The Rise of Christianity
By: Rodney Stark
READ: December 2015
Summary: Ever wonder how the church grew so rapidly in the first few centuries? Despite facing intense persecution, Christians grew at an astounding rate. Though typically ascribed to miracles, Stark, a social scientist and historian presents a data based theory as to how it happened. This book is enlightening and a tremendous help to understanding those early centuries of Christianity.
Chapters: 1. Conversion and Christian Growth 2. The Class Basis of Early Christianity 3. The Mission to the Jews: Why it Probably Succeeded 4. Epidemics, Networks, & Conversion 5. The Role of Women in Christian Growth 6. Christianizing the Urban Empire: A Quantitative Approach 7. Urban Chaos and Crisis: The Case of Antioch 8. The Martyrs: Sacrifice as a Rational Choice 9. Opportunity and Organization 10. A Brief Reflection on Virtue
Using a 40% conversion rate the church could have grown without any miracles. pg. 12-13
This rate is similar to the growth of the Mormon faith over the past century. Pg. 10
Conversion is often aided when interpersonal attachments to members overbalance their attachments to non-members. Pg. 16
Converts to new religious movements are overwhelmingly from irreligious backgrounds. Pg. 19
Christianity was probably heavily driven by proletariat/upper class conversion. Chapter 2
New religious movements do best in places where there is the greatest amount of apparent secularization. Pg. 54
Social movements grow much faster when they spread through preexisting networks. Pg. 55
Network growth requires that missionaries from a new faith already have, or can easily form, strong attachments to such networks. Pg. 57
The Gentiles, more than the Jews, had a problem with Jesus being crucified as a common criminal. The cross had been used to signify the messiah in Hebrew manuscripts prior to the crucifixtion. Pg. 62
In 362, Julian complained to the high priest of Galatia that the pagans needed to equal the virtues of Christians for the recent growth of Christians was caused by their, “moral character, even if pretended”. Pg. 83
Pagan and Christian writers are unanimous not only that Christian Scripture stressed love and charity as the central duties of faith, but that these were sustained in everyday behavior. Pg. 86
In the Christian subculture, women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at learge. Pg. 95
Christians prohibited all forms of infanticide and abortion. Pg. 99
The earliest church councils rules that twice married Christians could not hold church office. Pg. 104
In 1 Tim 3:11, Paul again mentions women in the role of deacons, noting that to qualify for such an appointment women must be “serious, no slanderers, but temperate and faithful in all things. Pg. 109
That women served as deacons in the early church was long obscured because the translators of the KJV chose to refer to Phoebe as merely a “servant” of the church, not as a deacon, and to transform Paul’s words in 1 Timothy in a comment directed to the wives of deacons. Pg. 109
There is a virtual consensus among historians of the early church and Biblical scholars that women held positions of honor and authority within early Christianity. Pg. 109
Seneca regarded the drowning of babies at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. Tacitus charged that the Jewish teaching that it is a “Deadly sin to kill an unwanted child” was but another of their “sinister and revolting” practices. It was common to expose an unwanted infant out of doors where it could, in principle, be taken up by someone who wished to rear it, but where typically it fell victim to the elements or to animals or birds. Not only was the exposure of infants very common, it was justified by law and advocated by philosophers. Both Plato and Aristotle recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy. Pg. 118
Crowding of the early church was discussed in Chapter 7. Specifically in Corinth, but also other places.
Tenement cubicles were smoky, dark, often damp, and always dirty. The smell of urine sweat, feces, and decay permeated everything; “dust, rubbish, and filth accumulated; and finally bugs ran riot. Pg. 154
Any accurate portrait of Antioch in the NT must depict a city filled with misery, danger, fear, despair, and hatred. A city where the average family lived a swualid life in filthy and cramped quarters, where at least half the children died during birth or infancy, and where most of the children who lived lost at least one parent before reaching maturity…pg. 160
Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships to cope with many urgent urban problems.
Religious leaders have greater credibility when they receive low levels of material reward in return for their religious services. Pg. 174
Because Christianity was a mass-movement, rooted in a highly committed rank and file, it had the advantage of the best of all marketing techniques: person-to-person influence. Pg. 208
The primary means of growth was through united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the “good news”. Pg. 208.
The ultimate reason for growth: central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations. Pg. 211
….Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues—that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another. This was a new and revolutionary principle. But even more so was that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, but must extend to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Pg. 212