Here are some helpful comments Austin Fischer made in the comment thread of his recent post “Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed a Year Later: Calvinism (Still) Isn’t Beautiful” at his blog (the post can be found on this site here), where the comments he is replying to and the full context of the discussion may be seen:
As to the issue of where Calvinism and any sort of classical theism are really much different, in that in both views there are creatures created who will end up in hell, I think the nub of the issue is this. In Calvinism, God WANTS people (usually the majority of humanity) to be damned forever for his glory. In classical theism, God does not want anybody to be damned forever and then puts his money where his mouth is by dying on a wooden stake. Reasonable minds can differ here, but I think there’s all the difference in the world between a God who wants most humans to be damned forever (and renders it certain via compatibilism) and a God who doesn’t but cannot avoid the possibility of damnation given the contingencies of a world with meaningful created freedom.
In other words, in Calvinism people are damned because God wants to flex his wrath muscle (for the good of the elect). In classical theism, people are damned because God wants a world where love, meaning, and relationship are possible. So when all is said and done, I think the attempt to argue there isn’t much difference in the bottom line of the two positions is smoke and mirrors. I think there’s a huge difference. I think there’s the difference between a God who looks like Jesus Christ crucified and one who doesn’t.
As to foreknowledge, the key (as I point out in the response to Kevin) is that God’s foreknowledge is not determinative. There is some mystery here, but nothing logically incoherent.
Agree that most Calvinists avoid using the language of “God wants most humans damned”, but I feel strongly it is the correct word. Piper notes that God has “complex emotions” about all of this. Calvin and Edwards refer to multiple wills and decrees of God. Luther posits a revealed and hidden God. Yet while this might look like complex theology, I found it to be an avalanche of euphemisms that dances around the cold, hard truth that most people will be damned forever because God wanted them to be. Are there complex divine emotions and multiple wills and decrees involved in Calvinism? Sure…I still think it’s obvious that “wants” is the right word.
The other thing I see you leaning on here (and I see a lot) is an explanation of predestination that really tries to sound like single predestination. You posit the fall and then given a damned mass of humanity, God actively selects some and passes over others. But you can’t just posit the fall, IMO. Because in consistent Calvinism, God ordains the fall. I quote Calvin from a brief book called The Secret Providence of God.
“I acknowledge that this is my doctrine—that Adam fell not only by the permission of God, but by his secret counsel…”
“The fall of Adam was not by accident but was ordained by the secret decree of God.”
I haven’t read the Canons of Dort in a while, but as I remember, they dance around some of these things in ways that I found unhelpful and muddy issues that shouldn’t be muddied…although I would dance around and muddy them too if I still had to believe them :).