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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Dispensationalism is a theological system designed to give shape and organization to Bible history. Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952) and Charles C. Ryrie (b. 1925) are perhaps the best-known defenders of the system. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) is considered its founder, even though proponents claim it goes all the way back to Augustine in the fifth century CE.

Ryrie, in his book Dispensationalism, defines it this way:

Dispensationalism views the world as a household run by God. In His household-world God is dispensing or administering its affairs according to His own will and in various stages of revelation in the passage of time. These various stages mark off the distinguishably different economies in the outworking of His total purpose, and these different economies constitute the dispensation. The understanding of God's differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within those various economies.

In other words, when the ordinary person reads the Bible, he finds God behaving in different ways at different times. The angry God of the Old Testament who tells Joshua to kill all the Canaanites seems totally different from the Jesus of the New Testament who tells his followers to turn the other cheek. How to explain these differences?

Some have found the explanation by discovering "dispensations," periods of time when God acts in a certain way consistent with human development at the time,

testing humans in respect to a specific revelation of the will of God. The Scofield Reference Bible and Dallas Theological Seminary have been at the forefront of dispensational theology, identifying seven different periods of time, seven different "dispensations," in which the Bible reveals the developing plan of God for the world and humankind.

According to the Scofield Reference Bible, these seven dispensations are as follows:

1. Innocence (before the fall described in Genesis 3) 2. Conscience (from the fall to Noah) 3. Human Government (from Noah to Abraham) 4. Promise (from Abraham to Moses) 5. Law (from Moses to Christ) 6. Grace (the Church age) 7. Kingdom (the millennium)

After the millennium, humankind enters the Eternal State.

Because Christians seem to have attacked each other as often as they have attacked the world, followers of dispensational theology and covenant theology (see Covenant) have often been at odds, with rhetoric appearing—at least to the uninitiated—to generate a lot more heat than light. Although it seems strange to the outsider, it demonstrates the devotion to a theological system that has been at the very core of the many different and competing Christian denominations in the world today.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The beliefs of dispensational premillennialism have a history of anti-Catholicism.
Fundamentalism had embraced dispensational premillennialism in its early stages as historians of Fundamentalism Ernest Sandeen and George Marsden have shown.
Cho painstakingly explores the link between Korean churches' lack of ecological concerns and their prevalent other-worldly eschatology, which is deeply rooted in dispensational premillennialism, originally introduced by American missionaries.
However, it does not fully reflect on the complexity of Korean churches' social involvement, which, at some critical junctures in the history of the nation, defied the typical other-worldly, escapist social ethics of dispensational premillennialism. These churches were a vanguard in the independence movement against Japanese colonization, a prophetic advocate for democracy under the suppressive government, and the soil for the emergence of minjung theology during industrial modernization.
It's a key element of a theology known by the unwieldy name of dispensational premillennialism, which builds a complex scaffolding of interpretation around the Bible yet claims to be nothing but the simple intent of Scripture.
The explanations of Pentecostal doctrine, especially the Latter Rain beliefs that modified dispensational premillennialism to fit charismatic experience, are among the most helpful in the literature on Pentecostal history, but Wacker is less interested in the doctrinal struggles than in the impulses of temperament and practice that shaped a mass movement and infused the lives of ordinary believers.
The establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 led many who espouse dispensational premillennialism to believe that the end times are near.
(2) Bosch distinguishes the term "millennial" from simple identification with "eschatology" or "apocalypticism." The last term refers to Shakers and Millerites and, I would add, to the best-selling but overly dramatic popularizations of what many understand to be standard representations of dispensational premillennialism, such as those depicted in Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth and the fictional Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B.
Darby's emphasis on Bible study and literal interpretation became a mark of dispensational premillennialism. (14) With their low profile and utilization of lay teacher-pastors, the Brethren assemblies were well suited to highly oppositional or antagonistic contexts.
I also briefly discuss an alternative theological approach that holds promise for undergirding mission outreach without falling into the many snares and traps that beset the path of dispensational premillennialism.
Though dispensational premillennialism at its extreme edge has displayed unwavering support for Christian Zionism, premillennial theology itself is not monolithic.