Over the past six months to a year I have decided that the things I have really struggled with and been burdened by over the past six years should be the object of my study -I should fight and dig instead of trying to push them off and take the word of others that, "I don't see a problem." The truth is, not many people did. Some would graciously try to understand and offer to pray for me, and that was truly appreciated.
Anyway, maybe I'm nuts (or maybe I'm nuts and that is unrelated to what I'm about to write), but there have been some significant theological shifts in my thinking which I feel compelled to sort of spell out. As I studied and wrestled, it was difficult and I kept hitting the same walls because my categories of thinking were forever confined to what I saw around me in standard, modern Calvinistic thinking (which is not always wrong, I must add). But as I began to look more, I saw that there is a huge diversity within Calvinistic traditions on issues, especially like the one I struggled with the most, which is the nature and extent of the atonement. In other words, the Calvinism of Calvin, Ursinus, Fuller, Charles Hodge, Boston, and Bunyan is markedly different, especially on this one issue, from that of John Owen and J. I. Packer, for example.
Anyway, here is a short summary (not a defense, but a list) of some of the things I've come to embrace:
1. When John wrote, "...God so loved the world and save His only-begotten Son..." he might have really just meant that God loves mankind. "World" is probably not some kind of "code-word" for the elect, and the rest of the passage wouldn't make much sense if it was.
2. God desires the salvation of all, especially those who hear the Gospel. It is not a question of "maybe God is calling you to be one of His." He *is* calling you. Of course, I will grant that there is an effectual call for the elect, but the fact remains that in the Gospel God is truly calling you.
3. And you are committing ultimate wickedness if you refuse Christ in the Gospel, pushing aside the very grace of God itself.
4. As you might be able to tell in my previous statements, I've come to re-embrace what I believe is the Biblical teaching on dualism in God's will: a revealed will and a will of decree. Paradoxical? sure, but I believe it is Biblical.
5. I also believe that, although in one sense Jesus died with a special intention to save His Sheep, there is a broader sense of His death. I believe His death was for all, and I believe with Bunyan that the offer of the Gospel can go no further than the death of Christ does go. There is an applicability and suitability for all in the death of Christ. It was sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect in the true sense.
6. I believe His death was a penal satisfaction, not a literal payment of debt (commercial). See Charles Hodge's systematic theology for some good explanation on the difference.
I don't know why my lists always end up with 6 items. Does that make me imperfect? If so, then it is true. I'm sure there are more, but these are some of the major ones. It is no indicator of truth, but coming to these realizations has freed me tremendously. I no longer feel like I'm being strangled and unable to articulate the big gaps and problems I was seeing ... or to battle the confusion and problems being caused in my conscience and with my assurance.
Incidentally, Calvin's view of faith, which is awesome, is what it is because Calvin basically believed all of these things above, too (though I'm not sure if he expressley called it a "penal" satisfaction). It was based on God's revealed will, not a special glimpse into the decree of God.