Hello brothers and sisters, this has been an interesting thread to follow along. It seems much has already been said representing each view. If I can suggest a couple more thoughts, hopefully they can add yet another set of nuances in the discussion.
First off, I will concede that I would locate myself within the Reformed tradition. So, when it comes to salvation, I would embrace a Calvinistic framework.
That being said, there are a diversity of perspectives even within a Reformed perspective. With respect to the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, on any side of the playing field, we must be willing to embrace both. The Bible quite emphatically teaches both!
Of course, as has already been expressed, the challenge is the relationship between the two. It seems to me that a majority of Calvinists (though not all…) would accept what is called “compatibilism” which is the affirmation that God’s predetermination and providence are compatible with human free will. It seems to me that this should dispel certain criticisms of Calvinistic thinking, but certainly, this does not leave every stone unturned. Nevertheless, it allows for a distinction between primary causes and secondary causes, which should open up more space for discussion.
Another thing that seems to be coming up quite a bit here is the question about the created condition of the reprobate/the lost. In other words, does God create people for the purpose of being lost and never having the ability to be saved?
But before I offer another window of ideas here, I think a pastoral dimension should be addressed. It seems clear from the Gospels that over and over, Jesus invites people to come to Him, to turn away from their wicked ways, and extends the genuine offer of fellowship with them. However this works out, I just want to affirm that those are authentic offers given. Meaning, any and ALL who come to Jesus, expressing genuine faith, placing their trust in Him, remorseful for their sin, turning away from it and seeking fellowship with God…any and ALL of those will be saved. The Gospel of John is clear about this…He will by no means cast them out and none of them will be lost.
All that to say: our soteriological positions should never hinder our Gospel calls (I don’t think anyone here would disagree), much less should they be used to instill any measure of fear in the true believer (I don’t think anyone here is doing this). In other words, an individual’s chief occupation shouldn’t be with whether they are elect or not, or whether they can lose their salvation or not…as far as I see it, their chief occupation should be with the Gospel: have they rightly understood Jesus and placed their trust in Him. That’s it! Any more than this is edifying and fruitful for us to learn, as we grow in the grace of God, however its proper place is as an in-house discussion (as we are presently having).
And in the end, the purpose of this doctrine (God’s sovereignty in election) is meant to offer assurance to the church. It is not, first and foremost, a statement on the lost. Nor is it a statement on how we should treat or consider the lost. In that area, we should continue praying for them (as God has the power to save anyone), proclaim the Gospel to them (we do this indiscriminately), and extend love, care and respect for them (they are fellow bearers of God’s image AND we are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbors). I myself will confess I have not been perfect in this area, but, I seek God’s grace and guidance and believe these are practices to be pursued and developed.
Now, I promised I’d offer one more nuance. This would be the so-called “logical” order of God’s decrees. In other words, in eternity past, when God was determining His plans and purposes for the course of history, what was the flow of planned divine action? Some might dismiss this as pure speculation, and in all fairness, that might be a fair criticism. However, in light of God’s revelation and the canon of Scripture, I’d suggest that a theological agnosticism need not be the alternative in this area.
Some would argue that the order follows from what comes last in the course of redemptive history and works back. Those within this position would stake their claims on the idea that what is last is probably usually what is foremost in the mind when making a decision, and all other things leading up to it would follow as intermediary steps. So, these would order God’s decrees this way: 1. Election of the regenerate and the reprobate, then 2. the decision to create, 3. The Fall, and 4. The decision to provide salvation only for the elect.
The implication of this (as has been suggested already in our discussion) is that God has an ACTIVE role in creating both the regenerate and the reprobate (or, those elected for salvation and those elected for eternal punishment). In other words, God’s decision to create flows from a logically prior notion of those whom He wants to save and those He does not. This position would be called “supralapsarianism” (“Supra-“ meaning “over”, and “lapse” referring to humanity’s fall in sin. So, it’s emphasizing election as something determined before the consideration of the fall of humanity).
The other perspective in view differs quite a bit. Whereas the “Supra” position is working from a top-down logic (reasoning from the mind of God, downward), the alternative position suggests reasoning from the bottom-up. In other words, the flow of history as it’s given to us reflects the logical order of God’s decrees. This would offer the following scheme of God’s decrees: 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Election, 4. Redemption. The implication of this is that God’s active role is first in the divine will to create all humanity and from that state of goodness, allowing them to fall. From that lump of fallen humanity, God chooses some to actively save, while the others are passed over. And then, Jesus is sent to provide redemption for the elect. In other words, before any are saved, all are in a state of sin and freely choosing to continue in that lifestyle. However, it also preserves the reality that God created all human beings, along with the rest of creation, good! And when we talk about the redeemed, it also preserves the reality that although they are sons and daughters…they are adopted sons and daughters (“once lost, but now found”). This position would be called “infralapsarianism” (“Infra-“ meaning under. So, it’s emphasizing the order of redemptive history, as we have it, reflecting the logical order of God’s decrees. God is active in creation, and then in the election of some, but “passive” in the reprobation of others).
Surely, this does not address all the questions…and certainly this raises many more! May God keep us humble, as we listen to one another, learn from one another, and hopefully, remain willing to change our positions in conformity with God’s revealed knowledge, wisdom, and revelation.
Soli Deo gloria.