Monday, November 14, 2016
Why does anyone become a Christian?
Many say that Christians who maintain the historic, traditional doctrines are behind the times, are too exclusive, and are “on the wrong side of history.” Two recent books that cast doubt on this view are from historian and biblical scholar Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press, 2016) and Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Marquette University Press, 2016).
The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by the cultural elites, excluded from circles of influence and business, and often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says that Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups.
Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they would also be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild, and the Empire itself each had its own gods. You could not even go to a meal in a large home or to any public event without being expected to do some ritual to honor the gods of that particular group or place. To not do so was highly insulting, at the least, to the house or the community. It was also dangerous, since it was thought that such behavior could bring the anger of the gods. In particular, it was seen as treason to not honor the gods of the empire, on whose divine authority its legitimacy was based.
Christians, however, saw all these rituals and tributes as idolatry. They were committed to worship their God exclusively. While the Jews had the same view, they were generally tolerated since they were a distinct racial group, and their peculiarity was seen as a function of their ethnicity. Christianity, however, spread through all ethnic groups, and most of them were former pagans who suddenly, after conversion, refused to honor the other gods. This created huge social problems, making it disruptive or impossible for Christians to be accepted into most public gatherings. If an individual in a family or a servant became a Christian, suddenly they refused to honor the gods of the household.
Christianity’s spread was seen as subversive to the social order, a threat to the culture’s way of life. Christians were thought to be too exclusive to be good citizens.
But in light of the enormous social costs of being a Christian in the first three centuries, why did anyone become a Christian? Why did Christianity grow so exponentially? What did Christianity offer that was so much greater than the costs? Hurtado and others have pointed out three things. Read More
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 12:57 PM