There are many factors that can help explain the growth of Christianity. But as Hurtado points out in Destroyer of the gods, Christian distinctives must be taken into consideration as a piece of the puzzle. Consider a few Christian distinctives, which are often taken for granted today:
When people worship God, Christians claimed they should withdraw from worshipping the gods of their families, cities, and peoples. The exclusivist stance of Christianity was so offensive that Christians were often labeled “atheists.”
Christians emphasized that there is one transcendent God who passionately loves his people and can be related to personally. Pagans often spoke of the love of gods toward humans in terms of philia, which indicates friendship. But Christians spoke of God with the Greek term agapē, which connotes a deep love and firm commitment to the one loved.
Christianity was a “bookish” religion. Like Jews, Christians read Scripture publicly, produced voluminous numbers of texts, and committed remarkable resources to copying and disseminating them widely. In fact, in their eagerness to disseminate Scripture, Christians were at the leading edge of book technology of the second and third centuries.
Christianity uniquely linked religious beliefs with ethical living. As a result, Christians were on the leading edge of overturning popular practices in ancient Rome such as infant exposure, gladiator battles, sexual abuse of children, and sexual perversity. Christians uniquely called men to the same kind of sexual loyalty demanded of women.
Christianity was uniquely diverse. In ancient Rome, there was social stratification between men and women, slaves and free, rich and poor. But Christians began with assemblies that were diverse in gender, age, and social status. Even the least important members of Roman society, such as women and slaves, were considered equal members in the church.