cover image Letters to a Young Doubter

Letters to a Young Doubter

William Sloane Coffin. Westminster John Knox Press, $14.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-664-22929-0

Modeled after Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, Coffin's year-long correspondence with an imagined college student, Tom, offers insights from the fund of wisdom Coffin has collected over the years. Former senior minister at Riverside Church, chaplain at Yale during the turbulent 1960s, civil rights Freedom Rider, and president emeritus of the anti-nuclear weapons movement SANE/FREEZE, Coffin has made a career of asking hard questions of the Christian faith while courageously bringing the demands of social justice to the center of it. Over the course of the academic year, Coffin counsels Tom on matters of sexuality, grades, grief, narcissism and humility, war and the draft, and prayer. In almost every letter, Coffin finds a moment to quote a passage from writers such as Dostoevsky, Auden, Shaw or Melville. It's always unfortunate in collections of this sort that we only get one side of the correspondence, for Tom is little more than a mouthpiece for Coffin's own concerns. In that sense, the letters offer little that is fresh from Coffin. Despite the book's artificial form, however, there is no finer mind on these matters than Coffin's. His letters demonstrate that doubt plays an integral role in a strong and flourishing faith.