Let me state my thesis: “Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.”
I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history. And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity.
The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark pp. 211
This quote really stuck out to me as I have been reading through Stark’s book. And what really stuck out to me was the phrase, And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity. This idea of taking on actual flesh is crucial, and the apostle John expresses it in a very beautiful passage in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
God took on flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. And we as Christians live out the doctrines of our Christian faith in the flesh. This is the distinguishing factor between a theology that is simply intellectual and processed in the head and intellect, and one that is actually lived out and practiced. This is something that is very important to me right now because I have noticed a tendency in our college ministry at times to separate our doctrines from our actions. We know what we believe, but we sometimes fail to practice it. This is not limited to college ministry, but is prevalent in the Church as well.
One of the things that I am trying really hard to impress on my college students this year is the importance of their beliefs, their theology, their doctrines, of taking on actual flesh. That they practice what they believe, and not simply leave it to an intellectual pursuit which can be very easy to do in college. College is a lot about life in the classroom, and if we are not careful, our Christian faith in college can be left in the classroom, but not lived out in the dorms, apartments, social circles, work, etc.
My college students very much want to be people who live counterculturally. And I am proud of the way that they often live counterculturally on their campuses. But to live this way requires that we simply just don’t talk our faith. That we simply don’t argue apologetics. That we simply don’t point fingers at who is right or wrong. That we simply don’t judge others. That we simply don’t rebel against theological conservatism or liberalism. All in the hopes of being counterculture. Rather, it is about them, and it is about us actually practicing what we preach to use an old cliche. This practicing of the faith is what Stark believes was one of the most attractive elements to Christianity.
As Christianity found itself in the midst of Rome and a lot of the pagan culture, it was the way that those who called themselves Christians lived, that actually set them apart. It was the way they practiced their beliefs and doctrines that was attractive to Rome and to those in need.
There are many ways to practically live out a countercultural life as a college student during your college years. But the most vital aspect is that your doctrines and beliefs about God and Christianity are lived out in the flesh. That you as a person in the flesh live out those doctrines for those and to those around you.