I was asked to contribute to the Leadership Network Book Blog by periodically offering reviews of what I am reading. So, while I was away a couple weeks ago with Sue to Florida I brought with me a book recommended by Tim Sutherland and Perry Bigelow, The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. What follows is my review…
of my reading consists of new releases that come highly recommended and
books that are sent to me as pre-release copies. I don’t think that is
necessarily good, but it is true. But I’m going retro on this review.
Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement
Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few
Centuries. is an important work from a world-class sociologist that gives us new insight into how the west was won for Jesus.
As the person responsible for the vision of the NewThing Network
I have a keen interest in movements and how the early church grew.
Stark offers some of the best research I’ve seen on this topic and
dispels the myth that the church of the first few centuries grew at
miraculous rates that are not possible today. He writes, “(Most)
Studies of the rise of Christianity all stress the movement’s rapid
growth, but rarely are any figures offered…(it is assumed) in order
for Christianity to have achieved success in the time allowed, it must
have grown at rates that seem incredible in light of modern
experiences.” Stark goes on to show how the early church grew
from about 1.000 in 40 A.D to more than 33 million by 350 A.D. Because
of the extraordinary features of exponential curves Stark explains, “Hence,
40 percent per decade or 3.42 percent per year seems the most plausible
estimate of the rate at which Christianity actually grew during the
first several centuries.” Stark doesn’t just give us those
numbers, he goes on to unpack how and why those numbers came to be and
the sociological realities that made it possible.
Other highlights from The Rise of Christianity
are Starks discussion of networks, the role of women in the growth of
the early church and Christianizing the urban empire. While this book
was first published a little more a decade ago, if you are interested
in how the west was won for Jesus it is one of those books that if you
haven’t read by now – you should!