The story of Christianity has always featured unexpected resurrections. Eras of corruption give way to eras of reform; sinners and cynics cede the floor to a rush of idealists and saints; political and intellectual challenges emerge and then are gradually surmounted.

There is no single form of Christian civilization, in the same sense that there is no stereotypical Christian life; across two millennia, the faith has found ways to make itself at home in the Roman court and the medieval monastery, the Renaissance city and the American suburb alike.

In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton describes what he calls the "five deaths of the faith" - the moments in Western history when Christianity seemed doomed to either perish entirely or else fade to the margins of a post-Christian civilization.

It would have been natural for the faith to decline and fall with the Roman Empire, or to disappear gradually after the armies of Islam conquered its ancient heartland in the Near East and North Africa was conquered by the armies of Islam. It would have been predictable if Christianity had dissolved along with feudalism when the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, or if it had vanished with the anciens regimes of Europe amid the turmoil of the age of revolutions. And it would have been completely understandable if the faith had gradually waned away during the long nineteenth century, when it was dismissed by Marx, challenged by Darwin, denounced by Nietzsche, and explained away by Freud... read full story on ABC's Religion and Ethics website.

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