Tag: rodney stark

Rewriting the Crusades with Rodney Stark

Because the Crusades are often understood within a larger framework that says that Islam is the gentle faith and Christianity the violent one. Karen Armstrong would have us believe that Muhammad was a pacifist.

Take Major Nidal Hassan, the man responsible for the Fort Hood massacre. Had an evangelical Christian of the nutty sort gotten up in front of Army psychiatrists and talked about how much he respected people who shot abortionists, he would have been out of the Army an hour later. But everybody tiptoes around the issue of Islam.

[Clinton] said we had much to be sorry about, and we bore some of the guilt for sending those airplanes plunging into the Twin Towers. Now, Clinton isn’t a nut. He’s not an anti-American. He’s just been miseducated.

Several months after 9/11, former President Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he apologized for the Crusades. He said we had much to be sorry about, and we bore some of the guilt for sending those airplanes plunging into the Twin Towers. Now, Clinton isn’t a nut. He’s not an anti-American. He’s just been miseducated. He’s been told a whole lot of nonsense about the Crusades.

Read the rest of this intriguing interview with Rodney Stark on his new book God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

The Apologetic Power of a Missional Community

At Austin City Life we talk about the “apologetic power of a Jesus-centered missional community.” What do we mean by this? We believe that one of the greatest apologetics–arguments for the gospel–is a community that embodies the gospel in missional form, a church that invites unbelievers and skeptics into an unpretentious community of imperfect, winsome believers who are laboring to renew their communities and cities socially and spiritually in and through the gospel of Christ.

We believe that Jesus calls us to make relationships and mend the brokenness of our city as an end in itself, not merely as a way to convert someone. We are against a bait-and-switch evangelism. Rather, we are imperfectly trying to engage people and culture in a way that betters individuals, families, and cities. In Luke 4 and Isaiah 61 Jesus made a connection between the “good news” and restored cities. We are trying to live that connection out, believing that it will compel others to embrace Jesus and join us in living our this apologetic.

This is, in fact, the legacy of the early Church. Historian Rodney Stark comments on the response of the early Church to suffering and broken cities:

…religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable. The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as one’s self, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor…

Stark goes on to note that Christiainity gained converts because of this kind of faith. This is not bumper sticker Christianity–pithy slogans and empty actions. Social mission was part of the very nature of the church. It is our hope and practice that Austin City Life does not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; but that we actually made life less miserable as well as more hopeful.

Conversion, Doctrine, & Social Networks

Elsewhere I have commented on our approach to evangelism (Gospel, Social Networks, and Community).Tim Chester describes it as “Three-Strand Evangelism.” Austin City Life does not place our emphasis on doctrinal conversion, memorized gospel presentations or evidential apologetics, rather, we are cultivating communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage people. Consider Rodney Stark’s comment:

It is important to realize several important things about doctrine and conversion. After conversion has occurred is when most people get more deeply involved in the doctrines of their new group…conversion is primarily about bringing one’s religious behavior into alignment with that of one’s friends and relatives, not about encountering attractive doctrines.

How does evangelism typically play out for us? It means several things: 1) We form relationships for relationships sake; we value the friendship and perspective of those who do not believe as we do. 2) We invite people from these social networks into our community, a community centered on Jesus. We do this through BBQs, meals in the home, parties, and so on. 3) We strive to understand and apply the gospel in our lives and relationships, addressing the whole needs of our friends (celebrating a new birth, adopting foster children, counseling people through a hard time, sharing God’s forgiveness in Jesus, etc.). This approach to evangelism is the product of biblical reflection, study, practice and contextualization. This happens through our City Groups and social networks. Stark’s comments are, once again, apropos:

By now dozens of close-up studies of conversion have been conducted. All of them confirm that social networks are the basic mechanism through which conversion takes place. To convert someone, you must first become that person’s close and trusted friend.

One wonders how Stark accounts for Pentecost, a breakout awakening of people who did not even speak the same language. Well, he certainly makes room for “Damascus Road” experiences but argues that this is the exception, not the rule.

Quotes taken from Rodney Stark, Cities of God, 12-13. See also The Rise of Christianity.