Why did Christianity grow so rapidly in the first four centuries AD? How did a tiny unknown movement of a group of people grow to be one of the dominant forces in the Roman Empire? “God’s providence” and “miracles” has been the easiest way to explain such a puzzle. Yet, stopping at such answers deprives us from the opportunity to better understand the complexity of the early Christians growth and takes from us the lessons we can gain from the experience. Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at University of Washington, analyzes this puzzle. He "introduces historians and biblical scholars to real social science, including formal rational choice theory, theories of the firm, the role of social networks and interpersonal attachments in conversion, dynamic population models, social epidemiology, and models of religious economies". The result is stimulating, provocative, and revolutionary. In “The Rise of Christianity”, Rodney Stark identifies several factors that contributed to the spread and acceptance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire from 0 to approximately 400 AD. He challenges the idea that the rate of growth of Christianity during that period can only be explained by miracles and mass conversion; instead using creative social science tools he shows how the characteristics of Christianity became appealing to many and thus leading to the spread. He notes however that his study is not an attempt to deny the probable role of the divine, but instead he believes that worldly societal factors can help explain the puzzle.
Stark begins by developing a projection on how fast Christianity grew in the first four centuries. He works backwards from an estimate of 5-7.5 million Christians in the fourth century to a starting number of 120 (derived from Acts 1:14-15), and estimates that Christianity grew about 3.42 percent a year and approximately 40 percent per decade. The rate is not something impossible to achieve and is not...
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