5 Books on the Reformation

Oct 31, 2017

500 years ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, thus setting in motion one of the most important religious revolutions in history: the Protestant Reformation. Sure, it's debatable whether this date actually kicked-off the Reformation, but it's certainly the date that has most captured the imagination of Christians since. It's the date on which we remember what happened, and why, and what became of it. So with that in mind we asked a few friends (Dr. Peter Leithart, George Grant, Brett McCracken, Dr. Brian Phillips, and Greg Wilbur) to recommend some of their favorite books that effectively and creatively guide that remembrance. Here are the five books they recommended. 

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Since Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic, historians have focused on the liturgical and ritual dimensions of the Reformation as much as the doctrinal. Alexandra Walsham's richly detailed The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, & Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland is a recent contribution to this literature. Waksham examines the marks left on the British landscape by the sometimes forcible rearrangement of sacred sites that took place during the "long Reformation" of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [Find on Amazon]

Dr. Peter Leithart (President,  Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama)

 

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Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution -- A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, by Alister McGrath, has been one of my favorite (and most frequently revisited) books during this quincentennial of Protestantism’s great Gospel reclamation. It is a remarkable retelling of a sprawling tale across all the years and all the miles, including fascinating profiles of a wildly varied cast of characters: from Luther and Calvin to Bach and Milton. Highly recommended. [Find on Amazon]

George Grant (pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee)

 

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The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves is a great book if you want a concise (under 200 pages!) overview of the Reformation and why it's important. With chapters on the medieval background of the period, Luther, Calvin, the Radical Reformers, the English Reformation and more, this is a solid introduction to the Reformation's key players and its historical and theological significance. [Find on Amazon]

Brett McCracken (author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community (Crossway, 2017))

 

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There are loads of fascinating books on the Reformation, but I want to mention one that may prove particularly interesting on the 500th anniversary. Benjamin Wiker, a Catholic author, recently released The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need to Know. This is may seem like an odd selection, particularly coming from a Reformed pastor, but I found it very well-balanced and, for the most part, fair. Most appealing, Wiker addresses where Christians of all traditions go from here, particularly in light of increased cultural pressure on us all. [Find on Amazon]

Dr. Brian Phillips (pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Concord, NC)

 

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One lesson I have been learning over time is the difference between the tone, flavor, and disposition of a leader and those who become followers--one tends to find a more generous spirit from the source than from those who mimic. My recommendation for a book on the Reformation is not a book about that period or history but rather a slim volume from the Reformation. John Calvin's Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life offers a glimpse into the mind and writings of the well-known reformer. My guess is that those who have heard about Calvin (or Calvinism) but who have not actually read Calvin's own words in context will find a humble and pastoral voice. Acknowledging that Truth is expressed in a variety of traditions and sources, Calvin's focus is the deepening and enriching of the spiritual life and the soul care of his flock. While not comprehensive or a history, the tender heart of this reformer comes through clearly in this work. [Find on Amazon]

Greg Wilbur (president New College Franklin)

David Kern

David Kern

David is director of our multimedia initiatives (podcast host, web-content manager, magazine editor, etc). He often writes about film, television, books, and other culture-related topics, and has been published by Christ and Pop Culture, Think Christian, Relevant, and elsewhere.  David and his wife, Bethany, have three young boys and they live in Concord, NC.