Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) Author of the dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, C. I. Scofield left a political career in Kansas to become a Congregationalist pastor. Untrained in theology or biblical studies, his work is an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the doctrines of pre-millenialist dispensationalism. To this same end he also wrote Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth and New Life in Christ Jesus.

What is Dispensationalism?

          A conceptual overview; an interpretive framework; a unifying, overarching, organizing principle-whenever these terms are used in the area of religion a few things are almost guaranteed:

  • The term devised to describe the developing point of view will end in “ism”;
  • The point of view espoused will be seen by detractors as a major threat to orthodoxy; and
  • A new Christian denomination will probably be created (i.e., another division will result).

          Dispensationalism was hammered out as “an overarching conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible” during the restless religious ferment of the early 1800’s. It was formulated in response to and reaction against the established churches of England and Ireland. The movement that gave birth to dispensationalism was anti-denominational, anti-clerical, and anti-creedal. The founders of the Restoration Movement shared many of these same values (and many embraced the end-time understandings of Dispensationalism although with some variations in specifics).

          Dispensationalism seeks to address what some see as opposing theologies between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Its name comes from the fact that it divides biblical history into (usually) seven discrete administrations or dispensations. Each dispensation is said to represent a different way in which God deals with human beings (i.e., a different style of administration). This latter characteristic contrasts Dispensationalism with the competing view: Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology sees continuity between the Old and the New Testaments and finds the unifying principle to be that of covenant.

          The most widely recognized component of Dispensationalism is the 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom. According to the teaching, this final period of history (dispensation) will witness the literal reign of Christ on earth with His governmental headquarters located in Jerusalem. This is the Kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. The church of Christ, according to Dispensationalism, was never envisioned by the Old Testament Prophets-it was established by Jesus as a substitute for the Kingdom after the Jews rejected him. In other words, the church age fits within historical parentheses.

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