In his weblog cataloging his thoughts and growth in the Orthodox Faith at http://confessio.blogspot.com/ my friend Steve Fallin muses on the question, "Are we even looking at the right thing?" This is a short response to that. Most excellent Theophilus,
Well, the question that separates the men from the boys, as they say -- and in this context, I really mean denominations from each other -- is the answer to the question "What is the basis for our justification." This is shorthand, of course, for 1) how and when are we saved from hell, 2) on what basis are we saved, 3) what is our standing now before God, and a bunch of others. Whose righteousness is this anyway?
The Reformed world (ah, how I am speaking for the whole of the Reformed faith... Not) is comfortable with the apparent tension between Paul and James. Both of them are canonical and the true word of God. The tension is in our minds, I think, because we like things neat and tidy. We want to be able to say, "Oh, okay -- gotcha. All I have to do is this, that, and a lot of the other." But it is not like that. We say, "I don't understand. How can salvation be 'sola fide', 'sola gracia,' and still have James's epistle in the mix?" But what is the problem? There is no contradiction. God says, through Paul, "this not of yourself, it is the work of God so that no man can boast." And through James, "faith without works is dead." Where's the tension?
You bring up predestination, and write, "Some time ago, I discovered that this basic back and forth has been going on since Geneva and Wittenburg." Brother, try since the beginning of time. The underlying statement is, "it is not my fault!" See Adam's accusation of Eve. See Cain's reaction to God's challenge. Paul addresses this question, as I am sure you know, in Romans 9. People will always ask this question. (Talk about a straw man! :-)) And -- I am not sure that the Luther and Reformed view on this is as different as you imply, but I could be mistaken, not being a Lutheran. But your view if Calvinism is certainly wrong. I think you misunderstand irresistible grace. (I taught a class wherein we examined some of these from a Reformed perspective. ( http://www.avolio.com/~fred/ss/ddf/index.html). I only wish we had recorded them.)
Does the view of irresistible grace mean God forces a person -- "rapist to the elect" is the word you used? Well, no. But we have to make a step back. What is the state of man according to Scripture? Old and New Testament alike affirms what Paul says. Outside of Christ we are dead in our sins. We were spiritually dead. Not sick. Not misguided. Dead.
What can a dead person do to save himself? Nothing. Even if we think about someone who is nearly but not completely physically dead, the analogy still holds up. What can the comatose person do? Nothing. What can the unconscious person lying at the bottom of a pond do? Nothing. Someone who is able must resuscitate, if anyone is going to. Someone other than the person must do it. And that is what God does to those the Father chooses to give to the Son. Why? For His own glory. (See Ephesians 1.)
So, those God foreknew (Rom 8:29) he chose before creation to be given as a gift to the Son (Eph 1:4-5). He established that point in time when that person would be called by the gospel (Rom 8:28-30). In order to respond to that outside call, the person must be regenerated -- he who is spiritually dead is made alive (Titus 3:5, Eph 2:4-5). The Holy Spirit gives that person a new nature, one that sees his true condition and sees his need of a Savior. The Spirit gives the gifts of faith and repentance (Eph 2:8-9, Acts 20:21, HEB 6:1). The believer is justified (declared just or righteous) forensically (legally) on the basis of Christ's righteousness (Rom 3:24-26). Christ's payment saves us from the penalty of hell. He also took God's righteous wrath -- the Father's anger towards us -- on the cross, so we need no longer fear that. God gives us a righteousness not of ourselves. So, we can stand before God without fear. But wait, as the say. There's more.
Not satisfied with that, God adopts the believer into His family (Eph 1:5 Rom 8:15)! Not only as children, but given the full rights of the first born Son. He doesn't leave it at that. He puts His Holy Spirit inside of us, and the Spirit sanctifies us throughout the believers life (Phil 2:12-13, Heb 12:14, Thes 4:7). (That's the process in all of this, in the Reformed view). Our position is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit -- with the Holy Spirit Himself (Phil 1:6, Heb 12:2). We will not be cast aside. We were bought with the Blood of Christ. And some day, God promises, we will be with the Lord and we will be like the Lord (Rom 8:30, 9:23).
What about those He does not save, the objects of wrath Paul speaks of? They get what they deserve. And I write that with sadness. But the Bible clearly teaches this. And those who reject Christ, are doing exactly what they want to do.
So, how should we then live? In communion with each other and with Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Amen.