Just finished Rodney Stark’s latest book, The Triumph of Christianity. Marvin Olasky of World Magazine rated it his top book of the year, so I purchased a copy. Stark is an historical iconoclast. He shatters historical idols, and he does it effectively. Here is a sampling.
There is biblical evidence that Jesus might have grown up in wealthy family. The majority of the Jews in the Mediterranean world were eventually converted. Constantine meant well, but caused great damage to the church. The Crusades were not the unmitigated evil that historians make them out to be. The Reformation succeeded in areas where Roman Catholic control was the strongest and failed where it was weakest. Europe has never really been a Christian Continent. Europe, not the Middle East, became the focal of Christianity because of Islam, not in spite of it. State religions have done much to retard the growth and success of the gospel. The “Dark Ages” never existed. They were a fabrication of 18th century Enlightenment philosophes. The Spanish Inquisition was a consistent force for justice, restraint, due process, and enlightenment” (pg. 337). The scientific revolution grew because of Christianity not despite it. The Romans government persecuted the early Christians not because of their doctrinal position, but because they met in congregations and worshipped corporately, which few of the other Roman religions did.
His descriptions of city life in the first century are worth the price of the book alone. “The tenement cubicles were smoky, dark, often damp, and always dirty. The smell of sweat, urine, feces, and decay permeated everything. Outside: mud, open sewers, manure, and crowds. In fact, human corpses—adult as well as newborns—were sometimes just pushed into an open sewer” (Pg. 109).
I Probably don’t need to say more. Hopefully, these comments will whet your appetite for this book.
I have two reservations. The first is his overly sociological approach to the history of religion. Stark claims to be a believer. He teaches at Baylor University. Yet, he describes conversions from a strictly secular, sociological perspective. He gives little credit to the Holy Spirit working supernaturally in the heart of individuals.
A second, and greater objection, is his lack of conviction about biblical authority. In his discussion of the rise of modern science, he says that there is no conflict between science and Christianity primarily because of the principle of “Divine Accommodation.” Stark describes it as the idea “that God’s revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend—that in order to communicate with humans God is forced to accommodate their incomprehension by resorting to the equivalent of “baby talk” (Pg. 292-93). Then he suggests that the Genesis account of creation didn’t really happen that way. It was just God’s baby-talk to generations that could understand nothing more.
If you can look past these limitations, this is an excellent book, one to provoke careful rethinking of many old stereotypes.