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There Really Is a Difference!: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology - A Review

There Really Is a Difference! by Renald Showers is a helpful book in that the first few chapters give a cursory overview - explaining, comparing, and contrasting - of dispensational and covenant theologies. The explanation of coventant theology is definitely more cursory than that of dispensational and is primarily limited to an explanation of the writings of Berkhof from his systematic theology.The author, then explains some of his primary concerns with covenant theology (not providing the answers that a covenant theologian would give in response). Moving on in chapter 3, the author gives a more thorough but still  summary presentation of dispensational theology (with little to no space given pointing out its shortfalls). His primary point in the book is to point out that "There Really Is a Difference" between coventant and dispensational theologies. The following excerpt from the end of chapter 5 is a good summary of some of his identified major points of difference:
Three factors are indispensable to Dispensational Theology.  They clearly make Dispensational Theology distinct from Covenant Theology.  Any system of theology which does not contain all three is not dispensational in the truest sense of the term.
The first factor is the recognition of the distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church.  As noted earlier, Covenant Theology believes that the Church existed in Old Testament times and that Israel was a major part of the Church in the Old Testament.  Thus, it is convinced that Israel and the Church are essentially the same.  By contrast, Dispensational Theology believes that Israel and the Church are distinct entities.  It is convinced that although both have had special relationships with God, they are not essentially the same.  This distinction between Israel and the Church will be dealt with more in depth in a future chapter.
The second indispensable factor is the consistent use of a single hermeneutic (a single method of interpreting the Bible)—namely, the historical-grammatical method.  In this method, words are given the common, ordinary meaning which they had in the culture and time in which the passage was written.  As noted earlier, Covenant Theology employs a double hermeneutic—the historical-grammatical method for many passages but also the allegorical or spiritualizing method for a number of prophetic passages dealing with the future of Israel and the future Kingdom of God.  By contrast, Dispensational Theology is convinced that the historical-grammatical method should be employed for all of Scripture, including those prophetic passages related to Israel and the Kingdom of God.
The third indispensable factor is the recognition that the ultimate purpose of history is the glory of God through the demonstration that He alone is the sovereign God.  As noted earlier, Covenant Theology advocates that the ultimate purpose of history is the glory of God through the redemption of the elect.  By contrast, although Dispensational Theology recognizes that the redemption of elect human beings is a very important part of God’s purpose for history, it is convinced that it is only one part of that purpose.  During the course of history God is working out many other programs in addition to the program of redeeming people.  All of these programs must be contributing something to the ultimate purpose of history. Thus, the ultimate purpose of history has to be large enough to incorporate all of God’s programs, not just one of them.  Dispensational Theology proposes that the glory of God through the demonstration that He alone is the sovereign God is the only purpose capable of doing this.  It also is convinced that the Scriptures indicate that this is the ultimate purpose of history.



Moving on from the descriptions of the two systems of theologies, he tests each's interpretation of some of the bibical accounts of stated covenants that God made with man (Abrahamic, Deuteronomic, Davidic, New Covenant). He then compares and contrasts the various views on the millenium, followed by observations and teaching on the kingdom of God and the consequences that holding to each theology bears on views of the Kingdom. Finally, he speaks of the nature of the church and the relationship between law and grace.

As the book moves along it becomes less and less an attempt at a neutral comparison of the systems and more and more an argument for the supremacy of dispensational theology.

Nevertheless, I have found this book to be helpful. It is written in simple language with the most important biblical reference quoted for ease and continuity of reading. It is a well thought out defense of dispensationalism. I wish that a more even handed attempt had been made at explaining covenantal theology. It appears some straw men were built and then handily knocked over.

To conclude I have copied the Table of Contents below so that the flow of the book can be easily discerned for those considering purchasing it:
1 What Is It All About?
2 An Examination of Covenant Theology
3 An Evaluation of Covenant Theology
4 An Introduction to Dispensational Theology
5 An Examination of Dispensational Theology
6 The Abrahamic Covenant
7 The Effects of the Abrahamic Covenant Upon Israel
8 The Palestinian or Deuteronomic Covenant
9 The Davidic Covenant
10 The New Covenant
11 A Description and Early History of Millennial Views
12 The Rejection of Premillennialism and Development of Amillennialism and Postmillennialism
13 The Revival of Millennial Views
14 The Kingdom of God Concept in the Scriptures
15 The Beginning and Nature of the Church
16 The Relationship of the Christian to Law and Grace
17 The Grace Administration of God’s Moral Absolutes
18 Conclusion

 There Really Is A Difference! is available in paperback format from Amazon.com or digitally from Logos.