He was born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, England and came to the United States in 1902. He received an A.B. degree from Whitman College, and B.D. and Ph.D.. degrees from Yale University. He also received a number of honorary degrees including a D.D. from Meadville Theological Seminary and from Oberlin College, Dr. Theologiae from the University of Marburg, Germany, and Litt.D. from Gettysburg College. A specialist in Reformation history, Bainton was for forty-two years Titus Street Professor of ecclesiastical history at Yale, and he continued his writing well into his twenty years of retirement.
Bainton's father was a pacifist, and he himself married a Quaker. Graduating from seminary just as World War I began, he affiliated with the Society of Friends' unit of the American Red Cross. Although he was ordained as a Congregationist minister, he never served as the pastor of a congregation.
Bainton wore his scholarship lightly and had a lively, readable style. His most popular books were Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950)--which sold more than a million copies...and The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1952), both of which were widely used as textbooks. In all he was the author of more than thirty books on Christianity. Many of Bainton's books are illustrated with examples taken from his collection of medieval and Renaissance drawings, woodcuts, and engravings.
Bainton published Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther in 1950. As of 2006, it is still in print. Kenneth Scott Latourette, in the chapter notes for "Luther and the Rise and Spread of Lutheranism" in his History of Christianity, lauds Bainton's biography of Luther as "A superb combination of accurate scholarship based upon a thorough knowledge of the sources and secondary works with insight, vivid, readable literary style, and reproductions of contemporary illustrations. It also contains so valuable a bibliography as to render needless an extended one in this chapter."
In his chapter on Luther's writings in Invitation to the Classics, Mark A. Noll singles out Bainton's biography: "Of the many superlative treatments, a half-century old study by Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, has justly won a reputation as a classic work on a classic subject."
The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century
This volume went to press in 1952. Its value, also, is acknowledged by Latourette in the chapter notes on "Luther and the Rise and Spread of Lutheranism" (see note on Here I Stand), thus, "An admirable popular brief summary by an outstanding specialist".
The Age of Reformation
Behold the Christ: A portrayal of Christ in words and pictures
Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace
The Church of Our Fathers
Erasmus of Christendom
Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus, 1511-1553
The Travail of Religious Liberty
Women of the Reformation in France and England
Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy
Bernardino Ochino, esule e riformatore senese del Cinquecento 1487-1563, Firenze, La Nuova Italia 1940
"Christendom - A Short History of Christianity and its Impact on Western Civilization," in two volumes, 1964