by Kevin DeYoung
If you’ve never read anything by Rodney Stark you are missing out on a lot of educated provocation. Stark’s arguments are always intriguing. I don’t agree with everything he says and I wish he would do more to allow for supernatural explanations, but on the whole I find him full of good sense and delightfully iconoclastic.
A few years ago I made my way through one of his best known books, The Rise of Christianity. Stark, in debunking a number of historical myths, tries to explain from a sociological perspective “how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries.”
Here are thirteen ways, drawn from Stark’s arguments, how we might answer that question:
1. Christianity drew from the worldly, accommodated religious communities of the time. It is hardest to find converts among the serious religious, easiest to get them from those who are most secular or nominal in their commitment.
2. Christianity probably drew its converts, in large part, from the upper class. Privileged classes tend to be the most skeptical about God and most unaffiliated. Thus there are more of them to be won to new religions. If, that is, they are dissatisfied with what they have found in the world.
3. Christianity spread because the Christians cared for each other in times of sickness and disease. Their communal compassion both staved off death and served as an example to outsiders of the transforming power of the Christian faith.
4. The first Christians also cared for outsiders, which won them a hearing with unbelievers.
5. Women were honored in Christianity. Baby girls were not killed. Females of all ages were to be protected. Husbands, not just wives, were expected to be chaste…
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