Resilient Faith

How the Early Christian "Third Way" Changed the World

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In our Western, post-Christendom society, much of Christianity's cultural power, privilege, and influence has eroded. But all is not lost, says bestselling author Gerald Sittser. Although the church is concerned and sobered by this cultural shift, it is also curious and teachable.

Sittser shows how the early church offers wisdom for responding creatively to the West's increasing secularization. The early Christian movement was surprisingly influential and successful in the Roman world, and so different from its two main rivals--traditional religion and Judaism--that Rome identified it as a "third way." Early Christians immersed themselves in the empire without significant accommodation to or isolation from the culture. They confessed Jesus as Lord and formed disciples accordingly, which helped the church grow in numbers and influence.

Sittser explores how Christians today can learn from this third way and respond faithfully, creatively, and winsomely to a world that sees Christianity as largely obsolete. Each chapter introduces historical figures, ancient texts, practices, and institutions to explain and explore the third way of the Jesus movement, which, surprising everyone, changed the world.

1. Then and Now
2. Old World and New World
3. Fulfillment
4. Map
5. Authority
6. Identity and Community
7. Worship
8. Life in the World
9. Crossing to Safety
Conclusion: Now and Then


"As we witness a decline in church attendance and in church membership, and as allegiance to any religious group is on the wane, Jerry Sittser issues a persuasive call in Resilient Faith for a return to the systematic approach to discipleship developed by the early church to counter this downward trajectory. Rather than surrender to gloom and pessimism about the future of the church, Sittser fills this book with hope. Sittser uses the early church as the model, and he enthusiastically describes their ability to thrive, flourish, and expand in a hostile culture by thoroughly inculcating the tenets of the Christian faith into new believers. No need to search for novel methods to halt the deterioration of the church's influence in the world; applying the heart of the gospel message will lead to flourishing again!"

Kay Warren, bestselling author and cofounder of Saddleback Church

"Today's Christians must learn the way forward by looking back at the riches of the early church's way of life. Gerald Sittser provides us an accessible history that not only teaches us about the resilience of the early church but provides a vision for how we might be more faithful in our current moment through the recovery of its doctrines and mode of cultural engagement. This is not a dry history of dates, names, and abstract ideas but a call to a rich project of retrieval--a chance to sit at the feet of our oldest brothers and sisters and learn from them how we might live more fully in the way of Jesus."

Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, writer-in-residence at Church of the Ascension (Pittsburgh), and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

"It's hard to find a book that is both scholarly and accessible to a general reading audience. Gerald Sittser believes his vocation is to write this kind of book, and he's done so in Resilient Faith. If you're interested in a knowledgeable, insightful, and thorough introduction to the life and thought of the ancient church--and the ancient church leaders known as the church fathers (and church mothers)--this is just the book for you."

Chris Hall, president of Renovaré

"I have the privilege of knowing Jerry Sittser up close. For most of the past twenty years we have co-led reading groups for pastors. We met for lively discussion around applying the insights of ancient Christian sources to our lives and ministries. Jerry is a first-rate scholar who cares deeply about the church and its leaders. His passion is to reconnect the academy and the church. This book is a beautiful example of that synergy of scholarship and ministry application. Pastors will find it not only educational but helpful and practical as they consider how to make disciples in our post-Christendom setting. Jerry has done us a great favor, pointing us forward by helping us look back."

Joe Wittwer, lead pastor of Life Center, Spokane, Washington, and sending pastor of seventeen daughter and granddaughter churches

"A clear and accessible account of the early church coming to terms with what happened in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (what do we believe?) and the impact those events had on daily life (how do we live differently because of what we believe?). The early church lived as faithful Christ-followers in an empire hostile to their beliefs and behaviors, and as traditionally 'Christian' countries become more hostile to Christian faith, contemporary Christians would do well to go back to these early sources of faith. Sittser's book takes an enormity of information about the early church and presents it in an inviting way. You will learn doctrine, church history, and formation practices, but most of all you'll come away inspired by these first Christians and challenged to follow Jesus with the same level of devotion and sacrifice that they did."

Rev. Mary S. Hulst, college chaplain, Calvin College

"Resilient Faith is an exciting, beautifully written, and much-needed book. In a time in which our social fabric seems to be tearing, Jerry Sittser draws on the early centuries of the church to offer a powerful vision of Christian witness. Sittser's 'Third Way' offers significant promise for a robust renewal of Christian life and thought."

L. Gregory Jones, dean and Williams Distinguished Professor of Theology and Christian Ministry, Duke Divinity School

"I wish I could make this exceptional new book by Gerald S. Sittser required reading for all contemporary Christians. With questions swirling about the relevance and contributions of the Christian faith today, Sittser presents a winsome picture of the many ways that the earliest Christians contributed to the world around them through their distinctive way of life. In the face of a crisis of discipleship and formation in the contemporary church, Sittser reminds us of all that we can learn from the ways the earliest Christians were formed into 'improvisational disciples' who could seek God's kingdom every day, right where they were. Exploring the formative role of worship and the intentional process of formation that developed in the early church, Sittser helps us look back so that we can more faithfully move forward in our complex cultural moment, embodying our faith in ways that eschew both accommodation and separation. If you have appreciated the works of Alexander Schmemann, Jamie Smith, Kevin Vanhoozer, or Sam Wells, you will love this book."

Kristen Deede Johnson, dean and vice president of academic affairs, Western Theological Seminary

"In this stimulating book Gerald Sittser powerfully argues that the gospel message can reverse the continued decline and superficiality of Western Christianity. His constructive analysis demonstrates that the Christian faith is most resilient against culture when it is most deeply grounded in Jesus Christ. To counter current trends Sittser recovers the ancient practice of the catechumenate to transform stagnant believers into dynamic disciples. Anyone concerned about the contemporary health of the Western church will profit from this insightful study. This deeply researched and highly readable book is enriched by a wisely annotated collection of sources that can guide interested readers in further study. For weary and frustrated Christians, I highly recommend it!"

Tom Schwanda, associate professor emeritus of Christian formation and ministry, Wheaton College

"The mainline and evangelical church needs the refreshing hope Jerry Sittser's book Resilient Faith provides. Historical. Applicable. Mind stretching. Christ centered."

Bob Bouwer, author, church coach, and senior pastor of Faith Church (RCA), a multiplying movement of six-plus churches

The Author

  1. Gerald L. Sittser

    Gerald L. Sittser

    Gerald L. Sittser (PhD, University of Chicago) is the bestselling author of Water from a Deep Well, A Grace Disguised, and The Will of God as a Way of Life. He is professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington,...

    Continue reading about Gerald L. Sittser


"An exceptionally well written, organized, and presented study that is as thoroughly accessible to nonspecialist general readers as it is to seminary students and academia, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian 'Third Way' Changed the World is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, seminary, college, and university library collections. Impressively informative."

Midwest Book Review