How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling
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- Feb 2024
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The first Christians were weird. Just how weird is often lost on today's believers.
Within Roman society, the earliest Christians stood out for the oddness of their beliefs and practices. They believed unusual things, worshiped God in strange ways, and lived a unique lifestyle. They practiced a whole new way of thinking about and doing religion that would have been seen as bizarre and dangerous when compared to Roman religion and most other religions of the ancient world.
Award-winning author, blogger, speaker, and New Testament teacher Nijay Gupta traces the emerging Christian faith in its Roman context in this accessible and engaging book. Christianity would have been seen as radical in the Roman world, but some found this new religion attractive and compelling. The first Christians dared to be different, pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, transformed how people thought about religion, and started a movement that grew like wildfire.
Brought to life with numerous images, this book shows how the example of the earliest Christians can offer today's believers encouragement and hope.
Part 1: Becoming Christian
1. Roman Religion and the Pax Deorum: Keeping Peace with the Gods
2. "Believers": The First Christians and the Transformation of Religion
3. A Dangerous and Strange Religion: Christianity as a Superstition
Part 2: What the First Christians Believed
4. Believing the Unbelievable
5. Cult without Smoke and Blood: Strange Worship
6. Possessed by the Spirit of God
7. Beginning at the End of All Things: A Strange Reckoning of Time
Part 3: How the First Christians Worshiped
8. A Household of Faith: The Family Practices of the Early Christians
9. A Priest-God and a Priestly People: Church as a Liturgical Community
Part 4: How the First Christians Lived
10. Dangerous Contact: Becoming Godlike
11. To Treat All as Equal
12. The Christians Were Not Perfect
Strange Religion: Putting It All Together
"Strange Religion is an absolute joy to read! It moved not only my mind but also my heart, as I was taken on a fascinating journey into the peculiar lives and beliefs of early Christians. The book is both academically responsible and very practical. It uncovers an example of what it means for Christians to be in the world but not of the world. Nijay has an uncanny ability to examine ancient texts with precision and care and also to don a pastoral hat to help modern Christians not just study the past but learn from it. Put simply, Nijay's book makes me excited to be a Christian."
Preston Sprinkle, bestselling author and host of the Theology in the Raw podcast
"If you have ever asked yourself the question of how others in the ancient world viewed the earliest Christians, then this book is for you! The book highlights how 'weird' the earliest Christians seemed to their neighbors both in their emphasis on belief and in their worship and everyday lives. In the twenty-first century, when Christianity has been so dominant for so long, it is hard to imagine a context in which the Christian faith was viewed as out of the ordinary and in some respects dangerously weird. This book may be short, but it packs a punch and is well worth reading."
Paula Gooder, canon chancellor, St. Paul's Cathedral, London
"Strange Religion is a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the cultural context of the New Testament. I wholeheartedly endorse Strange Religion as an essential addition to your reading list. You'll love it."
Kat Armstrong, Bible teacher and author of the Storyline Project Bible study series
"Nijay Gupta attempts to explain how what is familiar to us, Christianity, appeared to be a dangerous and strange superstition in the Greco-Roman world. Whether it is religion without a temple and sacrifices, believing in belief, the ethics of equality, or even hopes for an embodied afterlife, Gupta shows just how 'weird' Christians seemed to their contemporaries in antiquity. A terrific resource for anyone wanting to enter the world of the first Christians and understand how Christians were once loathed for practicing a rogue religion."
Michael F. Bird, deputy principal, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
"Gupta matches his impeccable New Testament research with a sensitive eye toward the work of the Spirit for the twenty-first century church. This book is insightful, funny, captivating, and forceful all at once. More than anything, Strange Religion reminds the church of its mission: keep things weird."
A. J. Swoboda, associate professor of Bible and theology, Bushnell University; author of After Doubt
"Strange Religion is simply an outstanding book. Nijay paints vivid pictures of life in the ancient Roman world and identifies the beliefs and practices that made the earliest Christians stand out in contrast. It left me considering how the church today might recapture some of the weirdness and beauty that made such a mark on the ancient world. If you've ever wondered how a tiny Jewish sect, worshiping a crucified Messiah, could ever turn the Roman Empire upside down, then this book is for you."
Mike Erre, teaching pastor, Journey Church; host of the Voxology Podcast
"For those interested in the historical, social, and religious setting of the first Jesus-followers, Nijay's book provides a fascinating picture of the many ways in which Christians were radically different from the people around them. Without idealizing the church, he demonstrates how their ideas and practices would have been weird, dangerous, and compelling in their own society. These Christians embodied their faith within a loving extended family around a God who had come to earth in Jesus to bring them into an intimate, loving, Spirit-filled relationship with himself. Here, Nijay explores the implications of this alien but attractive message."
Lucy Peppiatt, principal, Westminster Theological Centre
"Strange Religion gives us a winsome and accessible introduction to two strange phenomena--the practice of religion in the Greco-Roman world and the faith and practice of the early Christians within that world. The first is probably strange to us, the second strange both to the Christians' ancient neighbors and to us. Nijay's exploration of the early Christians' fundamental convictions and foundational practices promises to help us rethink our own in a post-Christendom environment, much to the twenty-first century church's benefit. His exploration of their strangeness promises to give us permission to follow Jesus more fully where obedience might make us look strange today."
David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary
"I love this sort of history book, one that relies on direct evidence, as all real history must, but that zooms along like an indie rock song. Good history should never be boring. It is the story of how we got here. It is a mirror to what's best and worst about us. Nijay Gupta takes us to the streets of Rome, where gods and their temples stand on just about every corner and where people look to their deities not so much for pardon or ethical transformation as for riches, spells, vendettas, state protection, and victory over enemies. Onto these streets in the first century, Gupta vividly tells us, came the very strange followers of Jesus with their news of a recent crucifixion and resurrection, the renewal of all things, and, above all, a loving Father who is forming a community marked by love amid the evils and anxieties of the world. The weirdness of Christianity caused problems for believers. But over time it also won hearts and minds on an unprecedented scale. At a time when contemporary Christians seem uncomfortable appearing odd to their neighbors, Gupta's reminder of the inherent strangeness of the way of Christ is refreshing and vital."
John Dickson, Jean Kvamme Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies and Public Christianity, Wheaton College; host of the Undeceptions podcast; author of Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History
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