Q&A: Covenant Theology vs. Progressive Dispensationalism

Covenant Theology vs. Progressive Dispensationalism

Question

What are the major and key differences between covenant theology and Progressive Dispensationalism, especially with regard to the kingdom of God and eschatology?

Answer

I will have to admit immediately that I am not an authority on Progressive Dispensationalism (it is a rather new system), but I think I can highlight a few important distinctions between it and covenant theology.

Progressive Dispensationalism seems to be an attempt by those in the Dispensational camp to move toward a more unified view of redemptive history. One major result of this move has been that the Progressive Dispensationalists view the progressive dispensations in a way very similar to that in which Covenant theologians view the progression of the covenants. Specifically, there is no point of disjunction as we move from one covenant/dispensation to the next, but rather a continuing development of the prior covenants/dispensations.

A significant result of this progressive view is that Progressive Dispensationalism does not appear to maintain the traditional Dispensational distinction between the Gentile church and Israel. This is very similar to Covenant Theology which teaches that Jesus is the true remnant of Israel, and that Gentiles are now counted as part of Israel because of their union with Christ. The church, in turn, is the visible people of God and is the visible organization which contains the remnant of True Israel (i.e. believers).

There does still seem to be a significant distinction, however, between Progressive Dispensationalism and covenant theology as they pertain to the current covenant/dispensation. It is my understanding that Progressive Dispensationalists do not believe that we are currently in the millennial kingdom of God, as most modern covenant theologians contend. This means that almost all covenant theologians are either amillennialists or postmillennialists. Progressive Dispensationalists seem to be premillennial, though the exact nature of their premillennialism may be hard to define (Dispensational? Historic?). Progressive Dispensationalism also seems to expect a future physical fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel, while covenant theology has traditionally tended to expect these to be fulfilled spiritually in the church. One hallmark of covenant theology is its doctrine of salvation, the most famous portions of which are the Five Points of Calvinism. Progressive Dispensationalism does not, in my understanding, tie itself to a single system of salvation. Some Progressive Dispensationalists may largely affirm the Five Points, while others may reject them.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.