Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How'd the Movement Even Get Started?

With Sinners about to show up in my mailbox any day now, I'll return to a question I ponder there. Given the stigma attached to their gospel -- that is, how on earth could Israel's messiah get himself crucified? -- how did this movement get off the ground? Paul calls this stigma the "scandal of the cross" (1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11), and it must have posed a major obstacle for the proclamation by all of the early missionaries.

James D. G. Dunn's massive new entry, Beginning from Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009), grapples with Christian origins between Jesus' death and 70. But so far as I can tell, Dunn never engages this fundamental problem: how did such a counter-intuitive message find adherents?

For now I have to leave this as a question, though I can see two possible hints toward an answer.

First, I wonder about the power of early Christian religious experience. Paul reminds the Thessalonians how God's "power" was manifest with the presence of the Holy Spirit upon his first visit there (1 Thess 1:4). What does that mean?

Second, I wonder about the relationships early Jesus people fostered with one another. Rodney Stark's classic The Rise of Christianity (HarperCollins, 1997) points out that new religious groups grow through previously established family and friendship networks.

I wonder about both those possibilities. But I really, really wonder what it would have been like for an early Jesus person to tell their neighbor that they followed a crucified messiah.


Sally said...

Greg says "But I really, really wonder what it would have been like for an early Jesus person to tell their neighbor that they followed a crucified messiah."

The crucified part would be hard to explain but it's the resurrected part that would (and still does) have the neighbors scratching their heads.

Leo Hartshorn said...

I wonder whether the Jewish martyr tradition shaped the message of the cross, in some ways for some Jews making it at least a bit more palatable, along with the early church's Jewish roots and other commonalities. Greeks probably interpreted the cross and resurrection within their own worlviews, much as Christians around the world do today.

I believe what Paul says about the message of the cross being a "tough sell." In a lot of ways its like telling your neighbors in the U.S. that Jesus was a "pacifist" or peacemaker.

I appreciate Stark's reference to the early church's undifferentiated service to others familial network, and inclusive nature that was attractive to so many. Some people today can accept even the wildest of beliefs if they experience compassion and a caring family atmosphere.

Scott Ferguson said...

I have heard research discussed that some people join terrorist groups out the sense of belonging, often recruited through family or community members.

Michael Zeigler said...

As to the power of God I suspect some would consider miracles as the basis for this. Certainly Paul's rebuke of the demon-possessed girl (in Ephesus? I can't remember) that kept prophecying over him probably got quite a bit of press.

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