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The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure,…
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The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became…

by Rodney Stark

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This book destroyed one of my cherished apologetic views. I have always understood the rise of the early church as pure miracle. After all, how could a group of persecuted people following a crucified "criminal" become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire in a mere three centuries? The only comparable phenomenon I knew of was the rise of Islam, but it grew because of military conquest.

It turns out that there are good logical ways to understand the rise of Christianity in those early years. Rodney Stark, using his sociology toolbox, turned his attention to this phenomenon in the aptly titled, The Rise of Christianity.

Stark begins with basic growth arithmetic. Numerically speaking, Christianity grew at 40% per decade, which is similar to the growth of Mormonism. For those first years (when the New Testament was written), it would have looked painfully small and inconsequential. However, 40% growth per decade creates an exponential curve.

After justifying the overall growth trend, he turns his eye to the factors which led to such growth. Here a few of the causes that stood out:

- The incredibly strong social networks of the Jewish people, the source of Christianity's first people, empowered the spread of the good news. There was a reason even Paul started his ministry in local synagogues.

- Christianity developed a surplus of women due to the prohibition of female infanticide and abortion. This increasing number of women would have married and brought men into the faith, swelling their numbers.

- Ancient cities were horribly overcrowded and dangerous places that bred disease. Christians offered a vision of hope to the oppressed and, through selfless care during times of epidemics, saw more of their sick live.

It turns out that the growth of the early church is the natural effect of living the sort of eternal life that Jesus both taught and lived. While I would be the last person to deny the effective work of the Holy Spirit (after all, that's how every person comes to Jesus), it was moving for me to see the way that God's Kingdom grew in the midst of the kingdoms of the world.

The early growth of Christianity is a deeper sort of miracle than I had realized. Rather than relying some deus ex machina, the early church grew by embodying (incarnating) their self-giving Saviour in the midst of a depraved and crumbling Empire. Many parallels can be drawn between the Roman Empire and Western culture. Perhaps the church is poised for a new burst of life! ( )
  StephenBarkley | Oct 17, 2015 |
Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600
The idea that Christianity started as a clandestine movement among the poor is a widely accepted notion. Yet it is one of many myths that must be discarded if we are to understand just how a tiny messianic movement on the edge of the Roman Empire became the dominant faith of Western civilization. In a fast-paced, highly readable book that addresses beliefs as well as historical facts, Rodney Stark brings a sociologist's perspective to bear on the puzzle behind the success of early Christianity.
  kgreply | Jul 8, 2014 |
This was one of the most interesting books on early Christianity I've ever read. It gave texture to life in that day, and shone a new light on much that is all too familiar. His explanations of how Christianity likely spread and the rate at which it spread were fascinating. Highly recommended for anyone interested in how Christianity took over the western world. ( )
  jeffclocke | Jul 3, 2012 |
This book was really interesting. Stark approaches the history of early Christianity with a social scientist's eye. He applies different social theories to explain how Christianity could have grown at the rate it did without mass conversions or lots of miracles. (Instead he looks at things like social network, increased fertility, ability to survive plagues, etc.)

Stark isn't a terribly interesting writer (hence the lower stars) and his method of footnoting within the text is distracting and annoying, but the book still manages to read fairly quickly.

There are a lot of good insights about what causes people to convert, the makeup of early Christian communities, and more.

This book is definitely recommended for a different take on early Christian community. ( )
  shannonkearns | Feb 5, 2012 |
Stark’s book is an excellent read for anyone interested in early Christian history. His innovative approach, using sociological rather than historical methods, brings many new revelations and does much to further explain the origins of Christianity. This book is a great starting point for a reevaluation of some of the common notions of historians of early Christianity and I hope that future historians will apply some of Stark’s findings to their research as they will do much to contribute to our knowledge of the nativity of the Western world. ( )
1 vote davidpwithun | Sep 16, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060677015, Paperback)

This "fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive account of how the West was won—for Jesus" (Newsweek) is now available in paperback. Stark's provocative report challenges conventional wisdom and finds that Christianity's astounding dominance of the Western world arose from its offer of a better, more secure way of life.

"Compelling reading" (Library Journal) that is sure to "generate spirited argument" (Publishers Weekly), this account of Christianity's remarkable growth within the Roman Empire is the subject of much fanfare. "Anyone who has puzzled over Christianity's rise to dominance...must read it." says Yale University's Wayne A. Meeks, for The Rise of Christianity makes a compelling case for startling conclusions. Combining his expertise in social science with historical evidence, and his insight into contemporary religion's appeal, Stark finds that early Christianity attracted the privileged rather than the poor, that most early converts were women or marginalized Jews—and ultimately "that Christianity was a success because it proved those who joined it with a more appealing, more assuring, happier, and perhaps longer life" (Andrew M. Greeley, University of Chicago).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:33 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The idea that Christianity started as a clandestine movement among the poor is a widely accepted notion. Yet it is one of many myths that must be discarded if we are to understand just how a tiny messianic movement on the edge of the Roman Empire became the dominant faith of Western civilization. In a fast-paced, highly readable book that addresses beliefs as well as historical facts, Rodney Stark brings a sociologist's perspective to bear on the puzzle behind the success of early Christianity. He comes equipped not only with the logic and methods of social science but also with insights gathered firsthand into why people convert and how new religious groups recruit members. He digs deep into the historical evidence on many issues - such as the social background of converts, the mission to the Jews, the status of women in the church, the role of martyrdom - to provide a vivid and unconventional picture of early Christianity.… (more)

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