Luther leads the way: Recommended resources


• Since this is our first of four issues on the Reformation, we’ll start with some survey histories. (A more complete list is available in our blog post dated July 5, 2014). The most magisterial of these is probably Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation: A History (2003), a massive work that goes from 1490 to 1700 and covers all aspects of many reform movements across Europe. Some other classics include Hans Hillerbrand’s The Division of Christendom (2007; it has extensive coverage of the theological issues at stake); Euan Cameron’s The European Reformation (1991); and Lewis Spitz’s The Protestant Reformation, 1517–1559 (1985).

• If you want to start with something a little shorter and more accessible, James Payton’s Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Common Misunderstandings (2010) gives a closer and more nuanced look at many things we think we know.

• Surveys focusing on the Reformation in Germany include Thomas Brady, German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650 (2009) and Steven Ozment, The Reformation in the Cities (1975).

• Finally, it is worth reading in tandem two books on Protestantism’s spread from the 1500s to the 2000s that come from very different theological perspectives: Catholic Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation (2012) and Protestant Alister McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution (2007).

• You can read more about some other attempts at “course corrections” mentioned in this issue in G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi (1923) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1933); Lawrence S. Cunningham, Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life (2004); and Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (1984).

• The classic biography of Luther is Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand (originally published in 1950 and reprinted many times since). Some other excellent biographies worth consulting are Heiko Obermann’s Luther: Man between God and the Devil (2006); Martin Marty’s Martin Luther: A Life (2008); and James Kittelson’s Luther the Reformer (2003).

• Good introductory theological treatments of Luther include Paul Althaus, Theology of Martin Luther (1966); Timothy Wengert, Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the Faith (2009); and Mark U. Edwards Jr., Luther’s Last Battles (1983) and Luther and the False Brethren (1975).

• The people surrounding Luther are brought vividly to life in David C. Steinmetz’s Luther in Context (2002) and Reformers in the Wings (2001), which features some lesser-known folks whom you’ll meet throughout all four issues in our CH series.

• Biographies of Katie Luther include Ernst Kroker, Mother of the Reformation (2013) and Rudolf and Marilynn Markward, Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life (2002). Also check out Merry Wiesner-Hanks’s study of women in the Reformation era, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (2008) and Roland Bainton’s three-book series on women in the Reformation (most relevant to this issue is Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy [1973]). And finally, read Luther in his own words in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (1958).

Christian History issues

CH has no shortage of issues related to the Reformation. Here are some focusing on Luther and on his medieval background. All are available to read on our website, and many are available for purchase.

  • History of Worship
  • 34 Martin Luther: The Early Years
  • 39 Martin Luther: The Later Years and Legacy
  • 49 Everyday Faith in the Middle Ages
  • 73 Thomas Aquinas
  • 94 Building the City of God
  • 110 Callings

Videos from Vision Video

Videos related to this topic include Here I Stand; Martin Luther (1953 black-and-white feature film); Martin Luther (PBS drama); Luther (2003 feature film); In the Footsteps of Martin Luther; Luther—His Life, His Path, His Legacy; Opening the Door to Luther; Where Luther Walked; and The Morning Star of Wittenberg—The Life of Katie Luther.


(Read this issue online for direct links to all websites.) Many primary sources related to the history of the Reformation, including the 95 Theses, can be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, the H. Henry Meeter Center Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL, which actually includes many Reformation-era texts as well), and the Medieval Sourcebook and Modern History Sourcebook hosted at Fordham University. A list of secondary sources, many of which are available as free ebook PDFs, is also available at PRDL.

You can read more about Luther’s life at the German site and see a re-created transcript of the Diet of Worms at the website Famous Trials. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good explanation of Luther’s theology and an extensive list of secondary sources. And Project Wittenberg attempts to collect texts and information not only about Luther but about later Lutheran theologians as well.

If you are interested in images of the Reformation, Pitts Theology Library at Emory University has a great collection of Reformation-era woodcuts, and the Cranach Digital Library has resources related to the career and artwork of Lucas Cranach. (Some of the artwork at the site is shown below).

Refo500 is a good source not only for news about events related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation but also for links to resources and an interactive timeline of the Reformation. Finally, you can search back issues of the Sixteenth Century Journal for more on the Reformation and its aftermath (though articles require a fee to read). CH

mag covers

Christian History’s 2015–2017 four-part Reformation series is available as a four-pack. This set includes issue #115 Luther Leads the Way; issue #118 The People’s Reformation; issue #120 Calvin, Councils, and Confessions; and issue#122 The Catholic Reformation. Get your set today. These also make good gifts.

By The editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #115 in 2015]

Next articles

Great Writings, Did you know?

We asked over 70 past CH authors to help identify the most influential writings from christian history, after the Bible; here are some interesting facts about the 25 writings they named as “greatest"

the editors

Editor's note: Twenty-five writings

How could we ever pick 25 Christian books to feature as the most important?

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Fully man and fully God

The Nicene Creed [#7] and Athanasius’s On The Incarnation [#9] explained the Trinity to us

Jennifer Freeman

The Apostles’ Creed [#26]

The Apostles’ Creed summarized the basics of Christian faith

Jennifer Freeman
Show more

Subscribe to magazine

Subscription to Christian History magazine is on a donation basis


Support us

Christian History Institute (CHI) is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation founded in 1982. Your donations support the continuation of this ministry


Subscribe to daily emails

Containing today’s events, devotional, quote and stories