The debate about Calvinism is hinges heavily, of course, on Scripture passages. To me, one of the most fundamental themes of Scripture is the universality of God's love, which is manifested in acts intended for our salvation. John 3:16 is only the tip of the iceberg. Passages like Ezekiel 18:23, I Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 can be advanced. And there's more. I mean, there is joy amongst the angels when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). But why, if God made the sovereign choice to bring about the repentance before the foundation of the world? Jesus wept over Jerusalem. What would there be to weep about if Jesus had the power to hit everyone in Jerusalem over the head with irresistible grace and bring them to repentance, which after all is how anybody comes to repentance, on the Calvinistic scheme. Ephesians 4:30 talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. How can you grieve someone who is unilaterally causing you to do everything you do?
The attempt to provide "Calvinist" interpretations of these passages which index God's love and compassion to the elect and only the elect strike me as just plain desperate. In the exegesis of John 3: 16, for example, it is argued that the most impressive thing about God's love for the world is God's loving that world in spite of its rebelliousness. The idea is that if we are sufficiently impressed by the fact that God loves humans even though they are sinners, we can somehow limit the scope of God's love to the elect only and still accept the sense of the text. There seem to be plenty of Calvinists who think that "world" cannot be indexed to the elect; I even recall Manata writing that D. A. Carson thinks that "world" cannot be limited in scope.
Apparently God wants us to preach the gospel to every living creature. Why? Is the offer made in good faith? How can it be if the people to whom it was made were reprobated by a sovereign choice before the foundation of the world?
There is a Calvinist response to all of this that I do think is interesting, although, at the end of the day, it doesn't work. Dongell and Walls, in Why I am Not a Calvinist (p.174) writes:
Let's turn to a more intensive effort to show that the offer of salvation for all persons can be sincere for Calvinists. This challenge is met head-on by Piper who affirms both that God unconditionally elects who will be saved and yet has compassion for and desires all people to be saved. Piper begins by citing some of the well-known texts that seem to teach God desires the salvation of all persons, such as Ezekiel 18:23, I Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. Unlike many Calvinist exegetes, Piper does to attempt to circumvent the straightforward meaning of these texts by saying that all means "all the elect." and not all persons without qualification. But by conceding this point, Piper has set himself a formidable project.
Yes, it's a formidable project. But the Calvinist claim that Calvinism has the full support of Scripture hinges on the success of this project. I will be talking about the project in susbsequent posts, as it is the aspect of the issue of Calvinism that really interests me. But do notice that this involves the interpretations of some passages that are more typical of Arminians than of Calvinists.