Posted by: reformedmusings | June 23, 2007

Good Hermaneutics on Green Baggins

Lane over at Green Baggins is taking up Dr. Leithart’s challenge on justification. Dr. Clark has laid out some excellent doctrinal background. I think that Lane has a great approach in centering on the faulty hermeneutic that allows Federal Vision folks to play fast and loose with the terminology. With the traditional gramatico-historical approach, we look at the context of the word in the sentence, the paragraph, the overall section, as well as the historical context in which it was written which includes the inspired human writer’s original purpose. Then we verify the resultant doctrinal implications across Scripture so as not to be in conflict elsewhere. We basically let the text speak for itself. Reformed Theology builds its framework on the global result of this process integrated across the entirety of Scripture, mathematically speaking.

In contrast, Federal Vision starts with the “covenant faithfulness” framework, then forces individual parts of Scripture to work within that framework. Rather than taking the text within its grammatical or historical circumstance, FV defines the meaning from outside of the immediate text, often choosing cafeteria-style from a menu of possible meanings for key words independent of the local context. I’ve already shown how this approach fails in terms of what they propose as a “final justification” in another post.


Since Lane is working justification, let’s use to an example here that came up recently on the blogs involving baptism to contrast the two hermaneutics. Titus 3:5 was offered as one proof of baptismal regeneration lite (justification, sanctification, and adoption without perseverance). Let’s take a look at Titus to see if this could be the case. Normally we’d go to the Greek, but this example is easy enough to work in the English Standard Version (ESV).

First, to whom was the letter written? Titus 1:4: “To Titus, my true child in a common faith”. This is easy, as the letter was obviously written to a single individual. Further, we can deduce that Titus was elect by God’s eternal decree as a “true child in a common faith.”

Titus 3:5 doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It is in the middle of a narrative from Paul in Titus 3:3-7:

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (ESV)

In the local context of a personal letter, the “we” in verse 3 must be Paul and Titus–elect individuals in the eternal decree of God as we’ve already ascertained. They used to be unregenerate, but by God’s grace through Jesus Christ they were saved. The first part of Verse 5 makes it clear that their salvation isn’t through their own works, but rather through the Holy Spirit. Verse 7 says that they are justified by God’s grace and secure in that hope forever.

The end of Verse 5 is the center point of contention with Federal Vision advocates. They say that this verse supports baptismal regeneration lite because it implies that baptism is the “washing of regeneration.” However, we’ve already seen that Paul is speaking in relation to Titus and himself, not some “covenantally elect” group not addressed by letter. The Federal Vision interpretation ignores the overall context of both the passage and the letter and therefore misses Paul’s meaning all together. The correct interpretation also supports the Westminster Standards statements, which should be no surprise.

This is just one example of how good hermaneutics easily refutes Federal Vision errors. I look forward to future posts from Green Baggins and others as they address these issues.

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