Saturday, October 6, 2012

Covenant vs Dispensational Theology (a brief summary of some useful ideas)

Digging through some old notes, I found this handy piece noting some observations I made while wresting with dispensational theology. While my observations may not be perfect in this, they still have enough truth in them to be a good challenge to those who are strongly dispensational.

How did this study/summary come about?

I heard a few years ago that dispensational theology and covenant theology go head to head. I also did a bit of my own research into different eschatological systems. Read most of “A Case for Amillenialism. Understanding the End Times” by Kim Riddlebarger. Most recently, I have listened to Dr. D. A. Carson preaching through Nehemiah during 6 sessions at the 2008 Hamilton Reformed Churches Easter Convention.

Why was it so hard to even begin to work this one out?
Dispensational theology seems a lot easier to grasp because it builds a picture of last events from individual texts without having to build the case for an overarching interpretive system first. Despite this, I believe that covenant theology arises more naturally from scripture, though it takes some time to grasp because the nature of Biblical covenants is foreign to Western culture.

Another reason that Covenant theology is difficult to grasp is that people looking for end-times answers will not see the significance of God’s covenants because they don’t appear to be linked to the events at the end of time. The covenant interpretive system is more focused on the relationships between God and His people. This has implications from the beginning of time to the end and beyond. Our salvation is tied up with entering into covenant with God through His Son Jesus. Judgement at the end of time and the redeeming of creation is fulfilment of covenant.

The importance of covenant theology 
I see the major importance in the area of sanctification of Christians. Much of the Bible can only be understood through eyes which understand how covenants work and the related festivals, feasts, covenant blessings, covenant curses, internal structure, and solemn assemblies.

Solemn Assemblies 
A Solemn assembly is a ceremony where God’s people turn from their sin, restore worship, and restore their covenant relationship with God. These were done after periods of great national backsliding in Israel.

Leviticus 26 gives the outline of covenant renewal as followed in the later chapters of Nehemiah. A covenant renewal is called a solemn assembly through scripture (ESV).

This gives a deeper understanding to passages like Isaiah 1:13 where God says that He cannot endure their solemn assemblies. This is like saying that He will not allow Israel to renew their covenant with God. They have turned away from Him one too many times and He is now signifying His desire to not let them repent from their idolatry and wickedness. Very quickly, after these scary words, God displays His steadfast love (mercy) in promises of restoration. God has made the covenant and it is up to Him to keep it. Christians are passive partners in the formation of the covenant. God alone set it up and God alone will sustain it. In this we can have assurance of eternal salvation.

This makes it easier to understand passages such as Joel chapter 2 where covenant curses are described to explain what will happen to Israel when they reject their Messiah. Those specific judgements may not come down upon Israel, but the description of the signs shows that Israel will reject the messiah.