Another set reading for an Early Church History course I’m doing at the moment. This one was written by a non-Christian (as far as I can tell) social scientist, and he raises points about the early church that you wouldn’t read elsewhere.
Highly readable, (though the passages where he details his statistical research are quite dry) Stark attempts to explain how Christianity went from a tiny religious movement to the dominant faith in the Roman Empire in just a few short centuries.
Unusually, though, he attempts this without considering any kind of divine action. Is it really possible – without God’s help – for a faith like Christianity to take over the known world? Stark seems to think so. Ultimately, he is in favour of the positive moral influence that Christianity wrought on the Roman people, though I found his ruling-out of the divine elements to be shaky at times: there are a lot of assumptions made to get the figures to stand up.
For its exploration of life in Ancient times, and his fresh approach, this work is worthy of time spent on it: just don’t expect it to be of any devotional benefit.