If you’re a Calvinist you’ll want to read Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K. A. Smith. 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 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. Older Calvinists will find a model that can help them communicate the center of Reformed theology and ways in which it can be kept in proper focus. I emphasize this is just a model and perhaps the bare skeleton of what it should look like. But it’s a beginning. There are plenty of resources recommended throughout the letters.
Finally, if you’re not a Calvinist you’re welcome to read some of our mail. If you’re tired of having your Christianity questioned this would be a good place to see what true Calvinism should look like when it’s not primarily interested in winning debates or scoring points.
James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he also serves in the department of congregational and ministry studies. He has been a visiting professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), Fuller Theological Seminary, and Regent College. He is the author or editor of many books, including the Christianity Today award-winners Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? and Desiring the Kingdom, and editor of the well-received Church and Postmodern Culture series.
Letters to a Young Calvinist is from Brazos Press with 134 pages and sells for $14.99.