I think the term "Pauline Dispensationalism" is used almost exclusively by MJS et al. There is a book by MJS on the subject; according to it,
The glorified Lord delivered His sanctifying and glorifying message exclusively to His Bride through Paul—a life-giving Word infinitely higher than His earthly message to the nation of Israel. The Pauline Gospel, governed by Pauline Dispensationalism, belongs to the Church.
I've known people who claim to be "Pauline Dispensationalist" who were pretty close to Scofield ("Classical Dispensationalist"), and I've known some who were pretty close the Stam ("Hyper-Dispensationalist"). The fundamental concept is that our faith should center on Paul's epistles. Some hold Peter's and John's Epistles aren't "to us"; others hold they are, but we are to understand the rest of the Epistles in light of Paul's. My reading of MJS has given me the impression he had trouble figuring out his own position: he seemed to span the whole range.
Doctrinally, I haven't got a problem with 95% of what Paulines say. My problem with "Pauline Dispensationalism" is not with the propositions, but with the paradigm: there is no Biblical reason to prefer Paul's Epistles to John's or Peter's. I am convinced the Epistles teach the Old Testament is not "to us": Romans, for example, declares the believer is "dead to the Law". But to say that John's Epistles are somehow inferior to Paul's is to set one's self up as judge over the Word of God. The Whole Counsel of God includes both Paul's teachings and John's (or Peter's, Jude's, James', etc.).
It is true that Paul was the instrument God used to declare the truth of the Church. But it is equally true that John is the instrument God used to declare the truth of Eternal Life. And, Peter's teaching focuses on the life we are to walk in the world now. I have examined the question for a long time, and come to the conclusion that choosing to adhere to either one at the expense of the other is to disregard the Whole Counsel of God.
Please bear in mind that one of my closest friends is self-proclaimed "Pauline". I am not accusing them of any blasphemy or heresy. I am saying the position is fundamentally built on the flawed paradigm of letting theology dictate to Scripture, rather than the other way around.
Where Pauline's get it right is, they have a real understanding of what they term "Identification Truth": Romans 6--8, Colossians 3, etc. They have an appreciation of the believer's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension with Christ. This is nothing short of utterly Scriptural, and sadly lacking amongst the vast majority of believers. Although I have real problems with the underlying assumptions of "Pauline Dispensationalism", I highly value their emphasis on "Spiritual Growth".
"Classical Dispensationalism" is the system of Scofield, Larkin, and (hitherto) Dallas Theological Seminary. Incidentally, this is what I grew up with. It's the "mainline" seven-dispensation (Larkin is an exception here) breakdown from Creation to Eternity. If you've seen the "Eternity to Eternity" charts by A. E. Booth or the various other "History of the Ages" diagrams, you've seen "Classical Dispensationalism".
I think it's correct in principle, but I find the divisions are somewhat more marked in their system than what I see in Scripture. For example, the events of Acts 2--9 are not quite so smooth as Larkin's charts would indicate. To quote Darby, Stephen's stoning was a major turning point in God's dealing with Israel. "Classical Dispensationalism" doesn't really recognize much between the major dispensational breaks: there are "minor" events that are extremely important in biblical history, but "Classical Dispensationalism" tends to obscure some of them.
I suspect in Scofield's mind, one dispensation ended Tuesday at 2:00 PM, and from 2:01 PM on that Tuesday, they were in a new dispensation with different rules. I think the "Classical" dispensationalist view is a bit of an over-simplification.
One feature of Scofield's dispensationalism is his view that dispensations start with a covenant and end with a jugment. This has the tendency to over-simplify Scriptural history. For example, the year at Sinai when Moses got the Law was a lot more complex than just "a covenant was given". In fact, Deuteronomy 29:1 alone makes the "Classical Dispensationalist" view suspect: "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb." (NASB). This almost indicates two Mosaic covenants; and that is a bit of a problem for the "Classical" dispensationalist.
Having said that, I think "Classical Dispensationalism" is an honest attempt to understand Scripture. And I think it gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. I prefer it to the "Pauline" version, because it is built on a better paradigm, although there is a tendency among those who hold "Classical Dispensationalism" to miss out on some of the very Scriptural teachings more common amongst the "Pauline" crowd.
And as an aside, I really hate the title "Age of Grace". Grace is God's character, not some sort of covenant. God has always been gracious. I prefer the term "Church Age", although I think it's misleading. I lean to the Darby/Kelly/Booth idea that the Church is really more of a gap between dispensations than a dispensation in and of itself.
So I find the "Pauline" view is built on very shaky hermeneutical ground, but tends to bring out a lot of the New Testament in
a very powerful way. The "Classical" view is more hermeneutically sound, but tends to over-simplify things, which has the effect of taking the edge off some vital truth.
Darby's dispensationalism is probably the least well-formulated, but possibly more consistent than the others.
If you haven't read Darby, I highly recommend it. He's not very easy to read, incredibly smart, and more than a little obtuse. But of everyone I've ever read, he is the most eager and consistent in respecting the Word of God as the Word of God. He is extremely consistent at not trying to "explain away" problem passages. I think this is one reason I like reading him so much.
As far as I know, Darby never came up with a well-formulated dispensationalism. You need to piece it together from his writings, which span more than 50 years. But here are some characteristics I've seen:
- Darby fervently argued that prophecy is only for the earth: events in Heaven are outside the scope of prophecy unless they directly relate to events on earth.
- Darby held that dispensations started after the Flood. The ante-deluvian world was a different world, and can't properly be part of any dispensation
- Darby held that all dispensations end in failure, and almost at the start. He held that the Church had fallen irredeemably into corruption by the end of the first century.
- Darby emphasized God's grace in salvation through faith spanning all the dispensations. While all dispensationalists say this, it was a very real focus to him.
- Darby takes special note of covenants within dispensations.
I like the Darbyist view, precisely because it is not a well-formulated theology. Darby never set out to develop a systematic theology. But the strength in that is, it emphasizes the need to let Scripture speak.
Darby himself endeavoured to acknowledge the Whole Counsel of God, which I think is the most important thing for us to do. The accusation against dispensationalists is frequently that we do exactly the opposite: we only acknowledge the parts of the Word of God that we like, and ignore the rest. And I have seen time and time again where we do exactly that. The fact is, Romans is a much more comfortable book for me than 1 Peter. But I can't let that entice me to declare Romans is "to us" and 1 Peter isn't.
So that's a somewhat informal comparison of how I see those three. I'm certainly up for discussion or contradictions, but I think that's accurate, as far as it goes.