Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.


(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.

References in periodicals archive ?
Not only did BBI consider itself to be a part of the fundamentalist movement, but its members also shared many of the central fundamentalist beliefs, including an inerrant bible, a focus on personal salvation, and an affinity for dispensationalism.
The new president required that instructors sign a statement affirming belief in dispensationalism, despite the fact that the theological documents of the school were based on the Abstract of Principles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, which Western Seminary had adopted almost intact upon its establishment in the 1920s.
39) In addition, Weber, who studied the development of Darby's dispensationalist theology, also notes that "[a]lmost without exception the scores of Bible institutes that were founded between 1880-1940 taught dispensationalism.
William Trollinger notes that the ambivalence toward the Jews inherent in premillennial dispensationalism meant that while most adherents remained sympathetic to the Jews, some made "the not so enormous jump" (1) into ideas that put the Jews at the center of an international conspiracy.
It was the very fleeing of access to the Bible and the fact that Blackstone never attended divinity school to shape his thoughts about his relationship to God that brought his own direct reading to Restorationism as a part of Dispensationalism.
She first went to Israel after high school, on a trip sponsored by the evangelical group Young Life, and she talks about Israel in the language of premillenial dispensationalism, the influential theology that holds that the second coming of Christ depends on the return of the Jews to their homeland.
Having laid a solid foundation for future scholarship, Gribben's study offers an engaging cultural critique that will appeal to Christian and non-Christian readers alike as it implicitly offers a cautionary narrative regarding the sensationalizing of dispensationalism.
Kostlevy demonstrates that the adoption of premillennial dispensationalism by radical holiness groups, which replaced a postmillennialism stressing human agency in gradually bringing about the kingdom of God, was the most important theological shift that would mark the ethos of these radical holiness associations (for the MCA, he pinpoints this shift in 1896).
20) Christian Zionism is a more recent term for pre-millennial dispensationalism, which began in England in the 19th century.
Howard writes that "if the Internet has had any effect on American Dispensationalism, it is the infusion of otherwise foreign or competing belief elements from radically distinct discourses and among individuals vastly removed in space and experience" (Howard, 2000, p.