I get this question about once a week. To be honest, I’m actually grateful that I get it, because I hope I preach in such a way that makes people ask. That is, I wrestle with the glory of God and the awesomeness of the Gospel to such an extent that would imply to some that I’m a Calvinist, and then that I plead for people to come to Jesus in a way that makes people think I think it’s all up to me, which would imply that I am not.
Often Calvinists will say that Calvinism is the essence of the Gospel (see Piper, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc). Unfortunately, that statement often gets translated to mean that the particulars of the “5 points” are the essence of the Gospel, which they clearly are not. But I don’t think that’s what those guys mean.
There are 4 things Calvinists often teach, however, which really do get to the heart of a Biblical theology. Regardless of where you come down on the “5 points,” these are things I think Gospel-centered Christians should agree on.
The “priority” of God’s work in salvation: The Bible teaches that no person can come to God unless Jesus first works in Him. Our own hearts, naturally, are so dark and hard, that they hate God rather than love Him. It takes a work of God’s grace in us before we will desire to know God. How that happens, what role our cooperation plays in that… those things we might disagree on. But we must agree that God’s work must come before we can choose Him (John 1:13; Philippians 2:13; John 6:44).
The preeminence of God’s glory in salvation: Calvinists often emphasize, correctly, that the biggest reality in the universe, and the priority among God’s purposes on earth, is His own glory. Thankfully, God’s glory is most shown in our salvation, but God’s glorification takes priority over our salvation, because God takes priority over us. This is made very clear, for instance, in Ezekiel 36:22-23 and Romans 3:24-25. God is so incredible that He glorified Himself by emptying Himself, being trampled on and crucified for us (Philippians 2:5-11). This is important, because if the fact that God’s glory is ultimate in the universe were not true, then a lot of things in the Bible won’t make sense to us (Why is there an eternal hell? Why isn’t everyone saved?).
The sovereignty of God in the spread of the Gospel: Even if you don’t believe that God determines, individually, who will be saved and who will not, we have to recognize that God has maintained control of when and how the Gospel has been preached. It was Jesus who chose to choose 12 (He could have chosen more than 12, or even an army of angels to do it). It is He who chose where to send them. He told Paul to go certain places and steered Him away from others. He transported Philip into the desert. He chose to let me be born to Christian parents. God has an agenda He is pursuing and is, ultimately, in charge of. That is a promise to me that even the hardest, most closed Muslim places will one day experience the Gospel.
That God owes no man salvation: We all deserve hell, no exceptions. The fact that God saves any of us is an act of lavish grace. God does not award salvation, or even the chance to be saved, because of any good He sees in us. He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe. From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace.
Anyway, that’s my .02. I try to pray like it’s all up to God, and then preach Christ like it’s all up to me. The strange thing is, the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected.