Book Review: Letters to a Young Calvinist, by James K. A. Smith

  • Brazos Press
  • November 2010
  • 160 pp.

For many, Calvinism is nothing more than the theological concepts represented by TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Yet, what does Calvinism offer the theological layman? In James K. A. Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, readers are treated to a charitable, wide-sweeping view of how Calvinism includes TULIP and a whole lot more.

I love the letter format. Smith creates a fictional “Jesse” as the recipient. At the book’s start, Jesse has just discovered Calvinism and has begun a snail-mail conversation with Smith, a former mentor. Smith gently and truthfully guides Jesse through various stages, including TULIP obsession, theological snobbery, and spiritual amnesia. Thanks to the letter format, Smith is able to treat topics sparingly as he pursues each letter’s message.

And the overall message about Calvinism that Smith sends to Jesse is rewarding. Smith illustrates how Calvinism is about one word–grace–and about how that one word goes “all the way down” to the bottom of everything. He explains how creation itself is an act of unmerited grace, and how, because of the grace-nature of everything, God owes us absolutely nothing. One might suspect that the letters get dark here–but that’s far from the case! Smith goes on to discuss the history of Reformed theology, the “catholicity” of Reformed theology, Reformed confessions, God’s “people” (versus individual) purposes in salvation, the concept of covenant, and the “far as the curse is found” scope of Reformed theology.

Though I love all that stuff, it’s inevitable that someone who sets out to write a colloquial, epistolary discussion of a topic as big as Calvinism is bound to say things that readers will disagree with. Smith’s letters touch on a vast array of controversial topics, including dispensationalism, predestination, hell, infant baptism, male and female roles in the church, worship, and creeds. Though I don’t land with him on every issue, he’s writing personal letters, not theological treatises. If you’re able to read for the big picture, this is a winning book that invites readers in to the grandeur of Calvinism.

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

One Response to Book Review: Letters to a Young Calvinist, by James K. A. Smith

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Letters to a Young Calvinist, by James K. A. Smith … « Articles « Theology of Ministry

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