10 Puritan and Reformed Books for Biblical/Pastoral Counseling
God calls each of us to the personal ministry of the Word—speaking His gospel truth in love so we can all grow up in Christ, who is the Head. Puritan and Reformed leaders have understood and written about this calling.
Here’s my top 10 ten list of Puritan and Reformed books for biblical pastoral counseling.
Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999.
Baxter’s work is a classic that is much needed today. While certainly committed to the pulpit ministry of the Word, Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor emphasizes the pastor’s responsibility for the private ministry of the Word. In particular, he outlines how a pastor can provide biblical counseling for individuals and families through home visits. While the methods/location might change today, the both/and message of pulpit/private ministry of the Word is timeless.
Boston, Thomas. Human Nature in Its Four-Fold State. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1720/1997.
Boston provides a “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation” understanding of people, problems, and solutions. In other words, he offers a biblical psychology of our original design, what went wrong, how redemption changes everything, and our eternal state—either with God or separated from Him. Boston, using language of his era, describes these states as “Primitive Integrity, Entire Depravity, Begun Recovery, and Consummate Happiness or Misery.”
Brooks, Thomas. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1652/1997.
It is sometimes difficult to find a work that provide a biblical approach to spiritual warfare that is true to real life and true to biblical teaching about the spiritual life. Thomas Brook’s Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices provides that balance. Like many Puritan works, this one could have benefited from editing—providing focus and less repetition. Still, for a classic presentation of the schemes of Satan and how to overcome them biblically, this is a fine work.
Deckard, Mark. Helpful Truth in Past Places: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counseling. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2010.
If you’re an author, then eventually you’ll read a book and say, “I wish I had written that!” This is the case for me with Mark Deckard’s Helpful Truth in Past Places. The sub-title is accurate advertising: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counseling. Deckard provides case studies from several Puritans and then culls out timeless principles and applications for our ministry today.
Edwards, Jonathan. Religious Affections: How Man’s Will Affects His Character before God. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1984.
In an era where biblical counselors and Evangelical pastors can sometimes either minimize the affections (longings, desires), or even “demonized” them—teaching that they are only fallen/sinful—Edwards’ work is all the more needed. Step-by-step, passage-by-passage, theological concept-by-theological concept, he walks readers through a biblical understanding of affections—what are they, why they are vital, and how to discern whether or not they are being directed in God-ordained ways. He helps to return us to a biblical understanding of our relationality and the truth that God designed our longings and desires for good. He teaches us how to return our desires toward God and what He ordains, rather than teaching us to attempt to obliterate all desire.
Gurnall, William. The Christian in Complete Armour. 3 vols. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1655/1996.
This book was originally written in three volumes between 1655 and 1662. In it, Gurnall distills the Bible’s teaching on overcoming our adversary, with a special focus on Ephesians 6. John Newton said, “If I might read only one book beside the Bible, I would choose The Christian in Complete Armour.” I would not go that far, but that is a rousing endorsement. At times somewhat long and wordy, it is worth wading through and focusing on for a probing look at the weapons of our spiritual warfare.
Kellemen, Robert. “Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Kent State University, 1997.
This is my unpublished (but available here) dissertation in which I study Luther’s pastoral counseling. Using primary sources from Luther’s Table Talks, Letters, and other writings, Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective shows how Luther practiced the historic Christian arts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Each section is replete with background, context, and copious primary source quotes. Readers learn both Luther’s theology of pastoral counseling and his methodology of pastoral care.
Keller, Timothy. “Puritan Resources for Pastoral Counseling.” Journal of Pastoral Practice 9, no. 3 (1988): 11-44.
I’ve had a love for church history ever since I came to know Christ. Since the early 1980s, I’ve combined that love with my passion for biblical counseling. In 1988, when I first read Keller’s Puritan Resources for Pastoral Counseling, I thought to myself, “Here is a kindred spirit!” What Deckard’s work (see above) does in book format, Keller provides in article style. Don’t let the fact that this is “just” an article fool you. Keller’s work is robust and provides an outstanding “apologetic” for biblical pastoral counseling—then and now.
Luther, Martin. Letters I. Vol. 48 of Luther’s Works. Edited and translated by G. G. Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963.
–––––. Letters II. Vol. 49 of Luther’s Works. Edited and translated by G. Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972.
–––––. Letters III. Vol. 50 of Luther’s Works. Edited and translated by G. Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
–––––. Table Talks. Vol. 54 of Luther’s Works. Edited and translated by G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967.
We know Luther as a reformer. He was also a master pastor. Here’s a list of four original sources for studying Martin Luther’s pastoral counseling ministry. We have copies of over 3,000 letters of spiritual counsel that Luther penned, plus hundreds of conversations written down by Luther’s pastoral protégées. These provide first-hand accounts of how Luther applied his theology of the cross to specific issues brought to him by people under his shepherding care.
Owen, John. Sin and Temptation. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1658/1996.
This work combines several of Owen’s classic writings on the spiritual life. Owen provides a Puritan primer on the nature of sin, the mortification of sin, and victory over sin in and through Christ. Pastoral biblical counselors learn how to think and minister biblically when helping parishioners to find victory in Christ.
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What additional Puritan and Reformed books would you add to this list?
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