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In our time, we are witnessing an extraordinary phenomenon: the virtual wiping out of the church in a place it has existed for nearly 2,000 years. The plight of Iraq's Christian community reminds us that church expansion is not a constantly upward slope.

In his 2002 book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, historian Philip Jenkins told the world where Christianity was heading. In his latest—The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died (HarperOne, 2008)—Jenkins looks at where it has come from. The Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Penn State University, Jenkins first notes that the faith is not rooted in any one culture. "The more you look at history, the more you realize Christianity is not solely a European religion," he says. "It's European, but it's also Asian and African, and it has a long history of developing in very different societies."

Second, Jenkins shows how and why churches in entire regions have died. Christianity Today's managing editor for special projects, Stan Guthrie, spoke with Jenkins.

What causes church death?

In no case that I can see does a church simply fade away through indifference. What kills a church is persecution. What kills a church is armed force, usually in the interest of another religion or an antireligious ideology, and sometimes that may mean the destruction or removal of a particular ethnic community that practices Christianity. So churches die by force. They are killed.

But what about the old saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"?

That was said by Tertullian, who came from the church in North Africa, where the church vanished. If ...

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