Dispensationalism is a system of theology that has two primary distinctives. 1)  A consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy.  2) A distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program.

Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of  literal interpretation, which means giving each word the meaning it would  commonly have in everyday usage. Symbols, figures of speech and types are all  interpreted plainly in this method, and this is in no way contrary to literal  interpretation. Even symbols and figurative sayings have literal meanings behind  them.

There are at least three reasons why this is the best way to view  Scripture. First, philosophically, the purpose of language itself seems to  require that we interpret it literally. Language was given by God for the  purpose of being able to communicate with man. The second reason is biblical.  Every prophecy about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament was fulfilled literally.  Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ resurrection all  occurred exactly and literally as the Old Testament predicted. There is no  non-literal fulfillment of these prophecies in the New Testament. This argues  strongly for the literal method. If literal interpretation is not used in  studying the Scriptures, there is no objective standard by which to understand  the Bible. Each and every person would be able to interpret the Bible as he saw  fit. Biblical interpretation would devolve into “what this passage says to  me…” instead of “the Bible says…” Sadly, this is already the case in much of  what is called biblical interpretation today.

Dispensational theology  teaches that there are two distinct peoples of God: Israel and the church.  Dispensationalists believe that salvation has always been by faith—in God in the  Old Testament and specifically in God the Son in the New Testament.  Dispensationalists hold that the church has not replaced Israel in God’s program  and the Old Testament promises to Israel have not been transferred to the  church. They believe that the promises God made to Israel (for land, many  descendants, and blessings) in the Old Testament will be ultimately fulfilled in  the 1000-year period spoken of in Revelation chapter 20. Dispensationalists  believe that just as God is in this age focusing His attention on the church, He  will again in the future focus His attention on Israel (Romans 9-11).

Using this system as a basis, dispensationalists understand the Bible to be  organized into seven dispensations: Innocence (Genesis  1:1–3:7), conscience (Genesis  3:8–8:22), human government (Genesis  9:1–11:32), promise (Genesis  12:1Exodus  19:25), law (Exodus  20:1Acts 2:4),  grace (Acts 2:4Revelation 20:3), and  the millennial kingdom (Revelation  20:4-6). Again, these dispensations are not paths to salvation, but manners  in which God relates to man. Dispensationalism, as a system, results in a  premillennial interpretation of Christ’s second coming and usually a  pretribulational interpretation of the rapture. To summarize, dispensationalism  is a theological system that emphasizes the literal interpretation of Bible  prophecy, recognizes a clear distinction between Israel and the church, and  organizes the Bible into the different dispensations it presents.