A Christian will often both begin and end with a sense of the immediacy of Scripture. God said it... that settles it. There is an immediacy of meaning and applicability.
In between, of course, is a time of learning to read its words in context. In this phase, the text can become distant because you are beginning to hear it as it was originally, someone else's mail. Paul's words had first century meanings and his audiences heard first century meanings.
Nevertheless, the goal is a kind of "second naivete" in which you can hear God directly in the words in a dance with the text, loosening it from its historical moorings in a controlled and self-conscious way, intuitively bridging the gap between that time and this time, following currents of continuity.
In practice, most Christians never go through the contextual phase, not really. In practice, most Christians apply the words directly in a way that makes sense to them (usually with their inherited Christian traditions making the sense) and only when they cannot make any sense of a passage at all do they consign it to "that time" rather than "this time."
However, in methodical circles, we speak of formulating a biblical theology, mapping the individual teachings of the Bible to each other. We map James to Paul on the question of justification by works. This mapping requires a focal point, a "clear" Scripture that we use to appropriate the "unclear" one. And of course the great diversity of Christian churches is a reflection that some groups make their base camp in different "clear" verses than others do.
All this hermeneutical spiel is meant to set background for what this post is really about, namely, formulating a biblical theology of predestination. We Protestants have historically had a tendency to set our base camp in Paul. We map Matthew and James on works to Paul rather than the other way around. Indeed, we have historically tended to give greater weight to Paul than even Jesus in the Gospels.
What I am suggesting today is that we must go the other way around when it comes to Paul's predestination language in Romans and elsewhere. There are two reasons for this:
1. Paul himself does not follow through with this language philosophically in the rest of his theology and
2. It contradicts a fundamental principle in James 1:13, namely, that God does not tempt anyone with evil.
The second is especially important. If God literally and directly hardens the hearts of people, then God does in fact not only tempt people but he actually makes them do evil.
When integrating Scripture on this topic, therefore, when mapping a biblical theology on the question of predestination, we have no choice but to consider Romans 9 the "unclear" and the theology of James 1:13 as the clear. Thus, like the difference between 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, we have to "translate" Paul theologically. He is saying "God does this," but a more precise way to say it is that "God has allowed this for a reason that fits with his sovereign will" or even better, "God has worked within the allowed choices of those who have rejected him to advance his sovereign will."
I see no way for Christianity to be coherent if we do not suppose something of this sort.