Summary: A series of letters (modeled somewhat after Hitchen’s Letters to a Young Contrarian and Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic)
It is part of my naiveté that I was aware of Letters to a Young Calvinist before I was aware of Hitchens’ or Weigel’s book. And when I typed in ‘Letters to a Young’ in Amazon I found at a dozen or so similar books.
I remember when this first came out I was first starting to read a bit about Calvinism because of the rise of the Restless and Reformed movement. It is particularly these young new Calvinists that Smith was hoping to reach, although I have heard him say that this book never caught on as he hoped it would.
When it first came out, I remember that it was notable because Smith took a position that the essential parts of Calvinist (or Reformed) thought were not TULIP, but covenantal theology. And part of the ramifications of that was that Smith did not believe that you could be a real Calvinist and be Baptist (because Baptists were not Covenantal in theology). You could subscribe to the principles of TULIP, but that in and of itself is not Calvinism.
I am glad I did not read this when it first came out and I first thought about picking it up. I just didn’t have the appreciation for either Smith’s work or an understanding of his perspective that would have allowed me to really understand his point.
I am no more a subscriber to TULIP than I was when this book came out. But I certainly have more of an appreciation for Reformed theology, at least that of the Dutch Reformed wing that is more focused on Ecclesiology than Soteriology (church and covenant more than salvation).
Smith here is writing a series of letters (of which we only see his side, similar to CS Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm). These are mostly short, one or two pages and occasionally just a postcard length.
Letters seem a bit old fashioned to me now. My wife and I wrote the occasional letter to one another before we were married (18 years ago now) but even then we were as likely to email or text chat as write paper letters.
The recipient of the letters for Smith is a young person that Smith made up as a combination of some of the youth he worked with in a pentecostal church in California and Smith’s own younger self. This young man, new to the Reformed world out of a pentecostal background is working through what it means to be reformed and how that can affect this participation in his current church, his theology and his potential call to ministry.
Smith deals with both the strengths and weaknesses of the Reformed tradition honestly and I think in a very helpful way.
I learned a bit about Reformed theology, but as someone that is not Reformed, I still think there is value in reading it because regardless of your tradition, this is about maturing as a Christian. As a book about maturity in the faith, it is excellent.
This was a quick read, it could fairly easily be read in two to three hours even if you are a slower reader. And if you are a Kindle user it has been on sale a couple times over the past year or so and it is also lendable at Lendle.me
- Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture by James KA Smith
- The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James KA Smith
- How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James KA Smith
- Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James KA Smith
- Letters to Malcolm: Mostly About Prayer by CS Lewis