I am a dispensationalist. What are Dispensations? Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary defines a dispensation as “God’s dealing with mankind” over a particular period of time. Therefore, if we are “dispensational” in our theology we apply a “literal’ method of interpretation to the Bible (we don’t allegorize).
We believe, for example, that Israel and the Church are two separate peoples and programs. In other words, God’s blessings for the nation of Israel are not meant for the Church (like inheriting the Land). Dispensationalists, are pro-Israel.
Our Foundations book lists four dispensations. I agree with them, but would break them down further to seven dispensations.
A dispensation in the Bible always begins with a set of instructions for men (from God) then demonstrates man’s failure to obey, and concludes with judgment and a work of God’s grace.
Here’s a standard break down of dispensations:
Innocence.From creation of man to the first sin. God gave Adam everything in the garden except one tree. Judgment came when Adam sinned. He was expelled from the garden. That’s called the “fall of Adam.” God’s grace was shown by shedding the blood of an animal and covering the shame of Adam and Eve.
Conscience. From the fall of Adam to the flood. Man was now to live according to his own understanding of knowing right from wrong. Failure happened right out of the gate; Cain killed his brother Abel. The judgment was the flood. God’s grace stemmed from Noah finding favor in the eyes of the LORD, thereby saving Noah’s family (a remnant).
Human Government. From the flood to the tower of Babel. The people wanted to be their own gods. Judgment was the confusion of languages. His grace was dispersing the people throughout the world rather than wiping them out!
Promise. From the calling of Abraham to the Law. Judgment was shown in the curse of Egypt, but His grace was seen when He brought His people out of slavery.
Law. The giving of the Law of Moses to the death of Jesus Christ. Judgment was the dispersion of Israel throughout the world. God’s grace is shown in that Jesus Christ bore the sins of the whole world, so everlasting life can be given freely to all who believe on Him.
Grace (or church age where we are today). From the death of Christ to the Rapture (still future). Christians will not endure the wrath, or judgment. Judgment for those who are not believers will be the Tribulation. God’s grace is in the “catching up” of believers who will escape the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:16,17).
Restoration.Israel will be fully restored to all the promises from God. One final judgment awaits unbelievers in the millennium; The Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11). God’s grace will be a new heaven and a new earth, and no more curse (Revelation 21).
These can probably be tweaked a little more, but they give a pretty good understanding of the dispensations. They are literal “Biblical” periods of God’s dealings with man.