Letters to a Young Calvinist

An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition

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"A wise and delightfully written portrayal of a robust Calvinism for the twenty-first century."--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
Who would have guessed that something as austere as Calvinism would become a hot topic in today's postmodern culture? At the five hundredth anniversary of John Calvin's birth, new generations have discovered and embraced a "New Calvinism" with fervor and zeal, 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."

Letters to a Young Calvinist provides pastoral and theological counsel, encouraging converts to and participants in this tradition to find in Calvin a vision that's even bigger than the New Calvinism might suggest. Noted Reformed philosopher James K. A. Smith contends that much of what traffics under the banner of New Calvinism reduces "Reformed" to a narrow concern with Calvinistic soteriology. Smith introduces New Calvinists to the "world-formative" Christianity that was unleashed with the Reformation, presenting the Reformed tradition as an Augustinian renewal movement within the church catholic. Offering wisdom at the intersection of theology and culture, he also provides pastoral caution about pride and maturity.

The creative and accessible letter format invites young Calvinists into a faithful conversation that reaches from Paul and Augustine through Calvin and Edwards to Kuyper and Wolterstorff. Together these letters sketch a comprehensive vision of Calvinism that is generous, winsome, and imaginative.
Letter 1 - Welcome to the Family
Letter 2 - On Religious Pride
Letter 3 - Proud to Be a Calvinist?
Letter 4 - Grace All the Way Down
Letter 5 - God Owes Us Nothing
Letter 6 - God Doesn't Even Owe Us an Answer
Letter 7 - Semper Reformanda
Postcard from Geneva
Letter 8 - A Historical Tour of Reformed Theology
Letter 9 - Augustine, Patron Saint of the Reformers
Postcard from Princeton
Letter 10 - To be Reformed Is to Be Catholic
Letter 11 - On Being "Confessional"
Letter 12 - Beyond Westminster
Letter 13 - God's "Social" Gospel
Letter 14 - Our Promise-Keeping God
Postcard from Amsterdam
Letter 15 - Elected to Love
Letter 16 - Church Matters
Letter 17 - Too Reformed for Church?
Postcard from Seoul
Letter 18 - On Grumpy Speculations
Letter 19 - Wide-Angle Calvinism
Letter 20 - Far as the Curse Is Found
Letter 21 - What Are We Saved For?
Letter 22 - Bibliographical Providence
Letter 23 - Enjoying God by Enjoying Creation


"My friend Jamie Smith is never boring. 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, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California

"I wish there had been a Jamie Smith to write letters like these to me when I was a young Calvinist. But, hey, I'm glad to get them today! This is a wise and delightfully written portrayal of a robust Calvinism for the twenty-first century."--Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Letters to a Young Calvinist is 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. . . . [T]he journey with Smith into the spacious and expansive Reformed tradition is well worth the ride. This wise and witty book is a delight to read!"--J. Todd Billings, associate professor of Reformed theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

"Although Letters to a Young Calvinist may not please everyone in the Reformed camp (it is a big and diverse family after all), 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

"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. He shows that the Reformed tradition is covenantal and cosmic in scope, big and bright in scale, doctrinal and devotional in spirit. A thoroughly engaging read!"--Tullian Tchividjian, pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.; author, Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels

The Author

  1. James K. A. Smith
    Seth Thompson, © 2017 Green Frog Photo

    James K. A. Smith

    James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is a popular speaker and the award-winning author of a number of influential books, including Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to Be Secular, You Are What You Love, On the Road with...

    Continue reading about James K. A. Smith


"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. . . . 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."--Publishers Weekly

"A much-needed, easily read response to the rise of much neo-Calvinism in our time. I wish I had read something like this book when I was in my twenties. I think I would have been spared a number of mistakes if I had read it. . . . If you know a young neo-Calvinist, or an older one who is teachable and willing to think, get this book to them as soon as possible. . . . Letters to a Young Calvinist is a nuanced and relational book. It avoids the sweeping polemical tone of so much modern neo-Calvinism. . . . It is a small book filled with incredible value for both pastors and faithful Christians without formal training in theology. . . . The genius of this book is that Smith offers such helpful insight at the precise intersection of faith and culture at a time when it is so lacking in the church. . . . His creative use of the letter form engages young Calvinists, and older ones as well, in a rich conversation. . . . This is a generous and well-written book that might even show the non-Calvinist how Reformed Christianity can actually help to foster renewal and reform without becoming a divisive (sectarian) force in the church. . . . Smith's thought is really the kind of healthy, well-balanced, Reformed theology that can engage the ecumenical conversation happily and foster a genuinely missional vision of the church, something missing in so much neo-Calvinism. The danger for the young and restless Calvinists is that they often sound more like Calvinistic fundamentalists than robust Reformed Christians. There is a world of difference. Smith will help a new generation understand this if they read his excellent book."--John H. Armstrong, johnharmstrong.typepad.com

"There are many books out there that describe Reformed theology and that invite people to become part of the Reformed tradition. However, most of these books are a product of the years before the advent of this young, restless, Reformed reality that is all the rage today. Most such books predate the New Calvinism. New to the field, and largely distinct from the rest, is Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K. A. Smith. This is one of the few books to speak directly to this new young, restless, Reformed movement. Written in the form of letters from a mentor to a young man who is investigating Reformed theology, the book offers a winsome 125-page introduction to the tradition and to the way it works out in real life."--Tim Challies, challies.com

"Letters to a Young Calvinist is a brief primer introducing readers to the Reformed tradition, and extending an invitation to those who are already a bit familiar but perhaps still on the fence about it. . . . Smith writes with the purpose of gripping our hearts, souls, and imagination so that we might see the truth of the Reformed tradition because we first come to love it. . . . Ultimately, this book is useful for all Christians who are ecumenically-minded, and especially for those Christians who consider themselves 'new Calvinists,' encouraging them to dive deeper into the tradition than to be fixated on predestination and TULIP."--Jasmine Wilson, Englewood Review of Books

"Th[is] book is creative, engaging, and stimulating. It serves as a helpful corrective to all of us who may run the risk of missing Jesus while constructing persuasive theological schemas. . . . Like Paul's epistles, these letters do a marvelous job of ensuring that Jesus and the Kingdom remain the focus of the Gospel. A book like this one needed to be written and Smith was just the person to do it. His love for Jesus, the Bible, and the church are evident on each page."--Derek Melleby, Engage: The E-Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU

"A crisp, conversational collection of theological education and spiritual formation presented in digestible form."--Brian Smith McCallum, Christian Retailing

"In a relatively brief and pithy style, James K. A. Smith plumbs the essentials of Calvinism. . . . Smith makes the subject matter approachable. Hearing him debate representatives of other traditions within the faith could prove bracing and enlightening, but here he makes clear, compassionate biblical and logical sense in his positions. . . . Letters should be a welcome read among a certain, probably growing, audience of youthful Christians, as well as a resource that teen and young adult pastorate should find helpful, too."--Jamie Lee Rake, CBA Retailers + Resources

"This book is just a gem, more than a gem, a treasure of pastoral wisdom and insight. . . . This is sweet disciple-making, pastorally caring theology at its finest. Kudos."--Byron Borger, heartsandmindsbooks.com

"This is truly one of the best books of the year! . . . I adored this little volume, and think it is wise, interesting, good, and important. Jamie [is] an amazing writer, and on that short list of people you should read almost anything he does. . . . Who knew that the debate about whether or not debating TULIP could be so fruitful, and who knew that reading over the shoulder of some receiving forthright pastoral guidance could be so very helpful? This is a book I wish believers of all ages and stripes would consider. It is sane, wise, nicely written, informative, and solid. Dare I use the word edifying? Indeed. . . . This is the sort of spirituality and discipleship that keeps us going. We celebrate it, honor it, and hope you do too."--Byron Borger, heartsandmindsbooks.com

"[An] important new book. . . . Smith's invitation to the Reformed tradition is an immensely helpful primer for Christian leaders curious about the recent uptick in enthusiasm over Calvinist dogma."--Gannon Sims, Call & Response blog, Duke University (faithandleadership.duke.edu)

"Right from the start of the book, Smith exhibits a commendably warm, patient, and pastoral tone. All too often, discussions of 'being Reformed' shed more heat than light, yet Smith avoids this pitfall. Other strengths of this book include Smith's defense of Calvinistic soteriology, his argument that the Reformed tradition was and is a renewal and recovery of the Catholic tradition, and his demonstration that the Reformed tradition is a confessional tradition. All of these points strengthen Smith's invitation."--Austin Britton, New Horizons

"Calvinism is currently the unwitting hot topic among a subset of young, ardent evangelical Christians. Smith's engaging epistles are a welcome contribution to the conversation, especially in the way they shift the focus from rather loveless debates about predestination and election to a 'wide-angle' perspective on the matter. His letters trace the contours of the tradition with kindness, patience, and generosity, and each one offers encouragement to sound the depths of the grand tradition we inhabit."--Brian Bork, The Banner

"A wonderful primer whether you are encountering Calvinism for the first time--as are many who are 'young, restless, and Reformed'--or if you are a cradle Calvinist revisiting the contours of the tradition. Smith frames each of his twenty-three letters within this 134-page work primarily through the lens of experience, deftly weaving each letter with historical context, Scriptural references, and doctrinal theology. . . . Smith, as always, writes with a clear depth of knowledge of Calvinism and the Reformed tradition as well as an appealing accessibility. Letters to a Young Calvinist will certainly pique readers' further interest, sending them to the proper primary sources helpfully listed in the bibliography. This small book is a gem and a wonderful addition to anyone's library, especially a confirmand or individual who is engaging the contours of their faith anew."--Susan A. Sytsma Bratt, Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought

"A welcome delight as an introduction to the world of all things Reformed. . . . Smith's volume is aimed [at] the average reader, though both clergy and scholars will find insight and help here. . . . One will find . . . in these letters a bevy of primary sources as well as helpful secondary sources that will guide the reader into the Reformed tradition. . . . [Smith] is to be commended for this volume. He effectively introduces the breadth, nuance, and foundation of Calvinism to a wide readership. The theological, historical, and bibliographical insights in the letters matched with pastoral tone throughout make this a very useful resource, especially for seminarians and colleges."--Heath Thomas, Southeastern Theological Review

"The style is obviously easy-going, conversational almost, but the author covers many key aspects of Reformed theology. . . . The author exposes his readers to much by way of the historical theology of the Reformed tradition, not just the systematic. He endeavours to balance both and at the same time tries to keep the study of theology and spiritual formation wedded together. . . . I enjoyed the style. There is a creativity and freshness here. It certainly does explore the riches of the Reformed tradition."--Jack C. Whytock, Haddington House Journal