If one claims to be an Evangelical Christian, then you probably fall into one of these 3 Groups: Dispensational, Covenant or Arminian.
Arminianism tends to be followed by Methodist in the past but since most Methodist Pastors seem to have left a strong belief in the Bible, this view will not be discussed here! However, for what it's worth, most Covenant (also known as Reformed) Seminaries confuse Dispensationalism with Arminianism but they could not be more different. Since I do not know anyone who claims to be Arminian - they shall be left out of this discussion. By the way - Evangelicalism is a strong belief in the inerrancy & infallibility of the Bible!
One should point out that there are wonderful Christian Leaders on both sides of this issue & each claim to be the belief of the Early Church Leaders (before St Augustine). As a frame of reference, Baptist Theology (Southern) tends to be Dispensational while Presbyterian Evangelicals tend to be Covenant/Reformed. It should be noted that some cannot discuss the difference between the two without losing their tempers. Those people should refrain from reading any further. I personally have Christian friends on both sides of the issue & have even taught classes on this very subject while refraining from stating my personal position. I must have been successful, somewhat, due to the fact that people from each side contacted me after class & stated that they were glad that I was on their side.
A majority of evangelical "lay" people are Dispensational but Covenant Pastors are ones that mostly have the spiritual "energy" today. This would include Tim Keller & R.C. Sproul! Dispensational Leaders would include John MacArthur, Billy Graham & Chuck Swindoll!
Many feel that they have the option to pick & choose their theology from the "best" of each view & thus make it their own but if one thoroughly understands both they will discover that this is entirely impossible theologically. One must select one model ONLY for their theology or their theological model will most certainly collapse!
Finally, I have found that many Covenant/Reformed Believers are "reactionary"! This is not a very good way to form one's theological model. Many are the Christians who have told me that they are Covenant because of the way some Dispensational person or group treated them in the past. Not a very good means for determine one's theology (study of God)!
So what are the differences? Here are a few points that Dispensationalist believe that differ from Covenant Christians and if you believe even one of these then you can't be a true Covenant Christian & if you don't believe one then you can't be a true Dispensationalist. See the problem here?
Dispensational Christians believe the following Points:
1) The Nation of Israel is the "Apple of God's Eye" and though away from Him (as a Nation) they will return to Him in the near future:
They will look on Me (God) whom they (Israel) have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son.
They will grieve bitterly for Him as for a firstborn son who has died. (Zech 12:10)
Jews can only be saved individually in the same manner as God has prescribe through His Son for everyone, however, He is most definitely NOT through with their Nation in the future unless He goes against His O.T. Promises.
2) Covenant Christians believe that they have a corner on the "Sovereignty of God" Doctrine but they actually fall short in that that Doctrine is held in a great "tension" with Free Will! Without the Doctrine of Free Will, much of the Bible's pleadings to us become pointless & yes there is that beautiful word - WHOSOEVER - in John 3:16. We are NOT God's robots & in some manner every person who has ever lived has had enough "light" to start a relationship with Him. As Tony Evans once expressed in a great sermon: When each person is standing before God at the Great White Throne Judgment, nobody will ever be able to state that they did not have a chance! (One must point out here that this would exclude those who have not reached the Age of Accountability - sorry Covenant Folks but King David showed us that the God of Love who placed His hands lovingly on the little children does not exclude infants who die in India or any who are aborted - no matter what their parents believe!
3) "Believer's Baptism" but not "Infant Baptism"! Sorry but there is no place in the Bible that even remotely hints at the practice of Baptizing Babies & I cringe inwardly every time that I see it happen. (See: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-194). Keep in mind that baptism & circumcision are two different doctrines.
4) The Millennium - a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on the Throne of David (see Isaiah 9:6&7). This would mean a "Futurist" Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Without this believe, much of O.T. Prophecies would be unfulfilled. More: http://professor-howdy.blogspot.com/2009/09/understanding-last-book-in-bible.html
Fortunately, because both groups do believe the Bible to be God's Only Word to Mankind, we hold common viewpoints on the following: Biblical Worldview, Abortion, Marriage, Trinity, Inerrancy of Scripture, Infallibility of Scripture, Missions, the Importance of the Church, etc. so let us be united in fulfilling The Great Commission together until the Eminent Return Of Jesus Christ to this Needy Planet! Then you Covenant/Reformed Christians can have the errors in your Theology explained to you (or vice versa)! This is a time for a hahaha moment!
P.S. Of some concern to me, however, are these two major problems:
1) The loss of the literal six 24 hour days of Creation. Most if not all Evangelical Seminaries feel the need to "help" God out by what is clearly taught in Scripture (evening & the morning were the first day, etc.) You cannot get around that & you can't get around the fact that Moses was the Author of the first five Books of the Bible. Both doctrines have equal problems here!
2) Many Covenant Pastors skillfully & artfully avoid any teachings on "Eschatology" & thus lose the "urgency" of the Return of Christ for spreading the Good News & living the Christian life. Behold, He returns quickly & soon!