"Covenant Theology is a stepping stone to liberalism." "Dispensationalism is antithetical to the gospel." "Amillennialists don't take the Bible literally." "Dispensationalists are Arminians who deny progressive sanctification."
Ever heard any of those accusations? I've heard them all.
When you hear a critique of the opposing position, has it ever seemed as if you're not hearing a summary that its proponents would recognize? Does it ever seem as if the two sides are talking past each other?
Of course there's a difference between the two views, but is the gulf really as wide as partisans on both sides would have us believe? Is the root of this debate really fidelity to the gospel? Or the authority of Scripture?
If you've asked any of these questions, and you don't mind reading a bunch of footnotes, you'll be fascinated by R. Todd Mangum's The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift.
I really cannot speak highly enough of this book. Mangum clearly read—and heard—both sides, but you won't find him arguing the case for either. What you will find is a well-written, thoroughly-researched narrative of where the controversy came from and how it polarized so bitterly.
And, he argues, unnecessarily.
Mangum argues that both Dispensationalists and Covenantalists in the OPC and the PCUS (Southern Presbyterian denomination prior to reunion with the PCUSA) committed massive errors that broadened and deepened the differences. (Yes, the dispensational controversy began among American Presbyterians.)
To make a long story quite short, Lewis Sperry Chafer and some notes in the Scofield Reference Bible affirmed a view of OT law that was incompatible with the Presbyterian denominations' statement of faith, the "Westminster Confession." Many premillennialists, even many dispensationalists at the time (possibly even most) rejected their errors. Confessionalist wings in both denominations reacted against those teachings, but imprudently targeted their attacks against not only Chafer's and the late Scofield's aberrant teachings, but also against dispensationalists in general. Sometimes their attacks even appeared to be directed at covenantal premillennialists. Non-amillennialists, increasingly marginalized or downright unwelcome in the Presbyterian denomination—whether dispensational or premillennial, whether they agreed with Scofield and Chafer or not—moved towards independence.
This barely skims the surface of the story, so I may pick out a few points for particular attention in coming days.