During the three centuries before the conversion of the emperor Constantine, the Christian church grew in the Roman Empire. It grew despite disincentives, harassment, and occasional persecution. What enabled Christianity to be so successful that, by the fifth century, it was the established religion of the empire?
In this unique historical study, Alan Kreider delivers the fruit of a lifetime of study as he tells the amazing story of the spread of Christianity over its first four hundred years. Challenging traditional understandings, Kreider contends the early church grew because patience was of central importance in the life and witness of the early Christians. Patience was the virtue about which the patristic writers wrote most--Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine all wrote treatises on it. Patience entailed trusting God, who was inexorably at work; obeying Jesus, who embodied patience and called his followers to live in unusual, patient ways; and responding to people who were attracted to their life and message in such a way that they would be formed to become patient believers. Instead of writing about evangelistic method, the early Christians reflected on prayer, catechesis, and worship, all of which formed believers to have patient reflexes and to participate in a church that grew not by plan but by ferment. The Patient Ferment of the Early Church will benefit professors, students, and scholars of ancient Christianity, mission, liturgy, and Christian formation as well as pastors and church leaders.
How 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 (1941-2017; PhD, Harvard University) was professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. 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 authored several books.
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.
professor of liturgical studies, 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,
professor of religion in patristics and historical theology, Baylor University
'Time is greater than space.' Pope Francis has been urging this principle on both the church and movements for peaceful social change. As he wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, 'This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results' or 'trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion.' Alan Kreider's thoroughly researched yet marvelously readable new book demonstrates that Francis is actually calling Christians back to the nonviolent patience and winsome witness of the church's first centuries.
-Gerald W. Schlabach,
Theology Department, University of St. Thomas
In this lively and insightful study, Alan Kreider draws on deep learning to offer a picture of the early Christian communities at a time when their future was anything but certain. Ancient men and women come to light in this study as people whose improbable success in winning converts was the direct result of their own struggle to live with--and live up to--the powerful ideals of patience and humility. 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.
professor of ancient history, 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,