The best books on Lutherans and social change

Who am I?

When I was going to church as a kid, I noticed there were a lot of things about faith that were really important to people but that they rarely talked about. In my work as a pastor, professor, and church historian, I’ve tried to identify and name those core values, so that we can learn from one another, share our beliefs in meaningful and respectful ways, and grow together as we explore life’s big questions and practice living out our beliefs in the here and now.


I wrote...

Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

By Martin Lohrmann,

Book cover of Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

What is my book about?

There are about 80 million Lutheran in the world today. While Lutheran communities started in central and northern Europe, there are now more Lutherans in Ethiopia than in Sweden, more in Tanzania than the United States, and more in Indonesia than in Norway. Selecting ten vignettes from each of the five centuries since Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517, I wrote this book to show how Lutherans have lived out their faith in a variety of times and places to become a truly global branch of Christianity.

The books I picked & why

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The Freedom of a Christian, 1520: The Annotated Luther

By Martin Luther, Tim Wengert (translator),

Book cover of The Freedom of a Christian, 1520: The Annotated Luther

Why this book?

This little book is among the best pieces of Christian literature ever written. Here the church reformer Martin Luther pondered the “both/and” reality of Christians: that believers are entirely set free by Jesus and that believers are totally bound to serve others because Jesus is the one they follow. This book perfectly describes the Lutheran Reformation’s conviction that faith is a living and active experience that transforms people and communities through trust in God and love of neighbors.


Luther and Liberation: A Latin American Perspective

By Walter Altmann, Thia Cooper (translator),

Book cover of Luther and Liberation: A Latin American Perspective

Why this book?

Because the Reformation took place in 16th century Germany, it’s common to wonder how ideas that were popular 500 years ago in Central Europe might have anything to say to today’s global realities. In this book, Brazilian Lutheran professor Walter Altmann explores the ways that Martin Luther’s teachings resonate with the contemporary concerns of Latin American theologies of liberation. Altmann’s approach sets a great model for how people today can apply the spiritual riches of the past to the practical needs of the present.


Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

By Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers,

Book cover of Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

Why this book?

With two other women, Leymah Gbowee received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her peace activism that helped end the 1999-2003 civil war in Liberia. Using tactics that included daily protests, a sex strike, and rehabilitation of child soldiers, Gbowee and her coworkers effectively combined religious values, social service, and direct action to advocate for peace. Although not directly about theology, Gbowee’s church and personal faith provided important motivation, resilience, and organizational support. This memoir is both honest about her struggles and provides an inspiring witness to social change.


Life Together

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Daniel W. Bloesch,

Book cover of Life Together

Why this book?

German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the lamentably few church leaders who took a clear stand against the Nazification of Christianity under the Third Reich. He wrote this wonderful little book about communal life in light of his experiences leading an unauthorized seminary, which the Nazi regime closed in 1937. Bonhoeffer, who was executed in 1945 for his resistance, wisely observed in Life Together that blessings abound when we deal with people as they are, not as we wish they would be.


Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

By Nadia Bolz-Weber,

Book cover of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Why this book?

Founder of a church called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, Nadia Bolz-Weber describes her path from a Fundamentalist upbringing to agnostic comedian to Lutheran pastor. Walking with people who had long been forgotten, dismissed, or condemned by mainstream American Christianity, Bolz-Weber has brought the traditional Reformation message of God’s unconditional love to life in new ways. With stories that range from vulnerable to hilarious, this book is fun to read and full of refreshing insights about God, church, hospitality, and grace.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Lutheranism, Martin Luther, and violence?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation Before Confessionalization, Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing, and Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law Into Local Justice if you like this list.