In the early 1900s, Dispensationalists began to write from their own perspective. As a systematic interpretation of Scripture, dispensationalism was made popular with the publication of C. I. Scofield’s Reference Bible, published by Oxford Press. The study Bible included footnotes that lent explicitly dispensational explanations to many passages. From that point forward, a dialogue of sorts began between Covenant Theologians and Dispensationalists. Books, both apologetic and polemic, were thrown into the fray. Rarely, though, did anyone try to compare the two systems to describe the differences between them. For someone not trained theologically, having a theologian explain both sides of the debate can prove helpful.
Renald Showers, a dispensationalist, authored such a comparison in 1990. His goal is to compare Covenant Theology and dispensationalism as systems of thought which seek to answer the question of the meaning of life. The starting point of his evaluation is the subject of the philosophy of history because, he believes, it is in the philosophy of history that one finds the answers to the question of the meaning of life. He views both systems as an outworking of a philosophy of history, and he seeks to determine which exposition is biblical.
Speaking apologetically, he does not say much that is new on behalf of dispensationalism. He simply states the position in positive terms. In fact, he assumes dispensationalism is correct for the sake of the argument. Thus, his own bias is quite strong in the book. It really is not as even-handed a treatment of the differences as he purports to be demonstrating. Although this author disagrees with many of Showers’ conclusions, these disagreements are not the primary criticism I make of this book.
Athough Showers attempts to represent honestly the teaching of Covenant Theology, Covenant theologians will take issue with his presentation. He often quotes from primary sources in order to allow them to speak for themselves. This method might be honorable, yet it is not enough. The method this author object to is that he does not explain how they reach their conclusions. By not demonstrating the arguments behind the conclusions, he portrays Covenant theologians as biased and illogical.
The clearest example of this method is when Showers writes about methods of interpretation. He states that the only way Covenant Theology can work is to employ a “double system of interpretation.” He explains that the double system includes the historical, grammatical method on the one hand (which Showers employs). He adds, “Covenant Theology also recognizes that the employment of another method of interpretation could lead to disaster when seeking the meaning of a passage.” Showers does not explain what that method is, how it is used, or why Covenant theologians use it. The question is not which method is used. The question is can the Covenant theologians apply their own method consistently while doing justice to the text of Scripture. That same question applies to dispensationalists. Can dispensationalists consistently apply their method while doing justice to the text of Scripture?
In sum, Showers’ goals and objectives are certainly worth while and worth the effort put forth. His congeniality is a reprieve from many of the books, written from both sides of the fence, that amount to nothing more than mud slinging. I appreciate Showers’ work and thought in this regard. Unfortunately, it is not a book I would recommend anyone to read, especially someone who is new to the conversation.