Where does one go to read historic, orthodox Lutheranism?
Right here. This collection of 40+ theologians covers most of the major Lutheran systematic theologies since the Reformation that are in English and are online.
First read the reformer Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, 1525 (preferably the modern J.I. Packer and Johnston translation) which is a theological and literary classic. You will see how reformed Luther was in the doctrines of grace and wonder why later Lutheranism largely followed the synergistic distinctives of Philip Melanchthon.
To get a broader view, not just of the doctrine of salvation, but also of the whole gamut of Lutheran systematic theology, start with John Mueller’s one volume Christian Dogmatics (1934). This textbook gives a concise, but adequate, view of all the major historic theological categories of conservative Lutheranism, their scriptural arguments for them and their view and critique of other theological systems. This work is parallel in the reformed tradition to Louis Berkhof’s systematic theology.
Other volumes useful to being introduced to Lutheranism are by Chytraeus (1500’s), Jacobs (1800’s), and Voigt (1900’s). For something that is contemporary and readable, but not small (793 pp.), try Lyle Lange’s God So Loved the World: A Study of Christian Doctrine (2005). The Lutheran pastor, Rev. Jordan Cooper, says of it:
‘This book is extensive in its treatment, but written in a simple style, without extensive academic theological terminology. This is, in my opinion, the best modern one volume treatment of systematic theology.’
Next, to hear what the older Lutheran writers had to say, open up Schmid’s Doctrinal Theology (1875). It is an anthology of extended quotes from the older orthodox Lutheran theologians laid out in systematic form. This is the classic textbook of Lutheran primary sources.
Then, to go further, buy Pieper’s 4 volume Christian Dogmatics (1924). This massive and nearly exhaustive defense of orthodox Lutheranism will give you the most detailed Biblical and systematic arguments for the Lutheran positions and interpretations. It is akin to the systematic theologies of Herman Bavink and Francis Turretin on the reformed side. It is the most accessible definitive work of Lutheranism that has been translated into English.
Relatively few of the older Lutherans have been translated into English (most of them wrote in German and Latin). The ones that are available in English online (besides the lengthy and numerous excerpts translated in Schmid’s work) are Hutter and Baier. Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Quenstedt and some of the others can be purchased in print in English. Open them up and see what they have to say.
While, you are reading all of this, be sure to carefully peruse Richard Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Buy (1985). Muller, one of the world’s leading reformed historians, gives and precisely defines the primary theological terms and categories used during the 1500’s and 1600’s by Lutheran and Reformed theologians. These very careful and impartial definitions are useful not only to clearly understanding the theological issues, but also in order to precisely understand where the point of difference lies between Lutheran theology and Reformed theology.
To understand why Reformed theology, after much thought, reflection and Biblical exegesis, still disagrees with their Lutheran brethren after fully hearing their case, see some of our recommended reformed Systematic Theologies.
Most of the authorities below were collected from the appended annotated bibliography of Schmid’s work and the recommendations of the Lutheran, Rev. Jordan Cooper. See both of those articles for more background info on the authors and evaluations of their works.
Order of Theologians
Gerhard, John Ernest
von Pufendorf, Samuel
Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics
95 Theses 1517
This is not a complete systematic theology; it only covers soteriology, but it is Luther’s most systematic work. Contrary to later Lutheranism (influenced by Melanchthon), Luther was very calvinistic, as is demonstrated throughout this book.
Hamilton, Patrick 1504-1528
Hamilton was a proto-reformer and martyr in Scotland, being very much influenced by Luther’s teaching. See Wiki.
A Most Excellent and Fruitful Treatise, called Patrick’s Places concerning the Doctrine of Faith, and the Doctrine of the Law: which being known, you have the pith of all divinity. With a brief collection or exposition of a sum of St. Paul’s doctrine touching Justification by Faith, in Jesus Christ: which is the only mark to shoot at, and the only means to obtain salvation 1598
Theological Common Places Buy 1521
Melanchthon was something of the second-hand, younger man to Luther, though he was an independent theologian in his own right. He greatly swayed the shape of Lutheran theology after him.
‘The foundation of Lutheran Systematic Theology…’ – H. Schmid
‘…the first Protestant dogmatics, as it is sometimes called, represents the work of a young man writing at the very beginning of the Lutheran Reformation.’ – W. Pauck
”Interim’ is a book which was at ye Emperour’s Majesty’s commandment, printed and put forth about the beginning of June in this year of our Savior’s birth, 1548, wherein is commanded that all the cities in Dutchland [Germany] that have received the Word of God and made a change of ceremonies according to the Word, shall reform their churches again and turn to the old popish ordinances, as a dog does to that he has spewed out, or a washen swine to the mire.’
The Justification of Man by Faith Only, and An Apology or Defense of the Word of God, declaring what a necessary thing it is [the Word of God] to be in all men’s hands, the want where of is the only cause of all ungodliness committed through the whole earth ToC 1548
A Civil Nosgay [a bouquet of flowers], wherein is contained not only the office and duty of all magistrates and judges but also of all subjects, with a preface concerning the liberty of justice in this our time 1550
A Summary of the Christian Faith Buy 1568
‘Originally intended for the advanced instruction of young people… Chytraeus (1531–1600), one of the authors of the Formula of Concord, ranks as one of the most significant Lutheran theologians of 16th century. His Summary is not marked by the various synodical concerns of later lay dogmatics; it is truly what it claims to be: A Summary of the Christian Faith… Chytraeus’ Summary is one of the earliest examples of a Lutheran dogmatics following the loci model first set forth by Philip Melanchthon in 1521. Unlike Chemnitz’s more extensive Loci Theologici, Chytraeus’ Summary was written for a lay audience.
The work consists of 10 chapters: (1) God, (2) Creation, (3) The Law of God, (4) On Sin, (5) On the Remission of Sins, (6) On the New Obedience, (7) On the Sacrament, (8) On Repentance, (9) On the Church, (10) On the Immortality of the Church, the Resurrection, and Eternal Life. Chytraeus’ “Brief Explanation” of the Lord’s Prayer is also appended to the Summary.‘ – Repristination Press
On Sacrifice Buy 1569
“Chytraeus’ work offers a biblical study of the concept of sacrifice, beginning with the Old Testament sacrifices and continuing with Christ’s sacrifice and finally explaining the nature of the eucharistic sacrifices of Christians [in the Lord’s Supper].” – Repristination Press
Theological Places, 2 vols. Buy 1591 The version for sale is in English though the title, Loci Theologici, is in Latin. See the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature for the Table of Contents.
Chemnitz was one of the authors of the Formula of Concord.
“Gerhard frequently refers to him as ‘the incomparable theologian;’ Quenstedt styles him, ‘without doubt the prince of the theologians of the Augsburg Confession;’ and Buddeus, ‘that great theologian of our Church whom no one will refuse to assign the chief place after Luther among the defenders of the Gospel truth.’ His Loci Theologici (1591) is a commentary upon the Loci Communes of his teacher, Melachthon, the outgrowth of theological lectures begun at Wittenberg…” – H. Schmid
The Two Natures of Christ Buy 1570
The Lord’s Supper Buy 1560
The Lord’s Prayer Buy
Examination of the Council of Trent Buy 1565-73
‘The Examen Concilli Tridentini… is the ablest defense of Protestantism ever published.’ – H. Schmid
Church Order Buy
Apology [Defense] of the Book of Concord Buy
Institutes of the Christian Religion 1563
Selnecker was one of the authors of the Formula of Concord. This work ‘introduced the practice of prefacing works on systematic theology with prolegomena [discussion of introductory issues].’ (H. Schmid)
Of the Supper 1561
An Exegesis of the Personal Union [of the 2 natures of Christ] 1571
Hafenreffer, Matthew – Theological Places, or a Compendium of Theology 1600
‘His chief work… was especially esteemed in Wurtenburg, Sweden, and Denmark, where it was generally used as a text-book.’ – H. Schmid
Hunnius, Aegidius – Theses Opposed to Huberianism: A Defense of the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification Buy d. 1603 72 pp.
‘Aegidius Hunnius (1550–1603) was among the “Champions of Lutheran Orthodoxy” who served on the faculty of the University of Wittenberg and was one of the early signers of the Formula of Concord… In this work, Hunnius contends with the theology of Samuel Huber (1547–1624), a former Calvinist who was called to the University of Wittenberg in 1592. After arriving in Wittenberg, Huber introduced his own novel terminology and theology which put him at odds with the Formula of Concord and his fellow professors. Huber made the situation worse by accusing his colleagues of Calvinism when they did not assent to his theological opinions.
In this book, Hunnius refutes Huber’s errors regarding the doctrine of justification; as Hunnius wrote in the dedication to this work, “we propose … not only to wash away the charges he has made, but especially to refute his shameful errors concerning the eternal election and predestination to eternal life, not only of the children of God, but also of the children of the devil (that is, all the impenitent); similarly, his errors concerning the universal justification of all men—of unbelievers no less than believers; concerning also the regeneration of hypocrites in Baptism, which is said to be conferred on them in that very act of treachery and impiety.” – Repristination Press
‘His best known work… for nearly a century almost universally used as a text-book in the Church-schools of Germany. It… has formed the basis of at least seven commentaries [see Bechmann, 1696, below for an example]. It is characterized by conciseness, precision, and almost entire reliance upon the Symbolical Books and the older theologians (Chemnitz, Aegidius Hunnius) for its definitions.’ – H. Schmid
Theological Common Places 1619
‘His posthumous work… is a development of the Compendium, or a commentary upon it. See Preface to English translation of the Compendium for further details.’ – H. Schmid
Theological Places Buy 1621
Gerhard was a pupil of Hutter. He ‘combined rare learning, great acuteness, wonderful industry, sound judgment, and practical ability with ardent piety.’ – Luthardt
‘Gerhard’s advance beyond Chemnitz and Hutter consists not so much in a more systematic arrangement, or in a deeper speculative basis for his doctrines, or a more subtle formal development of them, as in an erudite thoroughness, transparent clearness, and comprehensiveness.’ – Tholuck
‘Some indeed, accuse him of re-introducing scholastic theology into the Church, as the treatment of his Loci Theologici is after the scholastic mode; yet the same persons must admit that he was more cautious than those who followed him, and that he was careful not to mingle philosophy with theology…’ – Buddeus
‘…of all the Protestants, shedding the greatest light upon the arguments on which he touched… Bellarmine [a Roman Catholic apologist] had no adversary more to be dreaded than Gerhard.’ – Du Pin (a Roman Catholic)
‘Bossuet is said to be the author of the often-quoted remark that Gerhard is the third (Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard) in that series of Lutheran theologians in which there is no fourth.’ – H. Schmid
A Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Buy 1610
Annotations on the First Six Chapters of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Buy n.d.
An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ Buy 1622
‘Gerhard’s concern as a theologian was, above all, pastoral… ‘An Explanation’ leads the reader through many types and prophecies in the Old Testament pointing forward to Christ’s suffering and death. The work is divided into two introductory sermons and five ‘acts’ (I. In the Garden, II. At the Home of Caiaphas, III. Before Pilate, IV. Christ’s Crucifixion, and V. Christ’s Burial) for a total of 24 sermons.‘ – Repristination Press
A Golden Chain of Divine Aphorisms 1632 389 pp.
These aphorisms over most of the topics of systematic theology.
‘Johann Gerhard is widely-recognized as having been the 17th century’s greatest Lutheran theologian. In addition to his many weighty theological tomes, Gerhard was renowned as an author of devotional materials, the most popular of which was his ‘Sacred Meditations’ (1606). Gerhard’s 51 meditations are among the most profound devotional material ever produced within the Church, leading the reader through most of the articles of Christian doctrine.’ – Repristination Press
Gerhard, John Ernest
Isagoge of Theological Places
This Gerhard was the son of the previous John Gerhard. His work ‘is a very full and satisfactory compendium of his father’s great work.’ (H. Schmid)
‘The Confessio Catholica, showing the harmony of the Lutheran Church with the purer Church of all ages, and the Harmony of the Gospels, begun by Chemnitz, continued by Lyser, and completed by Gerhard, also contain valuable material belonging to the department of Dogmatics.’ – H. Schmid
Arndt, Johann – True Christianity: a Treatise on Sincere Repentance, True Faith, the Holy Walk of the True Christian d. 1625 558 pp.
‘Arndt here dwells upon the mystical union between the believer and Christ, and endeavors, by drawing attention to Christ’s life in His people, to correct the purely forensic side of the reformation theology, which paid almost exclusive attention to Christ’s death for His people.
Arndt has always been held in very high repute by the German Pietists. The founder of Pietism, Philipp Jakob Spener, repeatedly called attention to him and his writings… So important was Arndt’s influence on the early Pietists that some scholars have even called him the true founder of the movement.’ – Wiki
Hunnius, Nikolaus – Diaskepsis Theologica: A Theological Examination of the Fundamental Difference between Evangelical Lutheran Doctrine and Calvinist or Reformed Teaching Buy 1626
‘Hunnius’ Diaskepsis Theologica was profoundly influential in the formation of Lutheran dogmatics. In an age when Calvinists were attempting to convince Lutherans that there were no church-divisive doctrinal differences between the two confessions, Hunnius set out to refute the unionistic efforts of the Reformed.’ – Repristination Press
Brochmann, Caspar – A System of Universal Theology 1633
A System of Theological Places, 12 vols. 1655-77
‘The most voluminous of our theologians, distinguished by his wonderful industry, untiring zeal in controversy, unyielding firmness and severity, vast and varied learning, and critical power of the first rank. He represents the strictest school of orthodoxy, and wrote on all departments of theological science.’ – H. Schmid
The Bible Illustrated 1672-6
‘His Biblia Illustrata… contains valuable dogmatic material.’ – H. Schmid
Koenig, John Frederick – Theologia Positiva Acroamatica 1664
‘His compend of theology… was widely used as a text-book. It differs from Hutter’s work, in being scientific rather than popular.’ – H. Schmid
‘The author comprehended much in a few words and nervously; but by an excessive desire of brevity and accuracy, produced a mere skeleton, destitute of all sap and blood.’ – Buddeus
Scherzer, John Adam
A Brief Theology 1678
System of Theology: 29 Absolute Definitions 1680
Quenstedt, John Andrew
Didactic [instructive] and Polemical [controversial] Theology Buy 1685
Quenstedt was the nephew of John Gerhard. ‘His Theologia Didactico-Polemica (1685), because of its exhaustive collection and its accurate classification of dogmatic material, is one of the most important works of Lutheran theology. It possesses little originality and follows closely the outline of Koenig, but manifests the greatest erudition in its citations of authorities, and skill in rendering the work of reference easy. From this characteristic, its author is often styled the ‘book-keeper’ of the Wittenberg Orthodoxy, and is conceded to be ‘next to Gerhard the most instructive representative of the Orthodox Dogmatik.’ (Luthardt) The objection, however, is often presented against Quenstedt, that his excessive attention to the details of his system has deprived Dogmatic theology of its life, by reducing its doctrines to the shape of mathematical formulae.’ – H. Schmid
The Church Buy 1685, 154 pp. being Part 4, Ch. 15 of his Didactic and Polemical Theology
‘Quenstedt offers clarity and a crucial exposition of Lutheran teaching concerning the nature of the Church. Quenstedt’s explanation of the marks of the Church, the attributes of the Church, the role of Church Councils, the visibility and invisibility of the Church, etc. are required reading in an age of ‘mega’ churches, ‘meta’ church, and the Church Growth Movement. In the words of Dr. Robert Preus: ‘There is no question that after the Loci Theologici of Chemnitz and Gerhard (who was his uncle) the Systema of Quenstedt ranks as the greatest dogmatics book ever written by a Lutheran.” – Repristination Press
Baier, John William – Compendium of Positive Theology 1685
‘The Compendium Theologiae Positivae (1685), is largely, as its title indicates, a compend of the theology of Musaeus (Baier’s father-in-law, born 1613, professor at Jena, died 1681), and ‘many other orthodox theologians.’ A accurate acquaintance with the history of the controversies of the preceding periods, is a necessary prerequisite to the successful study of this much valued and widely received text-book.’ – H. Schmid
‘…great completeness combined with compact brevity, exclusion of all extraneous material, exquisite selection, and, above all, accurate exegesis of scriptural proof-passages, critical comparison, and employment of the labors of his predecessors within the department of dogmatics, and, in addition to Lutheran fidelity in doctrine, the expression of a living heart faith, and of a mild, pious sensibility.’ – Professor Walther
von Pufendorf, Samuel 1632-1694
The Divine Feudal Law: or, Covenants with Mankind, Represented. Together with means for the uniting of Protestants. In which also the Principles of the Lutheran Churches are Stated and Defended 365 pp.
Nakskow, Petrus – The Articles of Faith of the Holy Evangelical Church: According to the Word of God and the Ausburg Confession d. 1695 468 pp.
Rich Annotations on the Compendium of Theology by Leonard Hutter 1696
Polemical [controversial] Theology 1702
Theological Institutes 1706
Annotations on Dieterich’s Catechetical Institutes 1707
Pfeiffer, August – Anti-Calvinism d. 1698 458 pp.
Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum 1707
‘His Examen… recapitulates with great clearness and compactness the results attained by his predecessors, under the form of questions and answers. It is ‘especially happy in its definitions,’ but in addition to some of the faults of the scholasticism of Quenstedt, it possesses already some of the characteristics of the succeeding period.’ – H. Schmid
Pontoppidan, Erik – Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism d. 1764 128 pp.
The Danish Pontoppidan was involved in the Pietist tradition. See Wiki.
Knapp, Georg – Lectures on Christian Theology 1825
Knapp was a professor of theology in the Lutheran pietist tradition. See Wiki.
Lohe, Johann – Aphorisms On the New Testament Offices and their Relationship to the Congregation—On the Question of Church’s Polity Buy 1849 99 pp.
‘The 1849 and 1851 Aphorisms constitute Löhe’s two most significant detailed studies on the Office of the Holy Ministry… Löhe’s substantial involvement in ministry and mission in the North America (including founding Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, and providing support for American missions) highlight the importance of his thought for confessional Lutherans.’ – Repristination Press
For Krauth’s life, see Wiki.
Schmid, Heinrich – Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Buy 1875 690 pp.
This is an anthology of extended quotes from the older Lutheran writers (mostly on this webpage) organized in systematic fashion, akin to what Heinrich Heppe did for the older reformed writers in his Reformed Dogmatics. Most of what Schmid translated from the older Lutherans cannot be found anywhere else in English. This is the place to go for reading historic, orthodox Lutheranism.
Luthardt, Christoph d. 1902
Kompendium der Dogmatik 1865 425 pp.
For Luthardt’s life, see Wiki.
Dorner was a ‘mediating’ theologian, that is, not fully confessional and orthodox, but was very important for his work in historical theology. See Wiki for his life.
‘This volume is comparable to Voigt . It consists of short chapters on each major theological topic.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
‘…’Elements of Religion’ was written by Dr. Henry E. Jacobs (1844–1932) as a one volume introduction to dogmatic theology. Jacobs was Norton Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and he is still well-known within the Evangelical Lutheran Church for his translation of ‘The Book of Concord’ and his ‘History of the Lutheran Church in the United States.” – Repristination Press
A Summary of the Christian Faith 1905 660 pp.
‘This is Jacobs’ second work of systematic theology. It’s a lot more in-depth than ‘Elements of Religion’, and its written in a catechetical question and answer format.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Weidner, Revere Franklin d. 1915
‘Weidner is one of the greatest systematicians of the nineteenth century. He released several volumes on systematic theology, though died before being able to write on the sacraments and eschatology.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Voigt, Andrew – Biblical Dogmatics 1916
‘Basic – This is a great introductory book. It’s very short, and yet quite comprehensive for its size. This book is a summary of Voigt’s systematic theology lectures.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Lindberg, Conrad – Christian Dogmatics and Notes on the History of Dogma 1922 616 pp.
‘Lindberg’s book is not long, but packs a lot of theology into each chapter. This work is heavy on the use of latin, and is largely a repristination of seventeenth century dogmatics.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Christian Dogmatics, 4 vols. Buy 1917-24
Pieper’s massive, detailed and definitive work of orthodox Lutheran theology is something akin to Francis Turretin’s and Herman Bavinck’s systematic theologies on the Reformed side. This work is standard amongst the seminaries of the Lutheran Missouri Synod.
The Pieper Lectures Buy
Stump, Joseph – The Christian Faith, a System of Christian Dogmatics Buy 1932 462 pp.
‘This is a single volume which is quite comprehensive yet highly readable. It’s highly indebted to Lutheran scholasticism.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Mueller’s work is a one volume synopsis of Pieper’s. This is the first Lutheran dogmatic that one should buy. It gives all the major historic, theological categories of orthodox Lutheranism, and in this respect, and in many others, is akin to Louis Berkhof’s systematic theology on the Reformed side.
Muller, Richard – Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Buy 1985 337 pp.
Muller is one of the world’s leading reformed historians. Here he gives a dictionary of the primary theological terms and categories used during the 1500’s and 1600’s by Lutheran and Reformed theologians. These very careful and impartial definitions are useful not only to clearly understanding the theological issues, but also in order to precisely understand where the point of difference lies between Lutheran theology and Reformed theology.
Preus, Robert 1924-1995
The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, 2 vols. Buy
Getting into the Theology of Concord: A Study of the Book of Concord Buy
Justification and Rome Buy
The Inspiration of Scripture: a Study of the Theology of the 17th Century Lutheran Dogmaticians Buy
Doctrine is Life: The Essays of Robert D. Preus on Scripture Buy
Doctrine is Life: The Essays of Robert D. Preus on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions Buy
The Doctrine of the Call in the Confessions and Lutheran Orthodoxy Buy
Hoenecke, Adolph – Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics Buy 1999
‘This series is about the same size as Pieper, consisting of four volumes. It’s written by the greatest theologian to come from the Wisconsin Synod [which is to the right of the Missouri Synod], and is very thorough and scholastic in its treatment. This is my personal favorite multi-volume systematic available in English.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Lange, Lyle – God So Loved the World: A Study of Christian Doctrine Buy 2005
‘This book is extensive in its treatment, but written in a simple style, without extensive academic theological terminology. This is, in my opinion, the best modern one volume treatment of systematic theology.’ – Rev. Jordan Cooper
Various – Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, various volumes Buy 2015 including volumes on: Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace, Baptism, Christology, The Church and her Fellowship, Ministry and Governance, The Lord’s Supper, and Eschatology