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The first book new students at Calvin Theological Seminary were asked to read was free.

As part of the school’s welcome to new seminarians, it selected one book  as a way to help orient incoming students to the “brand” or “accent” of Reformed thought at Calvin Seminary. All new students were given a signed copy of Letters to a Young Calvinist:  An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition by James K. A. Smith, a compelling voice for the riches of the theological tradition of the Christian Reformed Church and its seminary.  

Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College and a friend of Calvin Seminary, was very willing to walk over from his office to participate in an afternoon conversation with new and returning students about his book facilitated by Academic Dean Ronald Feenstra.  

Feenstra started the informal presentation by asking Smith to comment on some of the big themes of theological education that appear in the book: formation practices, ecclesiology, eschatology, and restoration and renewal.

Keen on the life-giving rhythms of Reformed worship as formation, Smith acknowledged that what he needs the most on a weekly basis is confession, the antidote he strongly endorsed to thwart spiritual pride.

When asked why restoration and renewal matter so much, he said, “Because you get your whole life back!”  

The restoring and renewing begins as we are sanctified in our ordinary lives, and our vision for God’s good world is mended and expanded into kingdom perspective.

As the conversation with students continued, it was clear that Smith is also keen on the church. Theology, he said, can be understood as formation when it’s done near and for the church—a strong reinforcement of Calvin Seminary’s educational promise to this new class of students discerning their call to serve the church.

When the conversation ended, those who lingered were delighted to learn that two returning students from China, Jin Li and Mary Ma, had translated Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist for publication by an academic press in China. In just two months, said Jin, 10,000 copies have already been sold, in part because the book is considered an academic book and therefore is able to be sold openly in bookstores in China.  

It was amazing to consider that even during this hour of conversation between Jamie Smith and Calvin Seminary students, on the other side of the world Chinese men and women could buy the book, read it, and be introduced to a robust Calvinism that springs from hearts attuned and attached to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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