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The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History Hardcover – May 13, 1996

3.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Theories abound regarding the growth of Christianity in its first 500 years?that it succeeded most among the urban poor, that women may or may not have had a place, that it bred zealotry. Stark (sociology, Univ. of Washington) considers the theories of many of the classic Christian historians (Harnack, Meeks, and Wilckens, to name a few), subjecting their historical speculations to the rigors of social science as a means of ascertaining both their validity and their value. Through this method, Stark finds Christianity to be a "revitalization movement," a response to social crises. Those crises affected the wealthy as well as the poor, female as well as male, Greek as well as Jew. In Christianity, "doctrine took on actual flesh," and all seekers not only found a place but flourished in the culturally strange (for its time) dynamic of the nonethnic Christian community. Stark provides compelling reading, adding depth and coherence to the often nebulous hyperbole of historical hypotheses. Highly recommended for ancient history and seminary/religion collections.?Sandra Collins, SLIS, Univ. of Pittsburgh
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"This book is an exciting and important addition to the literature on early Christianity. . . . It is a book of fascinating detail, yet its broad sociological assumptions will intrigue any person interested in church growth. It will challenge common theological assumptions. But, its creative and persuasive insights also will engage the thoughtful person. It is a very significant book."--Choice

"Stark provides compelling reading, adding depth and coherence to the often nebulous hyperbole of historical hypotheses."--Library Journal

". . . likely to generate spirited argument."--Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1St Edition edition (May 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691027498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691027494
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Secularization theorists beware! Stark provides an immensely satisfying theoretical exposition on the rise of Christianity and backs it up with historical data. This book is sure to aggravate the myriad of social scientists who study religion with only ad hoc theoretical frameworks and who use selective data to fit their "explanations." Many religious studies scholars will consider this book "dangerous" simply because it is rigorous and challenges their ad hoc explanations. (Isn't it ironic that intellectuals would consider ideas dangerous?!). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how religious organizations grow and expand. Stark's work not only explains why Christianity fared so well in its first several centuries, but helps us understand contemporary movements such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. This is historical social science at its best and a must read for anyone interested in the scientific study of religion and/or social movements. Bravo!!
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By A Customer on February 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As someone who is trained as both a theologian and a sociologist, Stark has done an excellent job in challenging assumptions (e.g., how the mission to the Jews succeeded rather than failed, how a large number of early converts actually came from the upper classes, etc.) held by many contemporary scholars of early Christianity. Hopefully, this will throw these scholars back into the historical material and have them take a second look.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book! Stark is an excellent writer and conveys his message clearly and convincingly. His pitting of Christian culture versus the pagan culture displays Christian moral values superseding the brokenness and failure of the pagan religions. One thing I take away from this book and many of Stark's books is that Christianity has revolutionized the world in moral values, politics, economics, etc. It is so refreshing to read a book that celebrates Christianity and demonstrates the many ways it has revolutionized society.
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Format: Hardcover
Why?

Because, in spite of his subtitle, he actually doesn't wander as far from his sociological academic works into speculative history-cum-apologetics in this book.

He uses sociological studies of current new religions, including growth patterns of the most successful ones like the Mormons, or the Unification Church, the show that Christianity could, with a steady growth rate, have become the majority of the Roman Empire by 350 or so.

That said, he does have a number of weak points to just being wrong in places.

First, in affirming the success of a "mission to the Jews," he makes assumptions about the historicity of the book of Acts that many critical scholars wouldn't accept.

Second, and related to that, he ignores one huge conflict between Paul's writings and Acts when referring to the Apostolic Council of Acts 15.

There, the apolostolic leaders decided Gentiles did not have to be circumcised, but that they did have to abstain from blood (i.e. meats with blood in them) and food sacrificed to idols. NOTE: These were not "optional"; changing these behaviors were to be required of Gentile converts. Yet, in I Corinthians, Paul tells his Gentile audience, in essence: "You want to eat meat that just came from a sacrifice? Go ahead." Now, he does say that if another person offers you meat that they tell you has been sacrificed to an idol, say no **for the sake of that person,** and not because there's anything wrong with it. (I have yet to read an evangelical bible scholar seriously wrestling with this conflict.)

Third, as far as the "marginality" of Hellenized Jews making them prime targets for Christianity, that's pretty weak. Jews had been Hellenizing, and gladly so, for 200 years before Jesus and Paul.
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By A Customer on September 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Excellent book. If you want to learn about the success of Christianity in a social perspective this is the book you have to read. It connects the religious teachings of Jesus and His Church with the expansion of early (and late) Christianity.
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