Most 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!