In light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and this year’s big celebrations, I have been reflecting on some of my personal favorite works on the subject. Naturally much has been written on the Protestant Reformation, on Martin Luther, and on the other Magisterial Reformers. I have, naturally, not read everything out there, but I’ve had a decent introduction to the content of the period and the key movers and shapers of the movement. Here are my top five favorite works on the Reformation, I commend them to the interested reader:
1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
Roland Bainton’s biography is arguably one of the best you will ever read on Martin Luther. Bainton was an expert on Luther, and a specialist in Reformation history. So, it was no surprise to find that this Yale historian’s book on Luther would be the most recommended. But it’s not just historically accurate, it’s amazingly written. Bainton writes like a novelist, and Here I Stand reads as a compelling story. Every time I’ve read the book I’ve been amazed at how well written it is, how engaging the prose, and how fascinating the plot development. It is one of the best biographies I have ever read. It set me on a course to love Luther.
2. Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary ed. by Matthew Barrett
This is a phenomenal new work exploring the development of theological thought among the Reformers. Barrett has assembled an ace team of theologians and historians to explore the key doctrinal viewpoints of the period, drawing out the unique contributions of the various Reformers. The book is a collection of compelling historical essays, and a great example of historical theological writing. I have loved reading this work.
3. Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George
This is a classic work from a top-rated church historian. George’s work is regularly referenced and has already developed an enduring appreciation from theologians, historians, and seminary professors. While written by an excellent Reformation historian it is written as an accessible guide to the theological contributions of the key Reformers of the time: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Menno Simmons, and Tyndale. A great introduction to the theological thought of the time.
4. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman
This book’s eight chapters are packed with quality scholarship. Though written as part of a popular level series, Trueman does not slouch on addressing the complex issues of Luther’s context and thought. Far too much contemporary discussion of Luther centers around simplistic and reductionist explanations of the man and his theology. Trueman sees in particular the ways in which we have reduced Luther to his pre 1525 work, despite the fact that the man “had another twenty-one years of active theological life before him” (160). In fact one of Trueman’s major arguments in the book is that the post 1525 Luther is “vital for understanding his view of the Christian life” (24). Trueman, then, introduces us to a Luther that is often overlooked, ignored, or completely unknown to popular Christianity.
5. The European Reformations by Carter Lindberg
This is the most academic work on my list. I first read this volume for a college class on the Reformation, so it has definitely got that text book feel to it. Lindberg’s work was the first to introduce me to the idea that the Reformation is really best characterized as a period of diverse “reformations.” He explores in great detail the intermingling of sociopolitical and theological agendas, the development of various reformation movements and counter-reformations, and introduces readers to the diverse individuals who played significant roles in the emergence of Protestantism. For those who would like to go beyond the cursory or surface level biographies of Luther and Calvin this is an invaluable work.
Reading #1, verbiage a little difficult.
Another good Luther book, Luther on the christian life:
Cross and Freedom, By Carl Trueman