Building the Minister’s Library: Letters
John G. Bales
Written correspondence between Christians has played an important role in the past social life of the church. Pastors and theologians have exchanged letters between their colleagues, their friends and the members of their congregations. Some of these letters have been preserved for us and provide interesting and even edifying insights into the Christian life. The letters from pastors, sometimes called letters of spiritual counsel, contain elements of wisdom that can be relevant for us today. They often provide comfort, challenge and direction to their recipients in some of the most beautiful and imaginative language ever penned. Naturally they cover topics of theology and ecclesiology, but they are not necessarily limited to them. More often than not the letters convey guidance on such issues as marriage, family, work, politics, personal trials, even severe suffering and death. This is what makes these letters so unique. Unlike the study of theology itself, which has fairly well defined topics (theological loci) within it, letters of spiritual counsel have covered nearly every conceivable topic with which Christians have encountered.
The following list of ten books is an attempt to provide only an historical sampling of the kinds of Christian correspondence written. It in no way is meant to be comprehensive nor complete. There are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands of books which are collections of letters by Christians.
Ambrose. Letters. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954.
Augustine. Letters 1*-29*Robert B. Eno, trans., Fathers of the Church 81. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1989.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
Calvin, John. Letters of John Calvin. Trans. Jules Bonnet. New York: B. Franklin, 1973.
Cyprian. The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage. Edited by G. W. Clarke. New York, N.Y.: Newman Press, 1984.
Lewis, C. S. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964.
Luther, Martin. Letters of Spiritual Counsel. Edited and translated by Theodore G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955.
Newton, John. Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland, Jr. Edited by Grant Gordon. Edinburgh, U.K.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009.
Peterson, Eugene. The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Rutherford, Samuel. Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notes of His Correspondents by the Rev. Andrew A. Bonar, D.D. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.