There's lots of talk about "Christian formation" and "faith development" these days, provoked by a great transformation in the ecology of faith: churches can no longer count on a thick network of Christian institutions to shape people in the faith.
It seems that every few weeks we read another report touting the health benefits of being religious. Scientists have discovered, for example, that people who study the Bible, pray and go to church are less likely to have high blood pressure. Another study has found that smokers who go to church live longer than smokers who don't.
The purported last year of the old millennium started with a vivid reminder that eschatological hopes and fears will be flourishing in the months of 1999. In Jerusalem on January 3, Israeli police arrested a group of U.S. Christians who were planning either to kill themselves or to have themselves killed in an effort to hasten the Second Coming of Christ.
Democratic decision-making is second nature for most American Protestants. Is there a dispute in the church? Let's debate the issue, and then put it to a vote. One problem with this approach, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations have discovered, is that it can lead to almost yearly votes on a controverted issue such as homosexuality.