"The Rise of Christianity"
The article appeared on the first page of the Tempo section of the Chicago Tribune on March 27th, 1997. The headline read "How Jesus Won The West," by Tribune staff writer Paul Galloway. It consisted of a review of a theory advanced by Rodney Stark in his book "The Rise of Christianity" to be published in June of this year by the Princeton University Press.
Stark is an interesting man. He was once called "the village atheist running around with a computer" by Andrew Greely. Recently when asked if he was "religious" he answered with a laugh, "Oh no. I'm a lonely and miserable person. But I know the real thing when I see it." He also said, "It's a matter of being observant and honest. I had no choice but to be around religious people and to learn from them. I liked them, and a lot of them are awfully smart."
You see, Stark is a sociologist, and in our day, when it comes to religion, many sociologists, anthropologists and psychiatrists are either irreligious or anti-religious. They would like it to whither away. They believe it to be irrational and superstitious and that society would be vastly improved without it. They think religious people are nuts.
Stark explains in his book that Christianity did not grow in western civilization because people were whacko. Instead, it grew because it made sense. Even amidst growing hostility, it grew. Stark says slowly at first. He believes that there were only about 7500 Christians in the world by the end of the first century, but that number grew to more than 40,000 by 150 A.D; to more than 200,000 by 200 A.D, and a million by 250 A.D.
The key to its explosion, he says, was that it introduced new concepts to a world of brutality and hatred. Some of these concepts included compassion and caring for everyone. Previously, compassion had been looked upon as weakness. Mercy, being unearned, was thought of as unjust. People should get what they deserve. The good accomplished by Christians as they aided one another (and others) was noticed. Their care for the sick, dying and needy; their faithfulness to family responsibilities; and the stricter moral code they lived by all began to cause the world to take note. Even with the hardships persecution brought, to see a body of people rally to meet one another's needs much more expeditiously had its effect.
The article was interesting to read. I have always thought, and still do, that the numbers of conversions given are a little low for the first century, but many interesting points are made. The fact that women made such a large difference in the growth of Christianity (I believe the New Testament suggests the same thing; i.e. Acts 17:4) because it brought stability to society is suggested.
Stark's main point seems to be that the modernistic approach of social scientists to Christianity as they cry out against it is way off base. Western society became better to the degree that it applied the teachings of the gospel into its system. Of course, later corruption of that teaching brought failure and apostasy. It is usually to this corruption that liberals will point for evidence of the bad influence of Christianity. But that's not fair, is it? To say that the gospel is bad because of the harm done by corrupted gospels? (Galatians 1:6-9)?
One final thought: I would add something to the ingredients as to what made Christianity successful. In fact, I believe it to be the main ingredient. That would be the resurrected Christ, and the dedication-to-death of that first generation of Christians who either saw Him or spent time with those who did.
By Jon W. Quinn
The Final Page
From Expository Files 4.5; May 1997