Question for my Calvinist friends
Are you letting the Bible speak (and acknowledging the mystery that is God)?

Harold N. Miller

Both you and I find Scriptures teaching that salvation is solely God's action. "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (Rom. 9:16; see also 8:29,30; Eph. 1:11; 2:8,9; John 6:35-40; 10:25-30; & many more).

My question: As you feel the force of that group of Scriptures, does a desire for logical consistency in your theological system set in as you read the rest of Scripture? Do you expect that every other Scripture will neatly "fit in" with those first Scriptures?

Concerning your answer, let me say two things:

1) If you answer "yes", perhaps that is the correct one; one passage can help us understand another as we fit their truths together. However, there is a danger to be avoided. Logical consistency should not be a primary concern; faithful exegesis (letting the text speak, rather than "reading into" it our ideas) should be the primary concern.

Logical consistency should only be a secondary concern. God in his being will not be inherently contradictory (every part of his nature will be consistent with the whole); however, from our (limited) perspective, two apparently contradictory teachings about God may both be true. Much of our knowledge of God is only in picture form, and analogies always break down. Since God is a being beyond our comprehension, it is actually logical to expect an illogical description of God and his actions in saving us. A cube has all right angles; yet a two-dimensional true sketch of a cube does not have all right angles. God and his actions are a couple (at least!) dimensions higher than our descriptions of him.[1] So perhaps two scriptural descriptions of God will--even after being exegeted correctly--appear to contradict each other.

2) It seems your answer is indeed "yes," and that you have not successfully avoided the danger inherent in that answer.

Why do I say that? I find Scriptures which, if taken at face value, say that peoples' actions determine their eternal destiny and that Christ died for more than the elect.

Verses which appear to teach that God's will includes the salvation of all:
1 Tim. 2:4 - God "wants all men to be saved."
2 Pet. 3:9 - the Lord is "not wanting anyone to perish."

Verses which appear to teach that the death of Christ was intended for all:
John 3:16 - God "so loved the world."
Heb. 2:9 - "taste death for everyone."
1 Jn. 2:2 - "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

Verses which appear to teach that Christ died for some who may be lost:
1 Cor. 8:11 - the weak brother "for whom Christ died" may perish.
Rom. 14:15 - "do not by your eating destroy one for whom Christ died."
1 Pet. 2:1 - the false teachers who bring "swift destruction on themselves" are "denying the sovereign Lord who bought them."

Verses which appear to teach that one who has received salvation can be lost if he does not persevere in obedience:
Matt. 24:10-13 - "he who stands firm to the end will be saved."
John 15:6 - if we do not remain in Jesus, we are "like a branch that is thrown away.
Rom. 2:6-13 - God gives eternal life to those who persist in doing good.
1 Tim. 1:19,20 - some have "shipwrecked their faith."
Heb. 3:12-19 - see to it that none of you turn away from God.
Heb. 6:4-8 - warning lest we "fall away."
Heb. 10:26-39 - persevere to be saved
Heb. 12:14 - "without holiness no one will see the Lord."
James 2:14,17,24 - "a person is justified by what he does."
2 Pet. 1:10 - "make your calling and election sure."
2 Pet. 2:1,20,21 - those who have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior are again entangled in it and overcome.
You can explain how many of those passages need not deny limited atonement and eternal security. Can you explain all of them to your satisfaction?[2] To me it feels unsafe to need complicated, irregular "explanations" of all those verses. Again, my Question is this: are you allowing concern for systemic consistency to lead you to explain (away) this group of passages rather than exegete them? (Arminians start from this group and allow concern for logical consistency to lead them to explain away your group.) But you are the ones who must decide whether this group of Scriptures uses the language that peoples' actions affect their eternal salvation and that Christ died for all.

[1] For instance: God is one; yet God is three. I have faith that there is an explanation adequate to explain both while denying neither. But until we have that, let us not settle for a solution that denies either, for that would be error. [See John M. Frame's Van Til: The Theologian, p. 14,15, if you think the Trinity should be described in a less blatantly contradictory form.]
  Packer (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p.16) uses this reasoning to plead for openness to the apparently contradictory teaching of God being sovereign and man still held responsible. Would not that reasoning also allow us to say God is sovereign and yet man is free? Exegesis (whether Scripture uses the language of freedom, not just responsibility) should determine the form of the antinomy.

[2] Louis Berkhof (Systematic Theology, p397) argues that the destruction of the one spoken of in Rom 14:15 and I Cor 8:11 is "a supposition, for the sake of argument, of something that does not and cannot happen." But wouldn't referring to cases that cannot actually occur destroy Paul's whole argument?
  Berkhof also argues that the false teachers in II Pet. 2:1 are "described according to their own profession....They gave themselves out as redeemed men, and were so accounted in the judgment of the Church while they abode in her communion." But the Bible as a rule designates men to be what they really are, not what they pretend to be. Also, the verse designates these men as "false teachers," although they hardly professed to be such.
Excerpts from 11/7/1988 personal letter from Dr. Vern S. Poythress, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminister Theological Seminary:
    I suggest the crucifixion of Christ as the best "perspective" on this question. The crucifixion of Christ is ordained by God and at the same time the actions of Herod and Pilate are morally disapproved by God (Acts 2:23; 4:26-28). Similarly, the perdition of some is ordained by God and morally disapproved by God. Since all of us must affirm the richness of God's will with respect to the crucifixion, we are really not "fudging" or inventing a new kind of distinction of "two wills" when we come to other matters....
    ...resolution of biblical "paradoxes" will never come through abstract rationality or irrationality, but through the paradigms of biblical teaching, particularly the person of Christ. The so-called dilemma of God's sovereignty and human responsibility/freedom is not solved philosophically but is solved illustratively, even paradigmatically, through the freedom of Christ's obedience as the true Son of the Father (John 8:36). Of course God's sovereignty and human "freedom" (in the sense of John 8:36) and responsibility within the family of the Father are in harmony! Christ's own person shows it as clear as day.