Jul 24, 2010

Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology

Arnold Fruchtenbaum

Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum
Ariel Ministries

Q. My pastor recently told me that many mainline Christian leaders (including Hank Hanagraff of the Christian Research Institute), have moved from a Dispensationalist view to Covenant view. I was very surprised because in my humble, limited understanding, Dispensationalism makes the most sense biblically. Do you have any insight into why the move from Dispensationalism to the Covenant interpretation? This shift concerns me, as I believe it affects how we treat Israel.

A. Of course, Dispensationalism holds that God is faithful to keep His promises to the Jewish people; whereas, in Covenant Theology, the fulfillment of God's promises is transferred to the Church. As far as I know, only a very few mainline teachers have moved away from Dispensationalism to Covenant Theology. In fact, to the contrary, many have moved away from Covenant Theology to Dispensationalism. A recent book called Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged by Barry E. Horner addresses this issue.

As for Hank Hanagraff, he was never a Dispensationalist, and for many years he was quiet on his views about prophecy, eschatology, and Israel. Only in more recent years has he finally come out openly for Covenant Theology. Furthermore, it is a rather extremist form of Covenant Theology known as Preterism. It is a view that even most Covenant Theologians will disagree with.

The reason for those who have moved from Dispensationalism to Covenant Theology is probably twofold. First, Covenant theologians have made a common claim that Dispensationalism could be followed only by the simple-minded, so in their opinion Bible scholars therefore reject it and follow Covenant Theology. As I have tried to show in my book, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, such an accusation is simply not true. If Covenant Theology is what some push as being intellectual, then I would not want to be as intellectual as they claim to be.

Second, Dispensationalism stands upon following a consistent literal interpretation of God's Word, which requires a lot of work in dealing with the meaning of Scripture. Covenant Theology, because of its allegorical method, would seem to make things easier because it is more subjective, and that would be another reason people have moved to that position.

I might also add more often, people who have left Dispensationalism did not necessarily move to Covenant Theology. Instead, they have often moved to extreme forms of the Charismatic practice, and some have such a great desire to identify with Israel that they have chosen to want to go through the Tribulation with Israel. Although they may accept this post-Tribulation position, these Charismatics reject Covenant Theology and Israel Replacement Theology. So the actual movement from Dispensationalism to Covenantalism is quite small.

But you are correct, Dispensationalism makes the most sense biblically because it takes the Bible literally unless the text indicates otherwise, and that is a safe position to be in.