A brief synopsis of the Dispensationalisms:
- Classic Dispensationalism: This view was first articulated by Jonathan N. Darby, and popularized by C. I. Scofield through his “study bible.” The distinctives of this position (assuming that all dispensational thought is premil) is its emphasis upon two peoples of God — e.g. Yahweh’s earthly people the Jews, and His heavenly people the Church — its belief in “two ways of salvation,” one under the “Law,” and one under “Grace” (this is in its extreme forms, the original Scofield bible, as I recall, advocated this perspective until it was later revised); its emphasis upon heavy discontinuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant; its belief in a literal earthly kingdom for the Jews (the 1000 year reign of Christ); and belief in more than one “New” Covenant. Its basic hermeneutic is so called “literalism.” This position also believes that the “Davidic kingdom” is only for ethnic Jews, and will not come to pass until the millennial dispensation.
- Revised Dispensationalism: This school of “dispyism” is given its most ardent framing by Charles Ryrie; he basically adheres to much of “Classic” thought, but he begins to mitigate some of the extremisms represented by his forbears. He emphasizes “one way” of salvation, for Jews and Gentiles; he rejects the notion of God’s earthly people (the Jews) versus God’s heavenly people (the Church) — albeit he still sees a heavy distinction relative to promises made to national Israel; he basically moves Classic from extreme to a more moderate approach (underneath it though his approach still is akin to its classic roots — e.g. he still believes in more than one “New Covenant”). And the Davidic kingdom will not come to pass until the millennial period (so we are not experiencing the “kingdom” now).
- Progressive Dispensationalism: Still relatively new movement within dispensationalism (the last twenty or so years), its most visible proponents and articulates are: Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, and Robert Saucy. This system of interpretation, contrary to the other two just mentioned, sees One People of God (not two — albeit there is still a functional difference between the two, relative to the promises made to the nation of Israel in various patriarchal covenants); believes that the “Davidic Kingdom” was inaugurated at the first coming of Christ, and will be fully realized at the second coming of Christ in the millennium; believes that the church is partaking in (now) the fulfillment of the New Covenant originally made with the nation of Israel; believes in one way of salvation for all. They hold to a “literalism” of interpretation, albeit nuanced differently from the other dispensationalisms.
Obviously, as evinced by my rough synopsis, there is movement and difference (even significant difference at points) among the various schools of dispensationalism. The primary thing that makes dispensationalism, dispensationalism is its distinction between Israel and the Church. Progressives mitigate this distinction the most, but they still do see a distinction relative to the particular promises made to the nation of Israel (that they would live in the “Land,” under the “Davidic king,” in the shalom of the “Messiah”). Progressives see the church coupled to the nation of Israel, thus partaking of the promises made to national Israel (the believing remnant).
Anyway this could definitely be developed further (thus the comment meta 😉 ); hopefully this is at least helpful in drawing some distinctions, and illustrating the dynamic nature of the system known as Dispensationalism.