Lutheranism for beginners

I have a good friend who just joined a Lutheran church. He’s been reading the collection of Luther’s basic theological writings edited by Timothy Lull, et al., but he asked me for some suggestions for further reading on Lutheranism and Lutheran theology. This is the list I sent him, which, while shaped by my own interests and certainly not exhaustive, fairly represents mainstream Lutheranism I think.


The Book of Concord collects all the official confessions and other documents of the Reformation-era Lutheran church (the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Large and Small catechisms, etc.) that virtually all modern Lutheran bodies subscribe to in some way or another. Fortress Press publishes a nice hardback version.

General introductions to Lutheranism:

Carl E. Braaten, Principles of Lutheran Theology

Gerhard O. Forde, Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel

Robert Jenson and Eric Gritsch, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and its Confessional Writings

Secondary sources on Luther’s theology:

Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther

Alister McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross

Giants of 20th century Lutheran theology:

Paul Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison

Specialized topics:

Carl Braaten, Justification: The Article by which the Church Stands or Falls

Robert Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel

Bradley Hanson, A Graceful Life: Lutheran Spirituality for Today

Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World

Deanna Thompson, Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross (I haven’t read this, but I wanted to include some feminist theology on the list, and this is the only one I really know of.)

Any glaring omissions? Additional suggestions?


9 thoughts on “Lutheranism for beginners

  1. Anyone who’s read LBTW is ready for: (a) Gerhard Ebeling’s Introduction to Luther’s Thought, which makes some INDISPENSABLE points on Luthere’s THEOLOGY; (b) Martin Mart’s THE PLACE OF TRUST, a user-friendly approach to the Solas; and (c)Donald McKIm, ed., Cambridge Companion to Luther.

    I also highly recommend, for the serious reader:
    Jaroslav Pelikan’s Reformation of Church & Dogma (1300-1700); Heiko A. Oberman, The Dawn of the Reformation; Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel ed. by T.Tappert (LCC XVIII); J. Pelikan’s OBEDIENT REBELS: Catholic Substance & Protestant Principle (1964); and
    Bonhoeffer’s ETHICS. The ecumenically-minded May also enjoy Pelikan’s “Need for Creeds”….online at

  2. Could you briefly explain (or recommend a book) about the Lutheran view of people’s relationship/access to God; whther it’s cinsidered mediated or direct? Thank you.

  3. Hi Crystal,

    Could you say a little more about what you mean my “mediated or direct”? Most Lutherans would say that there is one mediator between humanity and God, namely Jesus. But on account of God’s work in Christ we do enjoy “unmediated” access to the Father (e.g., we can confess our sins, pray, etc. directly to the Father through Christ). Lutherans also have a “high” view of preaching and the sacraments, seeing them as “means of grace” whereby God’s love is re-presented to us. So, in a sense, they would say that God is present to us through these mediums. Does that help?

    1. Lee,

      I was just listening to a podcast of a discussion with John Milbank and Stanley Haterwas. At one point both of them said that there was no such thing as unmediated access to God.

      It caught my attention because I’ve been following Ignatian spirituality in which Ignatius thinks God “works directly with the creature” and he talks about what he calls a consolation without cause – an unmediated experience of God. But at the same time, he thought there were good and bad spirits that mediated our religious experience, and some Jesuits think there is no unmediated experience, if only because of culture and language filters, etc.

      In looking around online I saw some references to Lutheranism and unmediated relationship with God, so thought I’d ask you about it. I’m still learning about all this stuff, but I guess I don’t understand why access to God would be mediated, why anything would stand between a person and God – is prayer not direct access?

  4. Hi Crystal,

    It’s possible that when people associate Lutheranism and unmediated access to God they’re referring to the differences between Luther and the institutional church of his time. If it was held that the church is the necessary “conduit” of God’s saving grace, then I think Luther (and the Lutheran tradition) would deny this (especially if it’s understood in some quasi-mechanical fashion).

    I haven’t yet listened to the Milbank-Hauerwas conversation, so I can’t speak to what they have in mind. It’s possible that what they’re getting at is the idea that our lives as Christians are inextricably bound up with the corporate life of the church. That might be the sense in which they mean there is no “unmediated” access. Perhaps they would go further and say that because all experience of God is “mediated” by one’s cultural, social, religious, etc. context, there’s no immediate access. I’m not sure.

  5. Let God Be God by Philip Watson. Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulén. This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar by Hermann Sasse. Here We Stand: The Nature and Character of Lutheranism by Hermann Sasse. Living By Grace by William Hordern. Here I Stand by Roland Bainton.

  6. I haven’t read most of those, but they sound like good suggestions. Thanks.

    Aulen’s “Reformation and Catholicity” is good too, now that I think of it.

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