Progressive Dispensationalism is perhaps a misnomer, since it probably has much more in common with Covenant Theology than Classic Dispensationalism, with a few notable differences.
Progressive dispensationalism has departed from one of the historical distinctives of normative dispensationalism, that of the offer, rejection, postponement, and exclusively future fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom. It has also failed to include a related distinctive, the church's separateness from
the Davidic kingdom. Dispensationalists from the successive periods of history have repeatedly emphasized these distinctives, an emphasis that nondispensational critics have also noted. Progressive dispensationalism, on the other hand, has not advocated these distinctives, raising the question of
whether that movement deserves the label "dispensational" or whether it belongs more in the category of nondispensational historical premillennialism. -Stephen J. Nichols
What is Progressive Dispensationalism?
"... It is the idea that although God works in distinct periods of administrative structure (a dispensation is a stewardship arrangement), so that Israel is not the church is not the kingdom to come. His plan progresses through increasing realization of the one plan of God as we move from one period to the next. This means that the promises of the promissory covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) are realized in progressive stages of God's plan. So the nations are blessed through the seed Christ (Abrahamic). The seed (Christ) does his work through messianic prerogatives that involve his mediating deliverance to God's people (Davidic) and that those blessings today include the law of God written on the heart through the Spirit of God in us and provision of forgiveness of sins (New).
Two criticisms have tended to come from those of a more traditional form of dispensationalism. One is that the promises of the covenants are for Israel only. The second is to declare that allowing for such fulfillment means Israel and the church are not distinct, a supposed denial of a key indicator of what dispensationalism is. Both criticisms are incorrect. The opening up of blessing through the seed to the world as indicated in the promise made to Abraham in Gen 12 means that God's program always had the nations in view as coming into the blessed people fo God. Israel was to be a means through which such blessing came, which is precisely what happened through Jesus. This criticism also ignores God's right to expand the beneficiaries as he wishes (as he does through Christ). God can add to his promise without taking away from those he made promises to earlier. So Gentiles can be included in Christ without Israel losing her benefits or promises. In this way, Israel and the church can remain distinct structures in God's program (a dispensational distinction) without losing the oneness of God's people Christ was called to bring accordng to Eph 2:11-22. -Darrel Bock
Progressive dispensationalism is clearly not your fatherâ€™s dispensationalism (nor your favorite televangelistâ€™s). Radical changes distinguishing it from its antiquated forbears include:
(1) A rejection of simplistic literalism in hermeneutics. Progressive dispensationalists pretty much adopt a genuine grammatical-historical-theological theory of interpretation â€” like the rest of the evangelical world.
(2) A revision of the Israel-Church distinction, allowing that Israel and the Church are two phases of the one people of God. Classic dispensationalism argued for a radical distinction between Israel and the Church that would even continue into eternity; revised dispensationalism maintained that distinction only in terms of the earthly outworking of redemption.
(3) A breaking down of the walls of separation between the dispensations. Their dispensations are not discrete, unmixed time frames, but rather evolving stages of historical development. Contained within any particular dispensation are the seeds of the next dispensation so that the dispensations gradually progress (hence the name). This allows that Christ is now enthroned as king â€” in anticipation of his coming earthly-millennial rule. Numerous additional issues could be highlighted. But these three are sufficient to establish a radical (and welcome) transformation within dispensationalism. - Ken Gentry