What is the TULIP?
- Total Depravity (of fallen humanity)
- Unconditional Election (of God's people)
- Limited Atonement (for humanity by Christ)
- Irresistible Grace (of God)
- Perseverance (of God's people, i.e. they cannot lose their salvation)
Total depravity can either be taken to mean that humanity is totally depraved or that every part of humanity is touched by sin. A biblical view of humanity, IMHO, should never forget that humanity was first made in the image of God (Imago Dei) and that the fall never took that away. Just as every area of human life is touched by sin and has potential for evil, every area has an equal (or greater) potential for good. So while total depravity in a limited sense is possible good doctrine, it certainly should not be the first point you make about either humanity (anthropology) or God's salvation (soteriology).
That the God of the Bible is an electing God, who chooses people according to his own often secret agenda is proven by innumerable proof-texts and the overall narrative of scripture. But it needs to be said that this same scriptural narrative often portrays even the people whom God has chosen falling out of God's favour. Unconditional Election merely affrims that God's electional is not based on any criteria that a human has any hope of fulfilling by choice, God's choice therefore doesn't come with strings attached!
IMHO, Limited Atonement is the most hateful of doctrines in the TULIP sequence. This is the idea that Christ did not die for everyone but only those that would be saved, it argues that there are rafts of humanity out there who simply cannot be saved because Christ's atonement does not cover them. The motive behind this doctrine is to avoid suggesting that God could be thwarted in his desire to save. If God wants to save everyone but can only save some, that would suggest God is weak or incompetent. Thus Limited Atonement suggests that God must only have intended to save some. However, to my mind this doctrine does far more harm by limiting the availability of God's grace and love, and is not the solution to the problem of those who do not respond to the Gospel.
The Irresistible Grace of God is a doctrine that argues that if God desire to save someone they cannot get out of that salvation. In one sense I have no problem with this as it is manifestly true. On the other hand I do not think this necessarily means therefore that God simply hasn't willed to save those who are not saved. I think we need to affirm that God's grace can be and often is resisted, but that the human capacity to resist that grace is in fact evidence of that grace. God's gift of autonomy and free volition to humanity.
The Perseverance of the saints, God's elect people, is an interesting one. People obviously do fall away from time to time, is it "once saved, always saved" or simply that those who fall away show they were never saved in the first place? Personally I feel the NT emphasis on perseverance as something to be done rather than something to be assumed speaks against this. Likewise the OT emphasis on Covenant Nomism.
Now that was a big post and I am aware with some more time I should probably give you some Bible verses and stuff, but hopefully you can see what I am getting at and where I am getting it from? In case you are still wondering where I stand, I do like Calvin, from what little I have read, but I don't like TULIP, as far as I understand it correctly. Let me know what you think :-)
P.S See also this post on Myths and Urban Legends about Calvin and for a more polemical piece Evangelical Calvinism is an Oxymoron