptive plan and God’s future kingdom manifestation. These can all be traced within the flow of biblical history, especially with the help of the biblical covenants.
This raises more questions. Questions like, “Why did God make these covenants?” But we shall have to explore these matters another time.