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Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  553 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Who would have guessed that something as austere as Calvinism would become a hot topic in today's postmodern culture? At the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, new generations have discovered and embraced a "New Calvinism," finding in the Reformed tradition a rich theological vision. In fact, Time cited New Calvinism as one of "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now. ...more
Paperback, 134 pages
Published November 1st 2010 by Brazos Press (first published 2010)
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Dec 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read Letters to a Young Calvinist because I’d already enjoyed quite a few of James Smith’s other books. But unlike his other works, Letters is written in a popular style and is intended, largely, for young folks already captivated by the reformed tradition and eager to learn more about it. As a number of reviewers have already mentioned and as is clear from the title, Letters consists of a number of ‘letters’ to a certain Jesse who, coming from a Pentecostal tradition, is new to reformed/Calvi ...more
Joshua D.
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic introduction to the reformed tradition. Short and accessible. Read this annually with leadership training for our church.
J. Alex Sánchez
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who considers herself Reformed or Calvinist, especially new converts
An interesting & creative introduction to [radical] "wide-angle" Calvinism, this book is presented as a string of pastoral letters to a budding Calvinist who is too narrowly fixed on the [important] doctrines of election & predestination. The author does a great job of patiently explaining how Calvinism encompasses much more than TULIP, enabling you to see the grander picture of redemption & the extension of grace to the whole of creation, not just individual salvation. Also good is the introduc ...more
Jacob Aitken

“Grace all the way down”

Smith avoids the stereotypes of Reformed theology by beginning with creation. Creation is radically dependent on God’s existence (Col. 1:16-17) and all of our existence is a gift (donum, 1 Cor. 4:7). Seeing our whole existence as radically dependent on God, it is something we can’t boast about. Smith has come very close to cutting off synergism at the pass. I’m impressed (Smith 14ff).

However, Smith skirts dangerously close to saying creation--and hence nature--is grace. I
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
James K. A. Smith thinks deeply and writes well. However, he spends just as much time talking about Calvinists as Calvinism. And at times he seems to play that game of Removed Contrarian--in which one refuses to take sides in a disagreement so that one can then sit above the fray and “dish” on both sides, thus avoiding risk and granting oneself the right to judge the less-enlightened partisans. Now, the book is far from worthless and does give an interesting picture of contemporary Calvinism and ...more
Mar 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
I'm not a Calvinist but I enjoy Smith's work and couldn't resist this book at 2.99 for the kindle. My big wish after reading this book is that more Calvinists of the "young, restless and reformed" variety would pick it up and read it. Though not a Calvinist, I agreed with over 90% of what he wrote in this book Much of it centers on topics like the redemption of culture, the place of creeds and the importance of worship and spiritual formation. I suppose there will always be disagreements between ...more
Jason Panella
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great primer on the Reformed tradition. Smith frames the book as a series of letters to a young man (Smith said that the young man is the younger version of himself, in some ways) who is learning more about Reformed Christianity. Smith touches on some basics while also warning against the arrogance that usually comes at that stage. Smith really does a nice job pointing out how inviting the Reformed tradition is supposed to be, which is a wonderful reminder. (Especially since my denomination seem ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
As the name suggest this was an informative and helpful book for a young Calvinist, such as myself. Smith does an great job of both giving advice and educating his readers on the reformed tradition in a concise manner. However, occasionally Smith would start on a topic and would never fully expand on it or come to a conclusion.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and plan on hopefully reading more of Smith's work in the near future.
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Must-read for all who consider themselves Calvinists. Jamie Smith does an impressive job here helping cover the landscape of Calvinism, including the "New Calvinism," and urges Calvinists to consider the riches of an all-of-creation, Kuyperian, world-reformative Christianity.

Recommended for Seminarians and for Christians who are relatively versed in basic theology.
Justin Tapp
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K.A. Smith

I bought this from a Goodwill along with Richard Mouw's Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. Unlike Mouw's book, this book isn't a defense of Calvinism but rather an internal monologue between the author and a younger version of himself (and also younger people he knows) about discovering what he considers to be the fullness of Calvinism. I'm not sure the audience of this book or who I would gift it to. The chapters are the authors letters to a fict
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: j-k-a-smith
Dr. Smith has again adjusted my inner compass to true north again.Great read, found 15 more books I need to read.
David Steele
Oct 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: calvinism
Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K.A. Smith reminds me of the last time I went to see the San Francisco Giants play baseball. I remember purchasing the tickets with my Dad, approaching the park, and watching the Giants play the Dodgers in what was then, Candlestick Park. This is a great memory from my childhood because I got a chance to see some of the Dodger greats like Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Pedro Guerrero. This is a day I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, what I remember mo
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to Calvinism but not 'dumbed-down' too much for those already acquainted with theologies. Since it's written in letter format, the style is engaging and each chapter thorough while still managing to be delightfully concise. The emphasis was less on the 'intellectual-ness' that an understanding of Calvinism tends to generate and more on the broader beauty of the catholicity and engagement of the heart in relationship to a beautiful Saviour that is typically misunderstood or e ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Written similarly to the Screwtape Letters (C.S.Lewis), Smith presents a very good survey of the reformed doctrines and tradition in history. Smith correctly states that the reformed doctrines come directly from Scripture, through the letters of Paul, to Saint Augustine, then on toward Luther, Calvin, and the Reformation era. Smith goes through some the denominational backgrounds and controversies; just leaving you with enough information to want to learn more.

Smith didn't clearly define the di
Adam Shields
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Short Review: I had intended to read this several years ago when it first came out and I was exploring the rise of the new reformed movement. In some ways I wish I had, because I might have better understood the differenced within the Reformed movement. But in other ways I am glad that I did not because I think I am better able to understand Smith now with greater context to his work and I now appreciate some of his focus on the Reformed movement as covenantal theology, not soteriology.

These le
Nov 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Letters to a Young Calvinist is a nice read. It's done in the format of letters, which makes it interesting to read and pretty engaging. The author makes some good points, mostly in the beginning of the book. Some of those points are the dangers of pride, the need for humility, and the centrality of grace within reformed theology. However the book, in my opinion is marred somewhat by the author's perspective, or lack of clarification on some points. Some of those points are his views of women, ...more
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theology
Written as a series of letters to a "young Calvinist," Smith offers a tour of Reformed Theology, from the doctrines of grace (very briefly) to historical confessions of Reformed theology and even Reformed ecclesiology. Smith's purpose here is to invite evangelical Calvinists to the depths of the Reformed tradition (beyond the five-points of Calvinism to confessionalism, convenant theology, and more). While interesting and - at some points - helpful (e.g. the differences between Scottish and Dutc ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Helpful little book for young Calvinists, and really for any who want to see the breadth of Calvinism as a worldview instead of as a particular understanding of salvation alone (TULIP). I've had a similar church background and doctrinal journey to Smith, especially at the start, but we have ended up in different church traditions and come down on a few matters on different sides of the fence. Overall, his cosmic, earthy, cultural-engaging Calvinism is welcome.
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'd probably give it around 3.5. It's a nice intro to many concepts and ideas with the author's commentary. At points out feels a little dated and may not age the best, but it was a helpful thing to read. I especially liked the chapter titled "Grace All the Way Down." The warnings against pride also seemed very applicable.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. Smith writes well, and it certainly is helpful in gaining a clearer picture of the broad brushstrokes of Reformed theology. In fact, at the moment, this is the book I would recommend to someone seeking a basic introduction to the Reformed tradition.
M.G. Bianco
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
One of those books I should have read several years ago, but it didn't exist. Very helpful for new calvinists.
Kris Lundgaard
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Brief and likable. An expansive view of life.
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
As someone who has never been particularly passionate about the sort of theological study that picks apart the slightest differences between Christian schools of thought (I've often felt it unnecessarily divisive), I've found myself a Calvinist-by-default. I've done very little detailed study into Calvinism itself, but the basic tenets seemed to be the best and most accurate understanding of scripture.

But, in recent years, I've become convicted that using the "it's divisive" excuse to refuse to
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
This book does crystalize some key points of the Reformed tradition and situates that tradition among current discussions and branches of Calvinism, which I appreciated. Ultimately, I'm not convinced that the epistolary style served the purpose of the book well; occasionally, as a reader I struggled to imagine what the other side of the conversation was--the questions being asked, the offense being taken, etc.

The ideal audience for this book also felt much more particular than the title and sub
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is quite an easy little book to read (I got through it in something like three hours), but it's full of good wisdom for those of us in the Reformed tradition (whether new to it or quite at home) who tend to overemphasize Calvinistic soteriology to the neglect of that doctrine's context. For the most part, Smith's advice is firmly rooted not only in Scripture, but also in Augustine, Calvin, and Kuyper (he draws heavily from these three) for a healthy perspective on our historical inheritance ...more
Cassie Kelley
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’ve been a Calvinist for a long time, and honestly I relate better to the one writing the letters rather than the one receiving them. There is a reason my denomination is called the ‘Frozen Chosen’ and I’ve never seen eye to eye on the people who are so high on doctrine that they don’t feel compassion for those who are lost and hurting.

On that note, I understand why the first few chapters focused on spiritual pride, and I agree that there is an over-abundance of that in a lot of Calvinists (in
Matt Carpenter
When I was first coming to the doctrines of sovereign grace, I was pretty close to the "cage-stage" Calvinist. I also drank deeply of the individualistic Calvinism that haunts many who first come upon the beauty of God's grace. This book puts together many faces of the Reformed tradition, not just the English/Scottish tradition but (as the author is Dutch-Reformed) the Continental Reformed tradition. It is a helpful introduction.

Of course I disagreed in spots and there are oversimplifications. T
Nathan Sexten
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, christian-life
This was incredible - a fun style that was easy to read, and content that helps us pull back from the extremes of neo-Calvinism today it's roots, which as Smith claims, are wider than the predestination/free will debates or debating the faults of Arminianism. He does an extremely good job of showing how the Reformation had roots - it wasn't an epiphany directly given from God - and was essentially Augustinian in nature. We need more Augustine in religious circles today, so read this.
Andrew Harper
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Great little intro to the wide wide world of Reformed Theology. Started this book a couple years ago and put it down, coming back and finishing it, I sense that a couple years of living in Reformed circles helped me read between the lines a little better. So, while it is an easy primer, two readings will yield more nuance to those who are completely new to the world of Reformed thought.
Isaque Viza
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Worth your time (more than once)!

The book is a great way to pass through all the noisy stuff you see around about Calvinism and go for the jugular. There's more to Calvinism than meets the eye! Personally, I consider the book as a starting point in my learning journey about Calvinism.
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“In fact, I must tell you that in the past couple years I’ve become convinced that perhaps nothing is so important for our walk with the Lord as good friends. I think God gives us good friends as sacraments – means of grace given to us as indices of God’s presence and conduits for our sanctification.” 2 likes
“However, in looking back at the enthusiasm of my younger, newly Calvinist self, I also cringe at the rough edges of my spiritual hubris – an especially ugly vice. The simple devotion of my brothers and sisters became an occasion for derision, and I spent an inordinate amount of time pointing out the error of their (“Arminian”) ways. How strange that discovering the doctrines of grace should translate into haughty self-confidence and a notable lack of charity. I had become a caricature of the unforgiving servant in Jesus’s parable (Matt. 18:23–35). At times, I saw creeping versions of the same pride in these young folks I spent time with in Los Angeles – an arrogance I understood but also abhorred. And in this particular case, there seemed to be something in their Calvinism that gave comfort to wider cultural notions of machismo that did not reflect the radical grace and mercy of the gospel.” 0 likes
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