The maternal grandparents of Lewis Smedes were from Friesland, the northernmost province of the Netherlands. Their daughter Renske (her name was later shortened to Rena), after marrying Melle Smedes, sailed to America and settled in Muskegon, Michigan. When Lewis was two months old, his father died, and the family struggled to make ends meet. As an adolescent, he became convinced that he was one of the reprobates, chosen by God for damnation before he had been born. He describes himself in high school as a lonely loser, someone to be pitied. If God was present during this time in his life, he did not make himself known.
Upon graduation from high school, Smedes moved to Detroit to work at Smedes Steel, his Uncle Nick’s company. After one year he left to enroll at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the hope of coming to terms with God. Although this hope was not realized at Moody, his coming to terms with God took place in the chance discovery of a theology book in a used bookstore near Moody. The book taught him for the first time in his life that what he needed to do was to stop considering his own acceptability or unacceptability and allow God to accept him.
Next he enrolled at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He describes it as a serious liberal arts school operated by Dutch Calvinists who wanted their children to get the intellectual equipment they needed to serve God and bring a patch of his kingdom into his broken world. Smedes converted to this brand of Calvinism, and it was the faith that sustained him for the rest of his life. At the same time he joined the Christian Reformed Church because it had a great vision of God as the Creator and Redeemer of the whole world and because of its orderliness, sobriety, and respect for education. He liked the practice of baptizing babies into the family of God, not treating them as lost sinners who still had to walk down the sawdust trail to be saved.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Smedes spent one year at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and subsequently returned to Grand Rapids to study at Calvin Theological Seminary. He...
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