A Christian fundamentalist theology that sees human history as an unfolding of God's relationship to humanity through a series of distinct epochs, or "dispensations," and with the second-to-last one running from the birth of Christ through the Tribulation--a seven-year period that is the culmination of the End Times and marked by wars, plagues, and cataclysms, as well as by the emergence of the Antichrist, and finally the bodily return of Jesus Christ, who will defeat the Antichrist and his armies at the Battle of Armageddon and inaugurate his divine reign over a 1,000-year-long kingdom on Earth.
(see TheocracyWatch.org "Dispensationalism")
historical note. Traced back to British preacher John Darby (1800-1882), Dispensationalism was popularized in the United States by evangelists like Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) and the publication of The Scofield Reference Bible (1909)--a translation of the Holy Bible with footnotes featuring dispensationalist interpretations--Dispensationalism has had a significant influence on Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism in America, and on American politics and foreign policy as well.
key distinctions. While all Christian fundamentalists tend to stress "End Times" and embrace apocalyptic thought by virtue of the facts that they are biblical literalists and several passages and books of the Holy Bible can be interpretated as descriptions of the end of history, not all are Dispensationalists.
note. Several leaders of the Christian Right are Dispensationalists or have been influenced by Dispensationalism, including Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind novels. (see Michelle Goldberg "Fundamentally Unsound")
(see Frontline's "Apocalypse!" glossary)