The more I think about these passages the more I realize that they are Paul's anguished thoughts given external theological expression. And they are inspired to be normative for the church. Frequently these passages seem to lead people into a very deterministic theology that seems self defeating psychologically. One need not cite sources, but merely have conversations with people who immediately think, "what's the point of evangelism? how do I know I'm chosen? what if God is hardening my heart? etc."
But I want to note certain things about this chunk of Romans. Paul has already taught that the normative way God exercises his sovereignty is through the preaching of the gospel about Jesus Christ, and through the obedience those people to Jesus Christ as Lord. As he gets to this portion of the text, Paul is essentially giving us a paradigm for thinking about why, after every effort to use the proper means has failed, some people do not believe the gospel.
For instance, Paul evidently spent days on end reasoning in the synagogues with his country men concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He became all things to all people, he gave up his rights, he loved, he prayed, he wished even his own accursedness for their sake. And yet, after all the proper channels through which God promised to act were taken, he got nothing.
And yet, Paul's response, and our normative example, is that Paul worships and calls for continued faithfulness in chapter 11, he tells of the need to preach in chapter 10, and in 9 he anguishes, but in all three chapters he hopes. There is never a time when Paul simply says, "but these people were hardened to perish." Paul instead says that the inclusion of those who have believed speaks to God's good intentions for those yet to believe. I'm not citing a lot of verses, because most people are very familiar with these chapters. But regardless of one's theory of election/providence/favorite part of reformation heritage to identify with, one has to say that as an apostle who frequently commends his own example, this inspired text is a tall order for the church.
- Anguish over unbelief. (9:1-5)
- Incredible effort to share the gospel. (Paul's normal way of life)
- Resignation to God's involvement, but only after all possible work is done, but trust in his promises.(9:6-33)
- Prayer (10:1-4)
- Preaching (10:5-21)
- Hope that all is not lost. (11:1-16)
- Call to faithfulness to believers. (11:17-24)
- Worship because of God's willingness to save, though circumstances indicate his disinterest. (11:24-36)
- Faith in God's promise to save his people by means of Jesus Christ. (9:1-11:36)