Christian Comprehensiveness -- By: D. Ray Heisey

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 03:0 (NA 1970)
Article: Christian Comprehensiveness
Author: D. Ray Heisey

Christian Comprehensiveness

D. Ray Heisey

The writer to the Hebrews develops one major argument throughout his epistle. His argument is this: There is a kind of tide drifting you away from Christ; therefore, be careful to keep on due course.

In his analysis of this drift, the writer suggests at least four causes, one being formalism. The community to which he was writing, located probably near Rome, had been observing the forms of religion so long that the forms were becoming ends in themselves. Another cause was familiarity with religious facts. The community had grown sluggish; they had made Jesus Christ dull. A third cause was a combination of persecution and disillusionment. A storm had snapped their moorings and they had dragged their anchors. Rome had reversed its position toward Christians and some were persecuted and some were losing heart and hope in regard to the parousia. A fourth cause was complacency. Formalism, familiarity, and disappointment all tumbled together. Spiritual stagnation was inevitable. The community had an arrested development of Christian faith. It was staying static.

I don’t think I need to spend much time suggesting the contemporaneousness of this analysis of Hebrews for our religious situation today. We hear no end of opinions about the state of Christianity and the organized church. It would appear, however, that there are four major answers people are giving. I would like to examine these responses and then show how remarkably they correspond to the correctives which the writer to the Hebrews offered.

First, there are the Christian radicals who say the church is sick and what it needs to do is to break with its theological

past and its institutional life.1 The spokesmen for this point of view are numerous. Let me cite four of the many who could be quoted. In 1963, J. A. T. Robinson’s book HONEST TO GOD2 called into question many of the basic assumptions which Christians had held for years. “The first thing we must be ready to let go,” he said, “is our image of God himself.” The death of God theology became very popular.

In 1965, Harvey Cox’s THE SECULAR CITY claimed that “we must learn… to speak of God in a secular fashion and find a non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts. It will do no good to cling to our religious versions of Christianity in the hope that one day religion will once again be back.” It is disappearing forever, he said, and that means we can now let go and immerse ourselves “in the new world of the secular city.”

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