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Reformation books

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Posted by Andrew Cinnamond, 10 Oct 2017

Andrew Cinnamond surveys the best of the books on the Reformation, including recommendations suitable for all ages and levels of interest.

These first few books are written at a popular level, and provide great introductions to the Reformation for all the church family.

Reformation ABC cover
Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation- from A to Z’, Stephen J Nichols & Ned Bustard (Crossway).
Delightful children’s book, which most adults will also love- an A to Z of fascinating people, events and places. It packs a lot of detail in, but never feels sluggish or dull. Full of colour, artwork and humour. Highly recommended!

freedom movement cover
Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation’, Michael Reeves (10Publishing).
Probably the best entry-level booklet for finding out about the Reformation: what it was and why it mattered. Nicely produced with great illustrations and graphics, it is a sure guide to this momentous event in the history of the Church.

The Reformation: What you Need to Know and Why’, Michael Reeves & John Stott (Lausanne Movement/Monarch).
This helpful little booklet contains a potted history of the Reformation similar to Mike Reeves’ book (above), as well as an edited version of Stott’s 1982 address
‘Keep the Faith and Pass It On: What is the Evangelical Faith and Why Does It Matter?’, together with Alan Purser’s ‘Jesus’ Prayer for Unity in His Church’
from a ‘Crosslinks’ magazine, Luther’s 95 Theses, Questions for Study and Reflection, and even a Reformation Timeline.

faith and flames cover
The Reformation: Faith and Flames’, Andrew Atherstone (Lion).
A fully illustrated hardback book for those looking for a more ‘coffee table’ style volume to open up the Reformation. Roughly chronological in format, Atherstone manages to present a comprehensive narrative, an explanation of people and ideas, and a challenge to consider the fundamental differences between Catholic and Protestant: the epilogue gently invites us to consider issues of eternal salvation and why the Reformers were prepared to risk everything.

This next section includes books that are a bit more in-depth, for those readers wanting more of an insight into Reformation history, ideas and personalities.

cover of the reformation magazine
Reformation 500’, Andrea Ruddick & Kirsty Birkett (Church Society).
A special edition of Church Society’s excellent ‘Crossway’ magazine to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The first half by Ruddick examines
the state of the Medieval Church before the Reformation, and the second half by Birkett looks at the impact of the Reformation by focussing on the key figures of Luther, Tyndale, Cranmer and Calvin. A nicely done ‘before and after’ publication.

why the reformation still matters cover
Why the Reformation Still Matters’, Michael Reeves & Tim Chester (IVP).
A really helpful handbook looking at key theological issues which were profoundly impacted as the Reformation took hold: justification, scripture, sin, grace, the Cross, union with Christ, the Holy Spirit, sacraments, the Church, everyday life, and joy and glory. Sounds tough-going, but well-written in an engaging style.

monk and mallet cover
The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World’, Stephen J Nichols (Crossway).
Nichols is an excellent Church Historian, who has a real knack of writing accessible and reliable guides to key moments in the life of Christ’s Church. In this volume we have a steady canter through Luther, Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Calvin, Anglicanism, the Puritans, and women of the Reformation. Things are rounded off with ‘In their own Words: Selections from Documents of the Reformation’.

peoples book cover
The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible’, ed. Jennifer McNutt & David Lauber (IVP Academic).
This fascinating volume contains the papers from the 2016 Wheaton College Theology Conference with the unifying theme being the importance of God’s Word during the Reformation. There are twelve papers in four sections: Access and Readership, Transmission and Worship, Protestant-Catholic Dialogue, and The People’s Book Yesterday and Today. Key contributors include Carl Trueman, Michael Horton and Bruce Gordon. These collections are always variable in quality, but this is a great read on a key topic.

here i stand cover
Here I Stand’, Roland Bainton (Lion/others).
An oldie, but a goodie. The classic 1978 biography of Martin Luther, with over a million copies in print. There have been a whole host of recent biographies on the German reformer, but this is still the most readable and inspiring.

Finally, we have recommendations for the dedicated, informed reader, who will already be familiar with Reformation ideas. Note that not all of these are from a committed Christian perspective and will require discretion on the part of the reader.

reformation thought cover
Reformation Thought’, 4th Edition, Alister McGrath (Wiley-Blackwell).
A standard textbook by a top author, now on its 4th (2012) edition. McGrath expertly examines the background leading up to the Reformation events, then key areas of theological dispute (justification by faith, Church, sacraments etc.), the English Reformation, and finishes with a wider look at the impact of the Reformation. There are also seven appendices dealing with glossary, major English translations, bibliographies and a host of other goodies.

theology of the reformers cover
Theology of the Reformers’, revised edition, Timothy George (Broadman & Holman).
Another text book on the ideas of the Reformation, widely used in theological colleges and seminaries. The focus is on five principal figures from the period of the Reformation: Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Menno Simons, and William Tyndale, and then on their contributions to key issues: Scripture, Jesus Christ, salvation, the church, and last things.

Reformation by Macculloch cover
Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700’, Diarmaid MacCulloch (Penguin).
A hefty, 800 page+ masterpiece from 2003 by one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of the Christian Church. The book is roughly chronological in structure, with Part 1 ‘A Common Culture’, Part 2 ‘Europe Divided’, then Part 3 ‘Patterns of Life’. As David Starkey comments, ‘A magisterial and eloquent book’, but readers will discern this is not written from anywhere near an evangelical perspective. 

reformations cover
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650’, Carlos M N Eire (Yale)
Another academic door-stopper of a book that even outweighs, literally, the efforts of MacCulloch. Here is an up to date (2016) compendium of scholarly debate, outlining the state of the European Church on the eve of the start of the Reformation, how the reforms began, Catholic responses, and finally, the consequences, which we are still with today. Full notes and bibliography, as may be expected.

protestantism cover
Protestantism after 500 Years’, ed. Thomas Albert Howard & Mark A Noll (OUP).
Another scholarly collection of papers, mostly originating from a 2013 Conference held at Gordon College. The book takes a wide perspective on the legacy of Protestantism: Part 1 ‘Looking back’ examines the impact on law, science, education, the supernatural and modernity. Part 2 ‘The Present’ looks at Protestantism in secular Europe today, Christianity in the Global South, and the spread of Christianity. Part 3 ‘Theological Considerations’ studies global Lutheranism, Aquinas and Calvin, and Reformation and ecumenism. A very helpful guide to how Reformation ideas are worked out in the modern context.

reformation theology
Reformation Theology: A Systematic Theology’, ed. Matthew Barrettt (Crossway)
Oh my. Barrett has gathered together a constellation of fine contributors for this fine big lump of a theological book. We have Part 1 ‘Historical Background to the Reformation’, and Part 2 ‘Reformation Theology’, where we have 17 fine chapters on key theological themes such as Scripture, predestination and election, the Church, and eschatology. There are, thankfully, full indices for names, subjects and Scripture. A treasure chest of good things.

And if all those aren’t banquet enough, there are some more suggestions in this Select Reading List on the Reformation and The Gospel Coalition’s Best Books to Read on the Reformation.

Happy reading!


Andrew Cinnamond is Vicar of St Lawrence, Lechlade, and the author of What Matters in Reforming the Church?

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