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The Rise of Christianity

by Rodney Stark -- Review by Earle Fox
See also remarks by Stark on Christianity in the West

COMMENT: I purchased The Rise of Christianity second-hand at Amazon, and have placed these remarks below in the comment section on Amazon (slightly amended here).  See also, What is Freedom? and Christianity & the Rise of Freedom by Chuck Colson.

The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark is exceptional, not only for the content, but because he shows how Christians ought to be the best of scholars, not afraid of scholarship, as though it would demean God to show how God works through natural causes.  (Stark, I am told, was a non-believer at the time of writing the book, but subsequently became a Christian.) 

I am thrilled with his book.  One gets into the lives of the folks on the streets, not from any particularly
"holy "perspective, just reality.  Is not reality the basis of holiness? 

The negative comments about Stark's work posted here on Amazon I think are trivial.  His possibly being a Mormon does nothing to discredit his scholarship.  And as for the lack of soteriology, as one fellow thought, he missed the point.  Stark was not investigating salvation, he was investigating the sociological reasons for the rise of Christianity.  

Stark points out how many Christians had lost their fear of death, that they were willing to lay down their lives, loving their enemies, and, in the case of plagues, stayed in town rather than fleeing, in order to help not only Christians but pagans to survive.  Their willingness paradoxically increased their survival rate and thus their population percentage as against the pagan population. 

What Stark shows is that when you do it God's way, society flourishes (and that IS a part of salvation).  When you do it the pagan way, it collapses (and that is a part of damnation).  That was at least part of Augustine's point about the sack of Rome in The City of God, that Rome fell to the pagans because it refused to align itself with the purposes of God.  

The miracle is that following Jesus (both law and grace) turns people into those who can in fact keep the law - loving one's neighbor and one's enemy -- at any cost to oneself.    The pagan/secular world cannot do that. 

I have been watching The Teaching Company's DVD's on ancient Greece and Rome.  It is clear that the Greeks and Romans cannot imagine a Biblical worldview or a Biblical God.  They are steadfastly power oriented, and all with one accord believe that the strong should rule the weak.  Half of "democratic" Athens was slave to the other half, and women were expected to stay in their homes.  That left only about one quarter who were allowed to enjoy the democracy. 

Only in Christ can the rules of engagement change in the direction of love, tough love.  That is a logical fact (once you understand the logic of our dependent natures) which not even the occasionally extraordinary nobility among pagans can change.  Without God, we are locked into a defensive position.  And the best defense is still a good offense. 

So the secular/pagan world is locked into eternal power struggle.  But, to be fair, given their "closed circle" cosmos (see http://theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/11Phl/WrldV/00Wvw.htm), what else can they do? 

Jesus prayed (John 17) for the unity of His disciples, so that the world would know that He came from the Father.  Stark documents that unity happening (as we say, "in real time") among the Christians taking care of each other (and of the pagans).  Many pagans watched the Christians and compared them with their own pagan unsuccessful attempts at serving one another, concluding, "If that is what having Jesus in your heart does for you, I want Jesus..."  So the observed sociological facts were leading people to salvation.

It is happening right now in China, and happens whenever Christians are persecuted.  One day we will learn to be faithful even when things are going well....  That  will happen when we renounce our "comfortable" consumerist Christianity, and learn how to pass on to our children how to die well. 

Blessings to all, Earle Fox

Note:  See also The Amish and the Way of the Cross

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