Free lance writer and editor. Author of a dozen books, husband of one wife, father of six, grandpa of ten.

The Rise of Christianity

Book Review

Author: Rodney Stark

Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco

Printed: 1997

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.

One final note: I got this book through an interlibrary loan but there was only one library in Alberta that seemed to have it. But it is available at Amazon and on special at Christian Book Distributors during this Black Friday season.

Last Words

Jesus said…

I have finished the work
God gave me.

Paul said…

I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.


I wonder what last words people will remember me by…

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mat 12:37)


A Man…

An excerpt from the book I’m working on now…

Despite Mark’s lighthearted reaction, finding him at the market in the middle of the afternoon told Maria that something unusual was in the air. The sober look on his face as they walked down the street together was further proof. She remembered suddenly about his planned meeting with Eusebius and wondered what had happened. Evidently something unusual had taken place.

She glanced at him while they walked and noticed that he was deep in thought. She wouldn’t disturb him, she decided. He’d tell her when he was ready. She stepped a little closer to him, drawing strength from his presence.

It’s amazing how God brought us together, she thought. I never expected to get remarried after James died. I suppose Mark felt the same way when he lost Lydia. Yet here we are together. Happy.

She looked at him again, noting the wrinkles in his forehead and the bit of grey sprinkled through his hair. His face could have been cut from marble—it was rugged and showed the hard times he’d been through. Yet it was also the face of a man. A man who had faced life and overcome it. A man who didn’t need accolades and flattery to make him feel needed and useful. A man who had looked at the answers to life, evaluated them, and thrown out the artificial ones.

A man who had made peace with his God and with himself.

Who Are YOU to Reply Against God

A Brief Exposition of Romans 9

Romans 9 is a difficult passage—perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. In this chapter, Paul uses three illustrations to explain the sovereignty of God over judgment and mercy.

  1. In Rom 9:10 – 14 Paul referred to Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, before either of them had done good or evil, God had already decided that Jacob (the younger) would receive his mercy, rather than his older brother.
  2. In verses 15 – 18 Paul goes on to the account of Pharaoh, inferring that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that His Name would be glorified.
  3. Finally, in verses 19 – 23 Paul uses clay pottery to illustrate the foolishness of a created being trying to tell its creator what it wants to be, or how it wants to be used.  

We should note the context of this chapter. Paul is giving these illustrations to show the Jews that God had the right to decide to bring the Gentiles into His kingdom on an equal basis to the Jews. I don’t believe that he is saying that God decides our destiny in advance, and we have no choice in the matter. In the first two illustrations, God is basing his decisions on the choices He knew Pharaoh and Esau would make.

The third illustration clarifies that God has the right, as God, to call both Jews and Gentiles into His kingdom. He does not make this decision based on race or bloodline. Instead, He insists that God has the right, because He is God, to save some people and not save others, no matter who they are. [1]

This chapter clarifies that God has reserved the right to make decisions concerning mercy and judgment. He says clearly that this is His prerogative, not ours. It is hard for humans to accept that we are subject to an overarching authority in these matters, but that is the point of this chapter.

Throughout church history, people have understood the Bible in various ways. Some, like Origen, believed that hell would be empty someday. Some believed that the second death was an obliteration and that eternal torment was reserved for the devil and his angels. Many evangelicals believe in eternal torment for all sinners.

According to this chapter, I think it fair to say that God has decided this question, and we should simply submit to God’s decision. That statement is furiously disputed by some people, but I don’t see how we say anything else about it.

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” (Rom 9:20 NKJV)


[1] This should not be understood to mean that we are predestinated to heaven or hell before we are born, and we have no choice in the matter. We must always take difficult scriptures and interpret them considering clear scripture. The NT is clear that any person can come to Christ and be saved.