BA Books & Authors on the Web – July 15, 2016

Cover ArtJ. Gordon McConville’s forthcoming Being Human in God’s World recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. They called it “scholarly, accessible, and beautifully written,” and “a work of literature to be savored.”

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, by Alan Kreider, was featured at the Mennonite World Review.

Nijay Gupta, at Crux Sola, reviewed Francis Watson’s The Fourfold Gospel.

Reformed Catholicity, by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, was discussed at Exploring Church History.

Western Seminary’s Transformed blog reviewed Gospel of Glory by Richard Bauckham.

Benjamin Gladd and Matthew Harmon, authors of Making All Things New, were interviewed at Books at a Glance.

Patrick Gray’s Paul as a Problem in History and Culture was reviewed at Exploring Church History.

Craig Keener was interviewed by The Aqueduct Project about his book Miracles and the credibility of the New Testament accounts.

The Surprising Growth of Christianity – an Excerpt from The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

The following is an excerpt from Alan Kreider’s The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.


No one disputes that the early church was growing, but its growth is hard to measure. For a long time scholars assumed that Christian growth was so rapid that in the early fourth century, on the eve of the emperor Constantine’s accession, five to six million people—between 8 and 12 percent of the imperial populace—were Christian. The most confident statement of this approach was given in the 1990s by a sociologist, Rodney Stark, who calculated that for the church to reach this level, it grew across the first three centuries by 40 percent per decade.

Stark’s confidence has attracted wide assent but also withering criticism, not least from ancient historian Ramsay MacMullen, who has demanded solid, archaeological evidence and posited a much smaller Christian number by AD 310. Debates and speculations will continue as scholars study particular areas in detail. For now, we can safely assume three things:

Cover Art• Christian numbers were growing impressively in the first three centuries.

• This growth varied tremendously from place to place. In certain areas (parts of Asia Minor and North Africa) there were considerable numbers of Christians. But in other areas there were few believers. And some cities, such as Harran in Mesopotamia, were known to be virtual “Christian-free” zones.

• By the time of Constantine’s accession, the churches not only had substantial numbers of members; they extended across huge geographical distances and demanded the attention of the imperial authorities.

It is not surprising that this movement—both growing and worldwide—was buoyant and confident.

We tend to assume this growth and to forget how surprising it was. Nobody had to join the churches. People were not compelled to become members by invading armies or the imposition of laws; social convention did not induce them to do so. Indeed, Christianity grew despite the opposition of laws and social convention. These were formidable disincentives.

In addition, the possibility of death in persecution loomed over the pre-Constantinian church, although few Christians were actually executed. In many places baptismal candidates sensed that “every Christian was by definition a candidate for death.” More generally, as Kate Cooper has pointed out, Christians knew that they, as members of a “dubious group,” were vulnerable to being “turned in” by their neighbors or by others who wanted to see them deprived of privileges. In the 240s Origen commented about the “disgrace among the rest of society” that Christians experienced. Christians had to be cautious.

Nevertheless the churches grew. Why? After 312, when the emperor Constantine I aligned himself with Christianity and began to promote it, the church’s growth is not hard to explain. But before Constantine the expansion is improbable enough to require a sustained attempt to understand it. The growth was odd. According to the evidence at our disposal, the expansion of the churches was not organized, the product of a mission program; it simply happened.

Further, the growth was not carefully thought through. Early Christian leaders did not engage in debates between rival “mission strategies.” The Christians wrote a lot; according to classicist Robin Lane Fox, “most of the best Greek and Latin literature which remains [from the later second and third centuries] is Christian.” And what they wrote is surprising. The Christians wrote treatises on patience—three of them—that we will study in this book. But they did not write a single treatise on evangelism.

©2016 by Alan Kreider. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


For more information on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, click here.

New Release: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

Cover ArtHow and why did the early church grow in the first four hundred years despite disincentives, harassment, and occasional persecution? In this unique historical study, veteran scholar Alan Kreider delivers the fruit of a lifetime of study as he tells the amazing story of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Challenging traditional understandings, Kreider contends the church grew because the virtue of patience was of central importance in the life and witness of the early Christians. They wrote about patience, not evangelism, and reflected on prayer, catechesis, and worship, yet the church grew—not by specific strategies but by patient ferment.


“Alan Kreider has done it again. Here he utilizes his immense grasp of early Christian sources, texts, and scholarship to illuminate for us the virtue of Christian patience and its formative nature in articulating an approach to worship and life. Highly recommended.”—Maxwell Johnson, University of Notre Dame

“At a time when many scholars interpret the rise of Christianity in terms of power, Kreider provides a refreshing and warranted scenario of early Christian growth from the ‘inside.’ Although this approach is admittedly harder to document, the reader is invited to discover the slower and more subtle processes that have been neglected in arguments for the rapid rise of Christianity. Herein one will find a means to better balance the scholarly dialogues prevalent today.”—D. H. Williams, Baylor University

“Lively and insightful….Kreider has the rare ability to read ancient sources from a fresh perspective and to see the growing pains of ancient churches in a way that benefits from—and illuminates—modern pastoral insight. The Patient Ferment of the Early Church is a marvelous and inspiring book.”—Kate Cooper, University of Manchester

“In this remarkable book, Alan Kreider refocuses our attention on patience, the cardinal virtue of the early church’s witness, with rich attention to how this was cultivated in worship and catechesis. The allure and beauty of a patient people is something a triumphalist church forgot. I can’t imagine a more timely history for the church in our secular age.”—James K. A. Smith, Calvin College


Alan Kreider (PhD, Harvard University) is professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. For many years he lived in England, where he was director of the London Mennonite Centre and later director of the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Kreider has authored several books.

For more information on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, click here.