Sometimes you run across something which you want to pass along. Here is where you can find my recommendations for some books to read and other things which I have found useful. I pray it is helpful to you too.
An Annotated Reformation Bibliography: Books About the Lutheran Reformation
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 1517 occasioned an explosion of new books about Luther and the Reformation. Here is a brief bibliography of some that are on my shelves and I have read.
The best and blest place to start with Luther is always with the man himself. The English reader has, for many years, been channeled into the massive, 50+ volume set of Luther’s works published jointly by CPH and Fortress in the middle of the 20th century. Recently CPH has even added a few volumes there. This is the standard and most complete Luther for the English reader.
If you are competent in German, the Weimar edition is considered the official and critical edition. But it stretches over 100 volumes.
That is a lot of Luther. As a result, I find that many readers who would like to read the reformer look at that massive list of titles and despair. They don’t know where to start. If you are one of those, you may find it useful to check out a new translation of Luther which is much more modest in scope and which seeks to put essential and important documents by the Reformer before a new generation of readers and help those readers understand what Luther is saying.
Luther, Martin. The Annotated Luther. (Vol.: 1-4) Ed. Timothy Wengert. Trans.: Various. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015-present. These volumes are helpful in multiple ways. First it is a new translation of Luther which helps him speak more idiomatically to people of the 21st century. But they are probably more helpful in that they help the reader access the most important works of Luther through choosing to present certain works and accompanying those works with copious notes for the reader. These notes seek to contextualize the work in its theological, historical, and literary contexts. For the interested reader, these afford the best way into the important writings and works of the Reformer. If you need a specific letter or want to read them all, you will need to head over to “Luther’s Works” in the CPH/Fortress edition. As of this writing there were four volumes in print with more in the works. You do not need to invest in one of these, however, as many of the more significant titles included in these large volumes are also available as offprints in a paperback format. Thus, if you are wanting to sample, you could buy the “Freedom of the Christian” instead of buying the whole Volume I in which this text is located. It is a paperback and comes with the helpful notes.
—- The Essential Luther. Trans. Tryntje Helfferich. Hacket Publishing, 2018. 360 pp. This comes highly recommended. I have not personally read this one. I have read other things from Helfferich and enjoyed them. This is a single volume an could be picked up as either a paperback or e-book. The description says that he has sampled 25 different works by Luther and provides commentary/notation to help you contextualize.
Books about Luther and the Reformation:
Eire, Carlos M. N. Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2016. This is a serious book and was one of the first on my COVID reading list. The text without notes runs over 750 pages and weighing in at almost three and a half pounds. The jacket promises that this is a fast paced account of this pivotal period of human history. I am not sure that a book pushing 1000 total pages should ever be labeled “fast-paced” but I can say that it read very well. Eire’s strength is in his very helpful distinguishing between Lutheran and
Reformed emphases, particularly Zwingli’s emphasis on right worship vs. Luther’s emphasis on right faith. You can read a review of this text by the historian Eamon Duffy here: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/the-end-of-christendom
Hendrix, Scott H. Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2015. Hendrix is an important scholar of the Reformation at Princeton who wrote a very fine commentary and introduction to the Lutheran Confessions a few years ago. His text on Luther is accessible and sound. At times he may be critiqued for ascribing too much to Luther, but this is a very good introduction and biography of Luther. I highly recommend.
Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. This is a re-edited edition of an early work by Kittelson which came out around the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth in 1983. A very accessible text written for non-scholars, it has been critiqued by many as being too easy on some of Luther’s less savory aspects, including his writings on the Jews. This is a good text to give someone who is interested in Luther, but not a very thorough treatment.
Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009. Kolb’s text assumes the reader has some familiarity with Luther and with theological terminology. It is very sound and highlight’s Luther’s emphasis on a passive justification, but may be too technical for a lay reader.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation: A History. New York: Penguin, 2003. This is a massive treatment of the whole reformation, over 700 pages long. MacCulloch’s treatment of the Lutheran Reformation is particularly insightful as he is not a believer but he gives the faith and ideas of Luther and the early Lutherans appropriate treatment. His narrative on the magisterial Reformation is particularly helpful. Text has excellent indices.
McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2012. McGrath reads the development of the Reformation through a number of historical and theological lenses, asserting that many of the Reformation controversies are actually continuations of controversies which Christianity had contended with for many years prior to Luther. His text is very good for helping the reader understand the relationship of the Lutheran reformation to other strands of the reformation.
Pettegree, Andrew. Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe – And Started the Protestant Reformation. New York: Penguin, 2015. The title rather says it all about this book. Pettegree is a scholar of the 16th century who has sought to contextualize the Reformation within its economic and cultural context. Well written and filled with reprints of the title pages of Luther’s books, this text is a valuable resource for studying Luther.
Trueman, Carl R. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015. Written by an unapologetic fanboy, Trueman’s text is very interesting because he admits that Luther would not consider Trueman a Christian for his views on the sacraments. He is able to ask questions of Luther’s theology and the practices and doctrines of American Evangelicals in a way which no Lutheran can do without coming across as a denominational hack. His summary of Luther’s life is quite good and his focus on the basic elements of Luther’s theology is sound.
Wittord, David M. Luther: A Guide for the Perplexed. New Yord: Bloomsbury/T & T Clark, 2011. Wittford’s text is an upper level treatment of Luther’s life. He is a good writer and an excellent historian. He tends to ascribe to Luther and the Lutheran movement little in the way of doctrinal motivation, but seats the reformation in a political and cultural context. He sees the events of the Reformation happening for reasons other than theological.
Books and Commentaries on the Gospel according to St. Luke
A Bit of Lucan Bibliography
The preacher who is coming into year C might want to brush up on Luke as his Gospel account will occupy our attention.
Much of the current debate around Luke started with a good German fellow named Hans Conzelmann. His suggestion has largely been refuted, so do not worry too much about it; although if you want to read it, you can pick up a copy of The Theology of St. Luke trans. By Geoffrey Buswell and published by Fortress in 1961. Conzelmann and his thesis occasioned a deep reassessment of Luke as a theological text, which is found in the many commentaries which have been printed since then.
For a somewhat dated but excellent survey of the debate and reassessment of Luke which Conzelmann’s thesis occasioned, I recommend Mark Allan Powell’s What Are They Saying About Luke, published by Paulist Press in 1989. There has been a great deal of scholarship since then, but you will find that scholarship far more comprehensible for having read Powell’s brief survey of where things stood toward the end of the 20th century.
Luke T. Johnson’s contribution to the Sacra Pagina series published by Liturgical Press (1991) is a good and commentary on Luke. Johnson admits he wrote this book rather quickly, which I think makes it better. Johnson has a penchant for telling you too much sometimes, but this text does a very good job of giving you a good, accessible, single volume treatment of the Gospel. His introduction is particularly good and his summary of the Conzelmann thesis is both reasonable and fair.
Leon Morris’ contribution to the Tyndale Commentary Series published by IVP is another worthy text. His introduction is good, it is a single volume and again quite accessible.
If you want a more academic and thorough text, I join almost every other commentator I have read and recommend J. A. Fitzmeyer’s contribution to the Anchor Bible Commentary series published by Doubleday in 1981. It is a two-volume text, not for the faint of heart, but a treatment which has earned wide praise.
Art Just’s commentary in the Concordia Commentary series deserves some mention. This attempt has much to commend it, including a fairly readable style, however, it was not terribly well received and I think you can do better than this. It is worth having, but do not let it end your reading.
If your interest is in the parables of Luke, I highly recommend Robert Capon’s treatment of Parables in Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment which a compilation of three of his earlier works and published by Eerdman’s in 2002. Well written and insightful, it will challenge you.
Ken Bailey’s insights into the Lucan parables is also worthy of reading. He was published by CPH under the terrible title Cultural Keys to Luke 15.
Reading against Higher Criticism
Reading against Higher Criticism
In the 1970’s the LCMS went through an intense controversy around higher criticism, the academic approach to the Bible which puts the reasoning and insights of the human reader over the text itself. The controversy was recently treated in a book-length form by James Burkee in a volume entitled Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity, published by Fortress in 2013. Burkee, as you can tell by the title, does not think this was about higher criticism and theology, but was a purely political event which reflected currents and trends in the larger American society. He might be right, but for many of the people who lived through it, it was very theological and very much about the Bible which spoke God’s word to them. The LCMS has a raw nerve here of which any preacher needs to be aware.
Unfortunately, the LCMS’ raw nerve has meant that LCMS scholars have not been able to wrestle with this issue effectively. The political landmines are set to a hair-trigger for any LCMS theologian who ventures into this field. There have been some attempts, some of them better than others, but the conclusions of all of them reflect too much the internal political/historical realities of the LCMS.
Outside the LCMS, however, there has been a substantive reaction to the higher-critical movement in exegetical and systematic theological writing. Already in the 1970’s, while the controversy was gripping the LCMS, there were intelligent and important voices who were questioning the higher-critical approach. One of the centers for that questioning in the U. S. was at Yale where Brevard Childs and Hans Frei professed. From their seminars and classrooms, many American theologians came to realize that the higher critical movement itself was not a neutral/unbiased approach to the Scriptures but in fact revealed far more about the scholar than it did about the text of the Bible itself. At the same time, a group of scholars were coming to similar conclusions in the UK, but through different means. These groups frequently collaborated and cross-pollinated. The LCMS preacher will do well to read a bit here.
This group of scholars have coalesced into several overlapping movements: Neo-orthodoxy, Post-liberalism, and Narrative Criticism. Much of what they say will not pass muster for the LCMS survivor of the Walkout era. These scholars will not assert a literal six-day creation or even the Pauline authorship of all letters attributed to the Apostle in the New Testament. This should not, however, keep us from reading them. There is a great deal of good in here which can help us. Here are a few of the authors who have helped me.
Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eye Witnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Eerdmans, 2008. 2nd Ed. 2017. 704 pp. One of the tropes of much of higher criticism is that the NT is not historical because it began as a fluid oral document which was passed down for generations and was changed/altered in the retelling. Bauckham destroys this idea, and it deserves to be destroyed. His basic thesis is that evidence best supports the synoptic Gospels as mid-first century documents and John at the end of the first century. In that time frame, the eyewitnesses to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ are still alive. This fact simply does not allow for the wholesale revisions which higher critics assume took place. His treatment of Jewish names and what this suggests about the nature of the text makes this book well worth the read.
Burridge, Richard A. Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading. Eerdmans, 2014 (3rd Edition) 224 pp. There are in fact several books which do what Burridge does. This is just happens to be the one that I have read and found best. Burridge is taking on one of the central aspects of higher criticism, namely its desire to find the most historically accurate depiction of Jesus, usually prioritizing Mark and applying a modern reductive materialistic lens (assuming that since we know miracles don’t happen so those cannot be true!). Burridge asserts that this misses the whole point of the four-fold Gospel witness. It is intending to give us different portraits of Jesus. In the same way that a portrait artist does not give one a photograph of a person but an interpretation of the person, the Gospels are not trying to give us historically complete depictions of Christ. To ask that of them is to do violence to what they are saying. He argues for reading each of the Gospels as intentional portraits of Christ.
Davis, Ellen F. and Richard B. Hayes (authors and Eds.) The Art of Reading Scripture. Eerdmans, 2003. 354 pp. Davis and Hayes have collected a series of essays and articles of the Narrative school of thought which are very helpful for providing the theologically interested reader of the Bible with ways to read/think about the text. Narrative theology, among other things, suggests that reading the Bible as a presumed neutral observer in fact is impossible and distorts the meaning of the text. To read accurately requires that one must inside the conceptual world of the author, especially in terms of faith. Highly recommend this book.
Hayes, Richard B. Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Four-fold Witness. Baylor, 2016. 177 pp. Hayes has written a number of books and I have not read them all. I did read this one, however, and it was very helpful. One of the core elements of the modern reading of Scripture is the idea that the Bible is more like a library of discreet books. Using one part of the Bible to understand another is suspect. Hayes takes this on, suggesting that the NT use of the OT was both consistent with the OT and reflects a valid way to understand both texts.
Hurtado, Larry. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Eerdmans, 2005. 768 pp. If you are looking for a thorough demolition of the dominant thesis of New Testament scholarship, this is your book. Hurtado takes apart the often-cited idea that a high Christology is a late addition to NT thought. Hurtado’s insights are very helpful for reading many modern commentators. The text is lengthy and asks much of the reader. If you are not up to this, you might try the next text by Hurtado.
—– How on Earth did Jesus become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. Eerdmans, 2005, 246 pp. The first half of this book publishes a series of Lectures which Hurtado was invited to deliver at Ben Gurion University in Israel. These lectures are very accessible for an interested lay-person and summarize many of his thoughts/arguments in “Lord Jesus Christ.” The second half of the book are four more academic journal articles which deal with the same substance as the lectures but provide a deeper analysis and more substantiation of the ideas than a popular lecture series was able to do.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament. Fortress, 2010. 544 pp. Johnson is a Roman Catholic scholar who taught for many years at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. This text is designed be an introductory text for students of the New Testament. It was too technical for my students at Concordia when I taught there. It seems better to be a seminary level text or upper division text for someone who is coming back to this material for the second time. Johnson is not afraid to question the pious convictions of folks who read the Bible. Many will find what he says objectionable. His treatment of Pauline Authorship, however, is very good. He makes persuasive arguments about the legitimacy of Pauline authorship for Ephesians and Colossians, two texts which are regularly ejected from the genuinely Pauline list of books.
Wright, N. T. Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. Harperone 2011. 259 pp. Wright has written many books and like any author with a large corpus of work, it is often uneven. His work on Justification is terrible, honestly, falling into several miserable tropes which need to be laid to rest. This book, however, is very interesting. It is a survey of the last 200 years of scholarship but not a negative survey, rather it posits a means for people who do believe in Jesus to speak into this situation. I do not concur with Wright on every point here but am glad he made me think about some of these things. Wright repackages herein one of his stronger arguments that Jesus needs to be read/heard/considered in light of the second temple Judaism of the first century, especially the ongoing sense of an exile which never really ended. His discussion of Jesus as the true temple is especially interesting.
—- Simple Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Harperone, 2009. 260 pp. Wright tries to articulate a middle way between reductive materialism and fundamentalism. Does that sound familiar? Walther tried the same thing with confessionalism as a third way between rationalism and pietism in the 19th century. I am not sure that Wright succeeds but this book is a good means to get us to start thinking about how to positively express our Christianity which has too often fallen into the trap of only being a religion which rejects the ideas of others.
There are many other books which might fit into this category. If you know one which you would recommend reading, send that information to Phil. He is always interested in reading about the interpretation of Scripture, and he may add it to this list.
Out of HIding and Into Power – Annotated Bibliography
Out of Hiding and Into Power
This bibliography was developed as I prepared to present to the Oregon Pastor’s Conference in the fall of 2021. We were asking the question of how it is that Christianity went from being a persecuted minority in the 250’s to the dominant political and religious force in Europe by 750 AD. We thought it an important question as we witnessed the unraveling of Christianity’s dominant position in Western culture. By seeing how it wound up, we thought we would be better positioned to navigate the unwinding of the current structures.
I am including a few thoughts on each text. I have only included texts which I would recommend to you to further your reading in this area. I have not included journal articles here, but they abound. The books cited often have very complete bibliographies of their own and I commend you to them.