Christian Origins in Sociological Perspective
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Publisher: SCM Press
Why are there four Gospels, each apparently written for a different purpose? Why did certain writers use a letter-like form for what seems to be essentially a theological treatise? Why is there no New Testament gospel consisting entirely of the sayings of Jesus, as there is, say, in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi discoveries? Why does John's Gospel speak of God's love for the world and yet distinguish the community so sharply from the world? Common to all these important questions is their connection with an understanding of the world in which Christianity arose. One of the most important developments in recent years has been the application of methods and perspectives derived from the social sciences to illuminate that world. Professor Kee's own Community of the New Age, a detailed examination of the church in which Mark's Gospel was written, was a pioneering work in this respect, as was Gerd Theissen's sociological study, The First Followers of Jesus. This new book is simpler, and more general, and is meant as an introductory report on the use of sociological approaches to New Testament theology. The opening chapter outlines the ways in which these approaches are used and describes in broad terms how earlier historians of primitive Christianity have correlated their history writing with a variety of non-historical factors. Subsequent chapters consider the different attitudes towards contemporary cultures adopted by the various groups, documented in the New Testament, varying modes of leadership, the nature of other religious movements in the Graeco-Roman world that also claimed special revelation or access to divine mysteries, and the way in which ritual and myth tended to develop. Finally, the functions of the New Testament writings themselves are reconsidered in a survey which takes into account not only their original aims but also the uses to which they were actually put. Here is a fresh approach which shows that the New Testament still has surprises in store for us.
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