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The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire Paperback – March 29, 2016
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From the Back Cover
"A timely history for the church in our secular age"
"Alan Kreider has done it again. Here he utilizes his immense grasp of early Christian sources, texts, and scholarship to illuminate for us the virtue of Christian patience and its formative nature in articulating an approach to worship and life. Highly recommended."
--Maxwell Johnson, University of Notre Dame; author of Praying and Believing in Early Christianity
"In this lively and insightful study, Kreider draws on deep learning to offer a picture of the early Christian communities at a time when their future was anything but certain. Ancient men and women come to light as people whose improbable success in winning converts was the direct result of their own struggle to live with--and live up to--the powerful ideals of patience and humility. Kreider has the rare ability to read ancient sources from a fresh perspective. A marvelous and inspiring book."
--Kate Cooper, University of Manchester; author of Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women
"At a time when many scholars interpret the rise of Christianity in terms of power, Kreider provides a refreshing and warranted scenario of early Christian growth from the 'inside.' The reader is invited to discover the slower and more subtle processes that have been neglected in arguments for the rapid rise of Christianity. Herein one will find a means to better balance the scholarly dialogues prevalent today."
--D. H. Williams, Baylor University
"In this remarkable book, Kreider refocuses our attention on patience, the cardinal virtue of the early church's witness, with rich attention to how this was cultivated in worship and catechesis. I can't imagine a more timely history for the church in our secular age."
--James K. A. Smith, Calvin College; author of Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
"'Time is greater than space.' Pope Francis has been urging this principle on both the church and movements for peaceful social change. As he wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, 'This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results' or 'trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion.' Kreider's thoroughly researched yet marvelously readable book demonstrates that Francis is actually calling Christians back to the nonviolent patience and winsome witness of the church's first centuries."
--Gerald W. Schlabach, University of St. Thomas
About the Author
Alan Kreider (1941-2017; PhD, Harvard University) was professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. For many years he lived in England, where he was director of the London Mennonite Centre and later director of the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent's Park College, Oxford University. Kreider authored several books.
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He argues, with compelling evidence, that a central conviction by the early Christians had much to do with their sustained vitality. They centered on the teachings of Jesus, in particular the sermon on the mount. They actually believed they were to live in obedience to the upside down Way of Jesus. It was this distinctive and intriguing lifestyle - Kreider uses the term "habitus" or their habitual behavior - that the church insisted upon and that attracted others. They patiently lived in community, expecting that over time, the impact of the light of their lives would "bubble up" or ferment in the lives of their neighbors.
So, rather than emphasize evangelism, the early Christians emphasized catechesis - careful formation and teaching. Only after a lengthy period of time - up to three years! - during which the prospective member was mentored and drilled in the life of Christ, was the person allowed to be baptized and take the Lord's Supper. They had to demonstrate, prove, that they were indeed genuinely living the life of Christ. Caring for the poor, sharing their resources, returning good for evil, turning the other cheek - those things had to be demonstrably evident.
Kreider ends by contrasting this patient habitus with the changing focus after Constantine. His examination of Augustine's redefinition of faithful Christian living that provided a way for Christians to both claim allegiance to Jesus' teachings yet use force and violence was both incisive and deeply saddening.
These days, most followers of Jesus do a better job of rationalizing why they can't take the Sermon on the Mount as more than platitudes. This book further challenges me, and I hope, the church at large, to actually live like Jesus! What a novel idea.
There are just a handful of books that have deeply influenced me, books that I find myself returning to again and again. The Patient Ferment is one of those books now. I hope this book becomes widely read, and even more, widely influential. May it disturb our comfort...
People should realize that western European Christians are only one portion of Christian communities, and other Christian communities to the east are as important, if not more important, and have subsisted, even flowered, for by now millennia as a minor tool of government, and even often treated as an enemy body by a hostile government.
Certainly exciting time to be Christian in a western civilization country, whose governments by now view Christians with hostility as a minority body, certainly a challenge for Christians who once again may have to put patience at the forefront of their character.
I was very pleasant surprise with the prompt delivery, given the recipient had to then transfer it personally to me in Canada. We met all deadlines.