Monday, October 10, 2011

History of Lutheranism

One of my parishioners asked me this week if I knew of a short history explaining the development of Lutheranism in the American context, especially helping explain how we've gotten to where we are today with multiple Lutheran denominations. I started compiling a bibliography, and here is what I have come up with so far. I would love further suggestions:

First, I don't know if there is a comprehensive and universal history about the development of Lutheran churches in the U.S. specifically. There are some big picture American Church History books, the best of which is:

Sydney Ahlstrom's A Religious History of the American People 

There are some specific chapters in there on Lutheranism he can read, and it helps to read them in the larger context of the development of American Christianity.

If specifically interested in the time period where the LCMS shifted away from the ELCA, there's a new book out:

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Church History

I have this book on my Kindle and have been reading it, slowly. It's interesting, but very detailed specifically on that topic, and as an outsider to the LCMS I still don't know what to think of it exactly.

A really good book on the global history of Lutheranism is:

Eric Gritsch's A History of Lutheranism: Second Edition

This is worth reading because it places Lutheranism in global context, as a global movement, which it is. Lots of North Americans think that Lutheranism is primarily a German, Scandinavian, and American phenomenon, which is far from true.

And a book I haven't read but seems to be as close to what he is looking for as I can find:

The Lutherans: Denominations in America (DeAne Lagerquist) 

Of course, perhaps my favorite book on this topic is a more specialized two-volume set, now out of print but available used:

The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans by E. Clifford Nelson 

In the case of Lutheran history, ethnic specificity is beneficial, gives clearer and more energetic and robust stories out of which to work, and pays attention to the immigrant context of that people group.


  1. There's also Todd Nichol's All These Lutherans: Three Paths to a New Lutheran Church, Augsburg, 1986. It's been a long time since I looked at it, but as I remember it's pitched to a lay audience. 126 pages.

  2. This is just to know the history of Lutheranism. Like the previous reviewer, I found ELCA prejudices, which angers those who are in Wisconsin or Missouri Synod, but the company is an important part of Gritsch to write a comprehensive history of Lutheranism than occassionlly partial comment.

  3. Thank you, Mary. That's a good reference, and a book I haven't heard of, though I studied with Todd in seminary and benefited from his scholarship.

    Grow Light, I'm not sure I understand what you are saying. Could you try again?