Innocency. . .Neo-evangelicalism. . .Inextricably. . .Eschatologically. . .and more (so-called) words reverberated in our small group discussion tonight over the differentiation of definition and merit in Covenant and Dispensational theology.
A (brief) Summary:
The dispensations are delineated along the same time periods in both views (with the exception of the Davidic Covenant, for which Dispensationalism has no corresponding epoch), and the terms "dispensation" and "covenant" are used in discussions on both sides. (Thus, to be clear, I will capitalize the word when I am speaking of the movement; if the word is not capitalized, I am using it in its unbiased, generically defined form.)
According to OPR (What DOES that "O" stand for???), Dispensationalism has gone through myriad revisions since the first edition of Scofield's Bible popularized it in 1909. The most recent explications are quite similar to Covenant Theology (hereafter referred to as CT to avoid extra keystrokes and the temptation to coin "Covenantalism"), with a few key exceptions. The longstanding exception that carries through all dispensations of God's plan is Dispensationalism's failure to connect each epoch to a larger, encompassing perspective of God's Master Plan for redeeming Creation. Dispensationalists recognize successive covenants that replace each other rather than an ever-increasing revelation of God's single plan for redemption. This apparently leads to a very serious implication of separatism between ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel (the Church). The covenant made with Abraham, from a Dispensationalist view, is seen as primarily applying to physical Israel and being tied specifically to literal Palestine, rather than being a shadow and type of the spiritual Israel (all believers) and figurative Holy Land (New Heaven & Earth?) that was to come. There is an inconsistency in this view, in that the promises concerning Abraham blessing "all nations" are still considered to refer to Christ coming to save all people (thus, spiritual Israel) while the promises of His numerous seed are considered to refer only to his physical descendants (ethnic Israel), even though there is no such distinction made in the Scripture. This is the most serious point of divergence, as it posits God's purpose being dualistic--one plan for an earthly people and another for a heavenly people. That leads into a discrepancy with bodily resurrection, which CT people strongly believe in on the basis of God creating man as a uniquely spiritual and physical being, not as a 2-part being whose parts may be separated at will. That is, if you believe in a bodily resurrection, it is inconsistent to believe the Church is primarily a spiritual entity with little or no physical substance.
The other major point of disagreement concerns Mosaic law. Dispensationalists say that the Mosaic covenant continued the promise of the Abrahamic covenant only upon the condition of adherence to the law, which changes the criterion for salvation from grace to works. CT adherents would say that the law came to those already recipients of Abraham's promise through faith; the law is, in effect, what is required to continue in that grace.
There were also some interesting observations on the arbitrariness with which Dispensationalists stop and start the efficacy of covenants or sections of covenants, saying for example that Abraham's promise continues through the Mosaic covenant, but not the unconditional grounds upon which it was given. (Incidentally, CT people also say that Abraham's covenant was NOT unconditional, but required perfect obedience to God. Other Dispensationalists say that the Abrahamic covenant was conditional upon Israel's continued inhabitance of Palestine.)
There, I think that is something of a summary. . .there were so many other points and examples that I can't possible convey them all. Besides that, I'm barely lucid enough to get this much. . .and I'm only reasonably certain that I communicated it faithfully. Really, I recommend the book.
One more thing. . .OPR comments that government, science, and art were all granted to humanity through the Japhetic line--Japhetic being from Japheth, the youngest son of Noah. I am at a loss as to from whence this conclusion stems. We scoured Genesis 5 and 9, the only 2 chapters in the Bible with Japheth's name and postulated that perhaps his descendants are those who settled Europe and OPR's comment is based upon humanities history, but that leaves some explanation to be desired. Help, anyone?