I recently read his book Cities of God and what an enlightening and provocative little book it was.
Stark is a sociologist by trade, so his approach is quite theoretical at times. However, you can skip most of that (like I did) and find some really thought provoking conclusions.
Here are some of them:
- In the early church the gospel was spread and the church grew through social networks - not mass conversion
- The gospel was not just effective at the margins of society - some pretty influential people turned to Christ - eg Erastus, the city treasurer at Corinth (Romans 16.23)
- Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism found Christianity attractive because of the lack of rules
- The gospel often flourished in large cities where the ties to traditional religion were loose.
The above is just a snapshot of Stark's conclusions, but I think they merit some reflection.
If he's right, religious diversity is an opportunity not a threat. Religious diversity indicates a breakdown in old patterns of thinking that are sometimes resistant to the gospel.
Christianity should be preached as a liberation from the rules and strictures of religion. It's worth reminding ourselves that legalism has more than one expression. See this thoughtful post.
The gospel can touch people in the mainstream and upper strata of society as well as those on the fringes. I think this is something that those of us in the Pentecostal /Charismatic world need to learn.
Finally, networks. If Stark is correct, the recent concept of social networking is the best news for those who want to spread the gospel in a long time. That might mean that effective evangelism in the 21st century will partly entail building social networks. So parties, Starbucks, Facebook et al. could be big keys to evangelism in our time. Your leisure time can be transformed into something effective for the kingdom! Whatever next?!
See the review at Google Books here