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The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion [Paperback]

Rodney Stark
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (13 Dec 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062007696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062007698
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 212,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has some problems 3 Dec 2011
Stark has a natural flow to his writing that makes his work a pleasure to read. Initially I really enjoyed this book with a different although modern approach to early Christianity. Stark argues sucessfully that early Christianity and Roman/Graeco paganism co-existed for many centuries with temples even around in the tenth century in Greece. For anyone interested in the rise of Christianity from the birth of Christ should buy this with some understanding in mind. Which is that Stark's perceptions of Islam that it is a faith of intolerance. Although in part one may agree that Islam did spread into Christian territory with violence Stark plays down the co-existence between faiths in Spain for approx 700 years. After a period of time one must agree that Spain was not a Christian country occupied by Muslims, and more as a Muslim country with tolerance toward many faiths.

This book let me down by Stark trying to argue that the crusades in some way were justified, and not really about natural human elements as greed, power etc. Morover, Stark in this work teneded to be a apolegetic for Christianity, and his perception of Islam was very biased. However, saying that if one understands Starks position about Islam then this book is a descent read.
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111 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Striking New Insights Into the Rise and Growth of Christianity 27 Oct 2011
By Fr. Charles Erlandson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm a big fan of Rodney Stark because his works are both scholarly and readable, as well as being well-argued, well-researched, and positively revelatory. His new book, "The Triumph of Christianity," is similar to his earlier work, "The Rise of Christianity." However he not only extends the time of his discussion to cover all of church history but has also incorporated what he calls "new perspectives" on some old questions.

I highly recommend "The Triumph of Christianity" for the following reasons. First, Stark presents a lot of intriguing and important information that is hard to find anywhere else. Second, his work is very well-researched and based on this solid research he provides provocative insights into Christianity that are bound to deepen one's understanding. Third, Stark packs an amazing amount of information into one book. Fourth, while being academically sound his writing is also very readable.

Stark's startling insights often overturn a lot of mischievous nonsense about Christianity and common misperceptions. He does it with amazing clarity and authority, and what he says matches up with all I've observed about human behavior and what I've read about sociology. The book would be well worth its price for only a fraction of the revelations Stark communicates. I just finished the Kindle version but am thinking about also ordering a hard copy so I can properly mark it up as I like to do with an important work.

In Part 1, Stark presents a succinct and useful summary of other religions at time of Christ, as well as why Oriental religions (besides Judaism) appealed to the Roman world and paved the way for Christianity. These reasons include emotion, joy, music, the importance of congregations, a religious identity that competed with and could be more important than political or familial identity, and the fact that it offered more opportunities for women. Much of this is information you don't usually see in books on early Christian background, which usually focus on Roman politics or Jewish religion.
Chapter 2 shows the diversity of 1st century Judaism and also contains a wealth of information. I especially like the way Stark applies his model of the religious economy from previous works to the Jewish religious situation of the 1st century.

In Part 2, Chapter 3, I like the way that Stark emphasizes that Christ was a rabbi or teacher (stated many times in the Gospels) over the idea that he was a carpenter (mentioned once in a passage that may actually mean something else). "The Triumph of Christianity" is stuffed with such intriguing and helpful new ways of seeing Christianity. In this chapter, Stark also rehearses an incredibly important theme from some of his other works: the idea that "people tend to convert to a religious group when their social ties to members outweigh their ties to outsiders who might oppose the conversion."
While Stark had already convinced me in some of his earlier works, it will be astonishing news to some that Christianity appealed especially in the beginning to those of privilege (see Chapter 5). Chapter 6 is also a chapter of revelation as Stark argues persuasively that Christianity created a better (including longer and healthier) life for people, even here on earth. The idea that Christianity exalted women (and also marriage and children) more than other religions or philosophies of the ancient world (Chapter 7) may be old news to some, but it's a crucial idea that needs to be repeated. Stark's Chapter 9 on assessing Christian growth is also a re-statement of his earlier works, but it's a fascinating explanation of how and why Christianity grew so rapidly in the early centuries.

In Part 3 Stark switches gears somewhat as Christianity became established. Stark finds both good and bad in Constantine, which is generally a fair assessment. He explains that while Constantine's conversion ended persecution it also encouraged intolerance toward dissent within the church and greatly reduced the piety and dedication of the clergy. I have a slight disagreement with Stark here: a more positive and more detailed assessment of Constantine is given by Peter Leithart in "Defending Constantine." Stark presents an interesting and informative flow of Christian history as he describes the triumph of Christianity over paganism, which was not the result of Christian persecution but which was also not as complete as usually assumed. He continues with a discussion of Christianity's engagement and retreat from Islam and then re-orients the Crusades in a more positive light, as he does at greater length in "God's Battalions."

In Part 4 Stark rebukes the received wisdom that the rise of Christianity ushered in many centuries of ignorance subsequent to the fall of Rome. In fact, the so-called "Dark Ages" never existed. Lest the reader think Stark is simply slanting everything to make Christianity look nearly perfect, he's also quick to point out that medieval Christians weren't nearly as pious as we imagine they were. Perhaps most importantly, Stark correctly establishes the fact that far from impeding the rise of science, the West was the birthplace of science because of Christianity.

In Part 5 Stark argues that the new religious movements that arose in Europe prior to the fifteenth century are identified as heresies because they failed, while Luther's "heresy" is called the Reformation because it survived. While this is one area where I have to disagree with Stark, he does provide some good information for why the Reformation succeeded. Perhaps the most startling revelation in the book to me is that new research indicates that the Spanish Inquisition was much more a force of moderation than of torture and death than we've been told. I'll have to go and verify that one, but leave it to Stark to reveal it!

Finally, in Part 6 Stark revisits his research on how religions fare when there is religious pluralism, such as established in the United States. Stark's model explains, for example, why the fact that churches have to compete in a religious marketplace is actually a good thing for religion. If you want to read the definitive work on this, then read Stark and Finke's "Acts of Faith." Stark also contends with now disproved theories of secularization that naively assumed religion was on the demise. This, too, is an important truth that will be a startling reversal of the common myths we usually hear. Chapter 22 makes a fitting conclusion to Stark's meaty work because it chronicles the globalization of Christianity and explains some of the reasons why Christianity continues to grow, not the least of which is its cultural flexibility.

I strongly recommend "The Triumph of Christianity" to any serious student of Christianity, from educated laymen to Christian leaders to students and teachers. It explains a great deal about Christianity, all in one place, that you won't hear many other places.

The book is organized according to the following plan:

PART I - Christmas Eve
Chapter One - The Religious Context
Chapter Two - Many Judaisms

PART II - Christianizing the Empire
Chapter Three - Jesus and the Jesus Movement
Chapter Four - Missions to the Jews and the Gentiles
Chapter Five - Christianity and Privilege
Chapter Six - Misery and Mercy
Chapter Seven - Appeals to Women
Chapter Eight - Persecution and Commitment
Chapter Nine - Assessing Christian Growth

PART III - Consolidating Christian Europe
Chapter Ten - Constantine's Very Mixed Blessings
Chapter Eleven - The Demise of Paganism
Chapter Twelve - Islam and the Destruction of Eastern and North African Christianity
Chapter Thirteen - Europe Responds

PART IV - Medieval Currents Chapter Fourteen - The "Dark Ages" and Other Mythical Eras
Chapter Fifteen - The People's Religion
Chapter Sixteen - Faith and the Scientific "Revolution"

PART V - Christianity Divided
Chapter Seventeen - Two "Churches" and the Challenge of Heresy
Chapter Eighteen - Luther's Reformation
Chapter Nineteen - The Shocking Truth About the Spanish Inquisition

PART VI - New Worlds and Christian Growth
Chapter Twenty - Pluralism and American Piety
Chapter Twenty-One - Secularization
Chapter Twenty-Two - Globalization
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start Here 28 Nov 2011
By Will Riddle - Published on
In the past 15 years, leading sociologist, Stark, has challenged a lot of what is commonly believed about Christianity. This is nothing new since Stark became famous for his challenge of some of the core beliefs held by the academy about religion in general. His basic insight: religion works like a market. When you have religious freedom it leads to competition and innovation, which leads to more religion. When you have a monopoly few believe in it, even though everyone is "forced" to. This insight has been the guiding theme of a series of stunning works Stark has released into the genre of the history of Christianity.

Up until this point, however, if you wanted to benefit from Stark's insight you had to read about a half dozen different books: The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ...., The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery,God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. Each of these books took on one or more major misconception held not just by the academy, but also by Christians about Christian history. Now, he has tied the core insights from all of these together into one single work. So if you have read all of his other work on this subject, there is nothing important that is new. If you haven't however, there is now a single book that contains it all!

And the sum is much more significant than the core insight. If you aren't familiar with his work, you will learn from this book that pretty much everything you think about Christianity is wrong. It's not primarily a religion of the poor. It's not on the decline. The Spanish Inquisition was nothing like the movies. The Crusades were not put on by a bunch of villains. There were no dark ages. Christianity led to the rise of science. The list goes on.

The impact of all of this is quite significant. Not only can Christians confidently reject a lot of atheist mythology about their faith, but the building blocks of a new historiography are in place. Coming from the academy with no particular doctrinal allegiance, Stark looks beyond Catholic or Protestant-centric viewpoints which are embedded in everything we think we know about our past. A lot to be learned here for believers and unbelievers alike. Give one to your friends!
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stark Triumphs! 8 Dec 2011
By Jacob Sweeney - Published on
Rodney Stark is well-known for dispelling persistent rumors. Many of his books have been well-received and recognized as an example of refreshing scholarship. More importantly, his works have pulled timeless accepted truths into the light, examined them and found them wanting. Those works have covered nearly every epoch of church history. Now he has published a history of the church from its inception to the modern age. Instead of this being an exhaustive treatment, he examines major periods of the church's history, dispels rumors and demonstrates their significance for future periods.

He divides his study into six parts. Each part focuses on the broader periods of history: Early Church, expansion throughout the world, Constantine, the "Dark Ages", The Reformation and the modern age. In every age, the church has triumphed in a world which seeks to destroy it. Despite being razed in A.D. 70, Christianity would ultimately conquer Rome. Caesar was not victorious. Jerusalem conquered Rome.

Stark will argue through each age of Christianity that it has triumphed - though not always in the overt way of kings and kingdoms. It certainly has not been the oppressive majority many of the new Atheists make it out to be; or the religion of the poor or the suppressors of science. Christianity has proven to be the opposite, in fact. That is part of Stark's purpose for writing this book. It combines the scholarship of his many other excellent books into one volume that examines important parts of the church's history in order to dispel rumors and demonstrate the prejudice of the academy towards religion.

As always Stark is well-researched and highly readable. He navigates the treacherous waters of scholarship: shallow-study-in-favor-of-readability on the right and unnecessarily-technical-jargon and difficult-to-follow logic on the left. Additionally, Stark successfully demonstrates that we ought always to be examining our assumed knowledge and its assumptions.

This is a welcome and highly recommended volume. I believe that every lay-person, pastor, scholar and teacher ought to read this book. Assumed knowledge is a plague on our churches, schools and culture. Stark confronts that and provides an excellent solution!

NOTE: In accordance with the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission I would like to state that I received a complementary copy of the aforementioned text for the purposes of review. I was not required to furnish a positive review.
43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful but flawed 31 Jan 2012
By Christopher Gornold-Smith - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Insightful but flawed. Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011.

Vigorously argued, broad ranging and full of fascinating insights, this is a thought provoking and enjoyable book, but at times so carelessly written. It is a shame to see such a good read spoiled by mistakes that would not get by in a freshman's term paper. It's more serious than that. The revisions to certain historical perspectives proposed by Professor Stark are important, but when he diminishes his own credibility by flagrant historical errors, the whole purpose of his book is undermined. And that is a shame, because in other respects I think it deserves consideration and a wide readership. A few examples will show what I mean.

"Then the Assyrians arrived in 597 BCE and took thousands of Samarian Jews away to be held as captives in Babylon" (p. 36). In fact it was the Babylonians who arrived in 597 BC and took captives from Jerusalem. The Assyrians came to Samaria in 733 and 722 BC. He just has the wrong nation in the wrong place in the wrong century.

On the same page he has the Samaritan temple "at Nabulus, at the foot of Mount Gerizim." I think he means on the summit of Mount Gerizim near Nablus.

On page 71 he corrects his error about the Assyrians, but this time he mistakes the name of the nation invaded: "In 597 BCE, Israel fell to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar." The northern nation of Israel had ceased to exist in 722 BC; the Babylonians invaded the southern nation of Judah in 597 and again in 587-586 BC. It would be acceptable to refer to Judah as "Israel" in the religious sense of the covenant people of Yahweh, but that does not appear to be the plain sense here.

Stark tells us that the Romans "placed Judea under the rule of a Roman Procurator - a position eventually filled by Pontius Pilate" (p. 34). There is no problem in using the generic word "governor" of Pontius Pilate, but if we want to use his Roman title it should be "Prefect" not "Procurator". The famous inscription from Caesarea runs, "[Pon]tius Pilatus [Praef]ectus Iuda[ea]e."

We are told that both "Peter and Paul accepted intermarriage" between Christians and pagans (p. 134), notwithstanding Paul's own admonition to the contrary in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

Stark confidently asserts, "in early years nearly all Christians were urbanites" (p. 163). I think he could have responded to Pliny's insistence that "it is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult" (Book X. 96: to the Emperor Trajan, translated by Betty Radice, Penguin).

It is a bold writer who claims that today "Italy is as modern as Sweden" (p. 384). Well, parts of Italy perhaps. But that is not stated. I doubt if my Swedish relatives returning from a vacation in the rural south of Italy would feel that way.

And so it goes on, but I had better stop now.

Overall, it's a fascinating book and one I recommend, but be aware that not all "facts" are equal here. Perhaps it was written in haste to meet a deadline. It would have been worth the extra time.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another brilliant work by Stark 17 Dec 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
This is another very important and helpful volume by the world-class historian and sociologist of religion. Stark has already penned a number of volumes on related themes, but here he offers a detailed look at the spread of Christianity over the last two millennia.

This is not a standard history of Christianity, but more of a thematic approach, with each meaty chapter covering important historical, sociological and ecclesiastical topics. Those already aware of his earlier works will find some familiar territory here, but there are a number of new issues covered as well.

He demolishes a number of widely held myths along the way, and backs up his impressive array of knowledge with prodigious amounts of research. He has done his homework quite carefully, and is fully abreast of contemporary scholarship and the relevant literature.

As to the early spread of the faith, Stark notes that this was not mere "pie in the sky" stuff, but a very this-worldly religion: "Christianity often puts the pie on the table! It makes life better here and now. Not merely in psychological ways, as faith in an attractive afterlife can do, but in terms of concrete, worldly benefits."

Stark reminds us of the enormous growth of Christianity which took place as a result of all this. He estimates that in 40AD there may have been 1000 Christians in the Roman Empire, but 32 million (or 53% of the population) by 350. There may have been 700 in Rome in 100AD, but 300,000 (or 66%) by 300. That is some church growth. Of course figures today are almost the reverse for secular Europe.

But he has a chapter on secularisation in general, and Europe in particular, and reminds us that church attendance was never very high in Europe. Also, state churches of various stripes did not help matters much, resulting in "lazy churches," indifferent believers, and the tendency to hinder or harass other churches.

His specific chapters on various other themes are excellent albeit brief exposes of often fuzzy and confused thinking. For example, his look at the Spanish Inquisition is a major demolition job of the accumulated nonsense which has been written about this. Says Stark, most of what has been written about it "is either an outright lie or a wild exaggeration".

Consider the number of deaths. While reports of hundreds of thousands killed are common, this has nothing to do with reality. During the bloodiest period, there were at tops 30 people a year killed. After this, of 45,000 cases tried, just over 800 were executed. Thus over a two century period we have at most some 2,300 killed. That may be too many indeed, but it has nothing to do with the wild figures so readily thrown around.

What about the so-called Dark Ages? They "not only weren't dim, but were one of the most inventive times in Western history". Antireligious intellectuals like Gibbon and Voltaire tried to make this a dark, backward period, but the opposite was the case. Progress in areas like the arts, music, literature, education and science were quite significant.

Speaking of science, the notion that religion and science have always been at war is another myth which Stark handily dispenses of. Says Stark, "The truth is that not only did Christianity not impede the rise of science; it was essential to it, which is why science arose only in the Christian West! Moreover, there was no sudden `Scientific Revolution'; the great achievements of Copernicus, Newton, and the other stalwarts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the product of normal scientific progress stretching back for centuries."

His chapters on Islam and the Crusades are also goldmines of information and myth-busting. Consider the issue of dhimmitude, or second-class citizenship of non-Muslims. As Stark rightly notes, a "great deal of nonsense has been written about Muslim tolerance".

Many of the supposed great scientific, literary and artistic achievements of Islam were in fact due to the dhimmies - conquered Jews and Christians - living amongst them. And most subject peoples were "free to choose" conversion - with the only other alternatives being death or enslavement.

As to the Crusades, those involved "were not greedy colonists, but marched east for religious motives and at great risk and personal expense. Many knowingly went bankrupt and few of them lived to return." The Crusades were in fact a defensive response to the previous 450 years of Islamic imperialism.

Also, the crusaders made no attempt to impose Christianity on the Muslims, and the various Crusader "war crimes" have been wildly exaggerated. Sure, some massacres took place, but this in an age when such activities were commonplace. Indeed as Stark laments, why do most histories fail to mention the many horrific Muslim atrocities and massacres, such as the massacre of Antioch?

Of course even a great work such as this may have its weak spots. I found a few areas which folks may disagree with, but they do not detract from the overall strength and brilliance of this book. I was for example quite surprised that he took the usual line about Constantine, finding him to be, all in all, bad news for the church.

Stark does not even mention, let alone take into account, the very important 2010 volume Defending Constantine by Peter Leithart. Indeed, that book did as much myth busting on Constantine as the many books by Stark do on other topics. So why its complete exclusion from this discussion?

Also, Stark is not one with a very high view of Scripture. For example, he says the account of mass church growth in Acts 2 ("about three thousand souls") must be "dismissed as hyperbole". And he considers what he calls "literal inerrancy" and early earth creationism to be so much foolishness. Thus not all will be happy with everything found here.

But all up this is a terrific and much-needed volume. It continues the fine work he has been involved with now for some decades. This volume, like many of his other volumes, deserves a wide and careful reading.
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