Writing about a generation after the author of Acts, the Roman historian Tacitus introduces Christianos as a shady bunch devoted to a Judean criminal executed during the reign of Tiberius. This Christus inspired a “pernicious superstition” that broke out like a disease through the Roman empire. It was one of countless “atrocities” that had made its way from provinces to the city of Rome, like so many streams of sludge to a drain. Meanwhile Tacitus’s acquaintance, Pliny, assures us the superstition was not limited to the cities. Rather it spread like a “contagion” in the countryside too, among both young and old.
At a basic level, Hurtado aims to make Christianity weird again. Christianity’s sheer familiarity has desensitized us to its radicalness. Hurtado aims to show how the “odd” became “commonplace,” by surveying the first three centuries of the Jesus movement. In fact the very concept of a book can be traced to early Jesus followers. The “bookishness” of the movement is one of the “distinctives” Hurtado describes, which helped make a ragtag group of Jewish schismatics into a global institution. It also offered a radically new way of thinking about three things: identity, religion, and morality.
... But Christians did not fit into the category of “other.” Hence two of Hurtado’s distinctives: Jesus followers rapidly became “translocal” and “transethnic.” There could be no separation, no Christian ghetto. Christians are still dealing with the ramifications of this fact; we have obviously not smoothed the tension between retreating and engaging.
... Hurtado’s accomplishment here is to transcend this academic chestnut by keeping his focus on a final, most significant distinctive: Christians wanted to change the world. The ultimate goal of the pax deorum, by contrast, was to maintain the status quo. However disappointed moderns may be in the lack of outright rebellion in St. Paul—whose Corinthian letters Hurtado reads closely and fruitfully—we must understand how countercultural he was.
... Changing the world came at a high price. At an extreme level, that price was martyrdom, but Hurtado reminds us that becoming a Jesus follower was hard for every convert, first because its moral standard was uniform: Age, gender, and socio-economic meant nothing in the new Christian moral economy. Second, the moral standard was high, and it demanded a comprehensive reorientation in terms of faith, identity, and behavior. Hurtado shows that Christianity cost its adherents more than any other ancient association.
I think he emphasizes an important point. Contemporary Christianity has lost much of its' alienation from the culture - an alarming signpost given the state of affairs in modern 21st century culture. There is little distinction between much of the church and the culture. In contrast to the enormous cost to follow Christ in the ancient world, much of the contemporary church offers the culture "easy believism" in a misguided attempt not to offend.
I became a Christian in college in the early 70s. At that time, all my friends were unbelievers. Over the next year, I slowly lost all of them as I embraced the community of believers. To my old friends and even my unbelieving family, I had become "weird". That was the era of the "Jesus people" movement which was distinctly different from the culture of the time.
But it's not that I withdrew completely. Indeed, one of my family siblings followed me into faith many years later, and at least one of my former friends also became a Christian based in large part on my witness. Being "translocal" and "transethic" is much like balancing on a see-saw, requiring much wisdom and discernment. Above all, it requires total dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Some forty years later, I encountered one of my old unbelieving friends from college. It was great having dinner with him and reliving memories. But it also was starkly apparent just how "weird" I had become in contrast to him.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:!9, ESV)