Larry R. Oats
Maranatha Baptist Seminary
In the broad evangelical, there are three basic approaches to systematic Bible study, theology, and hermeneutics; each of these has multiple variations. They are the covenant, promise, and dispensational schools of thought. A controversy between their proponents exists because the approaches begin with different sets of presuppositions.
The covenant theologian sees God’s revelation and man’s history as an outworking of God’s redemptive purposes for mankind, especially through Israel. It adopts the word “covenant” from the Bible but uses it in a different time framework than those covenants recorded through the Old and New Testaments. It chooses, overall, a less literal approach to Scripture interpretation, especially prophecy, and makes no clear distinction between the Israel of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament. A modern modification is New Covenant Theology, which makes a complete disjunction between the old covenant and the new covenant. There is a modification of covenant theology based on the kingdom and its relationship to the covenants; this seeks to be a bridge between covenant and dispensational theology.
Promise Theology argues that the Old Testament is filled with promises about the Messiah and the New Testament is the fulfillment. It rejects the single covenant idea of covenant theology, but also rejects the multiple eras of dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism is an approach to theology and the Bible that is based on dividing history into “dispensations” or “economies,” which are seen as different phases of God’s progressive revelation. The word comes from the Greek oikonomeo and its derivatives, which are found about twenty times in the New Testament and refer to the management or regulation of a household. When used of God, the word means God’s sovereign plan for the world (see Lk 16:1-2; Eph...