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Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition Paperback – November 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 2009, Time magazine called New Calvinism one of the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now," noting both the draw and the drawbacks within this postmodern return to grace-driven Christianity. In this series of epistolary exhortations, Smith addresses the faults of the Calvinist theology to which he subscribes--for example, its seeming lack of charity and production of arrogant followers. He then calls on young Calvinists to rise above haughty intellectualism to embrace the richer, more sustainable Reformed tradition that grew out of Calvinist ideas. Though written for a college-level audience, Smith's guide to all things Reformed may leave some searching for a glossary of theological terms. And critics of Calvinism will not find answers to all of their questions: why aren't humans more responsible for their destiny, and why wouldn't God choose to save everyone? Yet Smith welcomes readers to embrace more than just a grumpy theological debate. He opens them to a tradition defined by grace, enjoyment, and group worship. This slim introduction will leave readers wanting more history and will prepare them to dive into more challenging texts. (Nov.)
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From the Back Cover

Exploring the Riches of the Reformed Tradition

"I wish there had been a Jamie Smith to write letters like these to me when I was a young Calvinist. This is a wise and delightfully written portrayal of a robust Calvinism for the twenty-first century."--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

"James K. A. Smith winsomely steps into one of the most fascinating conversations in contemporary evangelicalism--the surprising resurgence of Calvinism among younger Christians. Letters to a Young Calvinist is thoughtful, nuanced, provocative, relational, and informed. No one will agree with everything here, but what I appreciated most was Smith's careful insistence that there's much more to being theologically Reformed than believing in the famous (and fabulous!) five points of Calvinism. A thoroughly engaging read!"--Tullian Tchividjian, author, Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels

"Jamie Smith has done a fabulous job articulating a winsome and engaging account of the depth, splendor, and joy of the Reformed tradition. I found much of what I hold dear about Calvinism reaffirmed in these interesting letters and at the same time was delighted to learn new insights that got me excited about the tradition all over again. I hope this book introduces a whole new generation to the richness of the Reformed understanding of the faith."--Jim Belcher, author, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional

"Most of the time I cheered 'Amen!' as I read these letters, but even when I disagreed, I appreciated Jamie's model of charity and humility as well as conviction. In the midst of all the encouraging energy of the 'New Calvinism' movement, it is also important to say that being Reformed is more than TULIP. These are rewarding and creatively written letters for all of us."--Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California

"A splendid book that speaks to both head and heart, counseling the 'young, restless, and Reformed' toward growth into a wider and deeper Reformed tradition. . . . This wise and witty book is a delight to read!"--J. Todd Billings, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587432943
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587432941
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James K.A. Smith teaches philosophy and theology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, having previously taught at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He has been a visiting professor at Fuller Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Originally trained in philosophical theology and contemporary French philosophy, Smith's work is focused on cultural criticism informed by the Christian theological tradition. His more popular writing has also appeared in magazines such as the Christian Century, Christianity Today, First Things, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and others.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Louis on October 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
In this short book of just over 100 pages you'll find the heart of a Christian philosopher who is transparent about the potential pitfalls and more importantly the splendor, depth, and riches of Reformed theology. Chief among the former is the potential for pride which has regrettably characterized far too many who wear the label "Calvinist." Yet the counsel, and rebuke, within these pages is tempered by the humility that is only earned by someone who has been there. Smith admits he's as much talking to a younger version of himself as he is the fictional subject of his letters. I found the format warm, thought-provoking and intimately personal. At the same time he engages such heavy topics as grace, election, Arminianism, choosing the right church, infant baptism, the New Perspective, egalitarianism, the difference between creeds and confessions and some of their distinctives, covenant theology and more. Some of these receive just a mention but by the end of the book you'll come away with a much broader perspective of what really is at the heart of Reformed theology. I even learned how a good Baptist like me can call myself Reformed. Essentially, we (in the Baptist tradition and others) are more influenced by the Westminster stream of confessions which "diminishes the catholicity of the Reformed tradition, so the `Calvinism' that it articulates is just the sort of slimmed-down, extracted soteriology that can be basically detached and then inserted across an array of denominations (and `non-denominations'). And so you get that strange phenomenon I've noted before: that a place like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary could be a vibrant center of Calvinism." (61) Fascinating!

Younger Calvinists will receive some sage advice from a seasoned mentor.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By stevebishop on January 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
In The Devil Reads Derrida Jamie Smith offers an apologia for writing popular works: he sees it as 'a responsibility to function as public intellectuals for the church as "public"'. This popular book does just that - it serves the church; it provides an accessible and erudite introduction to the Reformed faith in an epistolatory format.

He has traveled from Plymouth Brethren to Pentecostal and Reformed. He knows popular evangelicalism. This book provides, in part, insights from the journey. As one who has traveled to neocalvinism from traditional anglicanism to free church to house church charismatics I appreciated Smith's helpful advice. As one unfamiliar with the different streams of Reformed in the US I found this a helpful and insightful guide. I particularly appreciated his comments on the different 'Reformed confessions' (Letters XX-XII). He also has some useful comments about the justification 'debate' and Tom Wright.

Thankfully Smith doesn't focus on TULIP, election and predestination - not that they aren't important issues - but there are other issues: 'I have a hard time believing that the denial of limited atonement is the most pressing matter of discipleship right now. We should be more worried about Walmat' (p. 91).

He draws upon Augustine, Calvin and Kuyper and makes an excellent case for the virtues and strengths of the Calvinist position. Calvinism he sees as: 'a lens that magnifies a persistent theme in the narrative of God;s self-revelation: that everything depends on God (p. 14); as an 'Augustinian renewal movement within the church catholic' (p. 40); as a '"region" of Reformed theology' (p. 44); as a counter to 'the rampant gnosticism that characterises North American evangelicalism' (p.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mike Robinson on November 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
In the vast work of John Calvin the industrious author offers no information on any striking moment or dramatic conversion to Christ and Reformation thought. Calvin came to saving faith overtaking his legal studies as a young law student through reading the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. This inspired him to adhere to Luther's grace based faith and the Reformation. Calvin later notes:

"I tried my best to work hard [at the Law], yet God at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence. What happened first was that by an unexpected conversion he tamed to receptivity a mind too stubborn for its years--for I was so strongly devoted to the superstitions of the Papacy that nothing less could draw me from such depths of mire. And so this mere taste of true godliness that I received set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies more coolly, although I did not give them up altogether. Before a year had slipped by anybody who longed for a purer doctrine kept on coming to learn from me..."

And in "Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition" James K.A. Smith (yes many Calvinists enjoy having single letters/initials embedded in their name) provides a winsome and witty volume that provides a very readable outline of many important features of Calvinism. Smith aims at young adults but this work is fine for non-students as well.

Herein Smith discusses:

- Salvation and entrance into the visible church
- Grace alone
- Semper Reformanda
- The importance and delight of being confessional
- "Wide-angle Calvinism"
- Augustine's influence on Reformed thought
- and more.
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