3 Books Every Pastor Should Read: On Reformation History

Books are some of the best friends a pastor can have. How to know which friends to have is quite difficult, for as the inspired Preacher said, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Every so often I recommend three books for pastors on a given topic, hoping the suggestions might inform your book budget.

Few eras of church history are as pivotal – and interesting – as those seminal years we’ve come to call The Reformation. It was a time when bright and often bombastic personalities took the stage, forever altering the course of Christ’s church. Theological lines were drawn so deep into the spiritual sand that we are still trying to sort out all the details almost 500 years later.

One of the best ways to understand the contours of the Reformation is to read the standard biographies on men like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Knox. But most of us don’t have the time or resources to work through a biographical stockpile. So, here are a few suggested books to help you better understand those turbulent, yet tremendous years.

014303538XmThe Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCullouch. Carl Trueman first turned me on to this excellent volume, so I will let the good doctor from Westminster try to convince you. Trueman says, “MacCulloch is one of the best Reformation historians alive and this is what I would call a brilliant, scholarly beach read—well-constructed explanatory narrative history, rooted in profound and accurate scholarship, laid out in the grand epic style. My guess is that readers wanting a good, scholarly, readable history of the Reformation—and one which will not break the bank—should buy this.”

9781433669316mThe Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves. This was one of the T4G giveaways back at the 2010 conference and my first introduction into Reeves’ ministry. Pastors need to pay attention to both. The Unquenchable Flame is, hands down, the most readable and piercing introduction into the Reformation you can find. Reeves is on his game in this one, and that man’s got game. Mark Dever seems to agree in his endorsement, “With the skill of a scholar and the art of a storyteller, Michael Reeves has written what is, quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation I have read.”

9781921441332mThe Essence of the Reformation by Kirsten Burkett. This one gets a spot in the top three because of Burkett’s accessibility and the inclusion of classic works from Reformation giants like Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer. DA Carson commends this one as well, ““I do not know any book that more succinctly gets across, in readable prose, what the Reformation was about. This new edition combines Birkett’s superb text with some judiciously selected primary documents. This is a book to distribute widely among lay leaders and other Christians who want to be informed of the heritage of the gospel that has come down to us.”


2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Vol. 3: Renaissance to Reformation by Nick Needham. Comprehensive, free from academic jargon, and thus easy to read and digest. This is a great example of why you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols. I find Nichols to be one of the more underrated historians working in the Reformed world today, and this one proves it. The subtitle should give you a decent hint at the fun prose awaiting interested readers.

Check out my past suggestions in the “3 Books Every Pastor Should Read” series here.