A whole theological system that emphasizes particularly its eschatological distinctives. Dispensationalism arose in the early 1800, either through the work of John Nelson Darby or perhaps earlier in the prophetic utterances of one Margaret MacDonald. It has been upgraded and refined over the years and has sadly become the “flavor of the day,” and currently is the most popular version of prophetic commitment in American evangelicalism. It is the most ornate and complex evangelical eschatological system.
Dispensationalism is a broad word that encompasses what is known as premillennialism. For accuracy sake, it should be noted that not all premillennialists are dispensationalists. There are historical premillennialists as well as dispensational premillennialists. The dispensational view is that of the popular Left Behind book series. As a rule, millennialists hold that at some point in the (near) future, there will be a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth, from Jerusalem, as He sits on the literal throne of David. Dispensationalism, popularized by men such as Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, etc. holds that the
nation of Israel remains the chosen people of God today, and that after the Rapture, Israel will be restored to her land, rebuild a literal temple, restore the priesthood, animal sacrifices, etc. Central to dispensationalism is the belief that the church is replaced by Israel in the millennium.
A misguided view of dispensations is seen in Dispensationalism’s prophetic program, where a dispensation is a period of time during which God is working out a distinctive purpose in redemptive history. Generally, dispensationalists hold to seven dispensations that are discrete, unmixed units of time with distinctive revelatory directives from God, peculiar tests associated with those directives for that time-frame, some catastrophic failure on the part of man in failing those tests, and a divine response in judgment to end that dispensation in preparation for the next one. They mistakenly believe we are living in a sixth dispensation, the Church Age, in anticipation of the final dispensation, the Millennium.
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
“Premillennialism” for more detail