September 28, 2005

Neil Chambers on the Purchase of Faith

In Neil Chambers' critical examination of John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ , he deals with the argument that faith was 'purchased' by Christ's death stemming from Owen's overreliance on commercial, or 'debt payment' categories. Here is an insightful paragraph from the chapter on faith:
In fact, Owen's talk of 'purchase' could well be seen as having a distorting effect on the biblical idea of faith, by reifying it, making it a thing or object or commodity, instead of a relational response. The phrase 'purchase of faith' is a category confusion, for trust, like love, can only be given by the subject, not bought, and arises in the subject. While, of course, it is bought for us, and not from us, even that suggests a passivity that is not a feature of the New Testament's portrayal. While the trusting attitude itself can be conceptualised as passive and receptive in relation to the reception of righteousness, we are not passive but active in that trusting, we are those who believe. It is this active responsibility that talk of the purchase of faith has the potential to undermine, and which the New Testament's portrayal of faith in relation to the temporal realities of the preaching of the gospel and renewal by the Spirit do not. Nor does seeing faith as a gift of grace suggest passivity to the same extent, for the realisation of that gift again focuses on God's gracious work in history, on the preaching of Christ, whereas purchase emphasises determined causality. Gift continues to be the language of grace, but purchase moves into the language of rights.
Neil A. Chambers, A Critical Examination of John Owen's Argument for Limited Atonement in "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 228–229. This thesis is well worth purchasing ($15 in e-doc version). It's 416 pages long.

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