Author: Rodney Stark
Format: Paper back, 246 pages
Abstract: A history of the early church writen from a socialogical perspective.
I ran across this book during my research for the current project I’m working on, and it is quite intriquing. The author was Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington when he wrote this book toward the end of the 20th century.
Stark was especially interested in explaining the growth and development of Christianity in the first three centuries after Christ. He notes that the Roman Empire didn’t consider Christianity a political threat or it would have wiped it out very quickly in its earlier stages. He tosses around various growth rates. That was what drew me to the book in the first place–I wanted an accurate estimate of the size of the Christian population at the end of the third century.
If you are like me, you have been told that Christianity was mostly a religion appealing to the poor and the slaves. Stark makes a convincing argument that this wasn’t really the case. He feels that Christianity had a lot of friends in high places and that the cult-like status of Christianity would have appealed to part of the upper class of the Roman population.
I was also quite interested in his discussion of the animal-like behavior of the general population that led them to be interested in killing as a spectator sport. Christians were thrown to the lions or slaughtered by gladiators to the cheers of a blood-drunk crowd. He also notes that had all of those Christians recanted and been cleared, the spectacle would have continued. The authorities would simply have found other people to be slaughtered. This was part of the essence of being Roman. But he goes on to note how the pressure of Christianity forced this to change gradually.
In our world today, Christianity is often degraded. I enjoyed reading a positive book by a scholar who gives good reasons for not feeling that way about my faith.
This book is well worth reading, if you enjoy reading an accademic level treatise.