Book Review: The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark

January 24, 2011

In the Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark, the explores the sociology of conversion and applies it to the history of Christianity in an effort to understand how this movement that started with a carpenter in a remote province of the Roman Empire came to dominate the world as the largest religion. Stark is no evangelical and has at times stated that he does not have a faith. But despite his lack of faith his book could almost be described as an apologetic for the Christian faith.

Stark explores sociological factors that contributed to the growth. For example, the birth rate among Christians was significantly higher than the pagan birth rate because Christians rejected abortion and infanticide, embraced women as a gift from God, eschewed prostitution and homosexuality, and created environments that encouraged families to stay together.

Another example is that Christians faired much better during the horrendous plagues that swept through the Empire in the second and third centuries because they cared for their sick and nursed them back to health while the pagans tended to abandon the sick at the first sign of infection. This led to more Christian survivors as well as an increased affection for Christians on the behalf of pagans who were on the receiving end of this Christian charity.

There are many other interesting examples. Almost everything in this book is positive towards Christianity. It is worth noting that Stark doesn’t accept the Bible as infallible in his studies so some of his details (in particular his estimates of the Christian population in the first century) do not match with Scripture. But these are not central to any of his points and I was able to ignore these errors as I read.

I highly recommend this book. It encouraged me in my faith and painted a wonderful portrait of Christian history.

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