Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's the Big Deal About Jesus?

About seven years ago, a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Dirk Ficca gave a speech at a Presbyterian Peacemaking conference entitled, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World.

The Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions spoke at the Witherspoon Society luncheon. Photo by David P. Young. (May 24, 2003)

One line of that speech, "what's the big deal about Jesus" was lifted out of context and Dirk Ficca had fifteen minutes of fame. The conservatives objected. The Presbyterian Layman published several articles about Rev. Ficca and his speech.
Go to the Layman website and search "Ficca" at the bottom of the page for more articles than you can read in a week. In part, due to Ficca's speech, the Confessing Church Movement was born in the PCUSA, heavily promoted by The Layman.

You can read more about the story here.

You can read the text of his speech here: Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World. I think his presentation touched on a number of critical issues.

Here is the portion of the text that includes the line oft repeated by the media:

Now, if I were to ask everyone in this room, "Who in here converted to Christianity?", who here would say that at one point you weren't a Christian and then either with a bolt of lightening or over a period of time you became a Christian? Some of you would raise your hands, and then if I were to ask you the question, "After you became a Christian, after you converted to Christianity, did you not look back in your life and see that God had already been at work in your life?" A hundred percent of the time, you will say "Yes." And for the rest of you who have always considered yourselves to be a Christian and were raised in a Christian family or Christian church, at some point you realized that's who you were. "Well, I'm a Christian." And after that realization, did you not look back in your life and see that God was at work in your life? And a hundred percent of the time you will have to say, "Yes." In fact, how can one convert to Christianity or be a Christian unless God is at work in one's life? Why is this so important? What it says is that God's ability to work in our lives is not determined by being a Christian. In fact, this is what we, as Reformed Presbyterians, believe when we say, "We believe in the sovereignty of God." And everything else I am going to say to you is based on that fundamental reality.

Well, if God is at work in our lives whether we're Christian or not, what's the big deal about Jesus? I want to share with you two views or readings of Jesus -- reflecting the scriptures and Christian thought over the last two thousand years. Because I am telling you, my friends, whatever we think about the Christian faith, it is an interpretation. Nobody views the scriptures of the Christian faith without interpreting them. And there have been two basic streams in Christian thought over the last two thousand years. One I'm going to call "instrumental" and one I'm going to call "revelatory." And I'm going to argue --just from my personal opinion, and nobody has to buy it -- that the instrumental view is not helpful when dealing with people of other religions. It's problematic. But there is another way, a way with integrity that can be helpful. But let's look at the instrumental view for a moment. (Read More)

We often use phrases that are so familiar that we do not reflect upon their meaning. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is savior. Jesus is the way to salvation. Jesus is the Son of God. What really do we mean when we say them? What are we proclaiming?

Despite church politics, the issue of the relationship between the Christian faith and other faiths is a complicated one. It is one that is here to stay. I, for one, am pleased about that.


  1. John,
    At the end of what is another post on pluralism you write, “Despite church politics, the issue of the relationship between the Christian faith and other faiths is a complicated one. It is one that is here to stay. I, for one, am pleased about that.”

    I have recently been reading some sermons by a man who lived in a time, a rather recent time, when both church politics and secular politics were moving civilization toward total darkness and evil. The pastor I am reading looked at the leaders of his country and the leaders of his church and gave a sermon entitled, “Who and What is Babylon?”

    On November 24, 1935, in Finkenwalde, at the new Confessing Seminary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his sermon stated, “And though there be thousands of religions and views and opinions and philosophies in the world, and though they construct the most attractive of ideologies, and though the hearts of the people are moved and won over by them, they are all shattered by death. They must all be broken because they are not true. Only the gospel remains. And before the end comes, it will be preached to every nation, tribe, language, and people, throughout the whole world. Although it may appear that there are many ways, there is really only one true way for all people on earth: the gospel.”

    Bonhoeffer went on to comfort his students and congregation with these words: “’Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’ To die in Christ. Our prayer this day must be that grace be given us that our last hour be not a weakening, that we die as believing Christians, whether old or young, whether quickly or after long years of suffering, whether calm or torn from the lordship of Babylon, or quiet and softly, that our last word be ‘Christ.’”

  2. Thanks Viola,

    I have great admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I will have to read that sermon.

  3. John why can't you see the difference between Dick Ficca and Bonhoeffer? Between any of the pluralist you are upholding and those who are faithful to Jesus Christ holding on to him as the "one Word of God." The living Word found in God's word. Isn't it better to be faithful to Jesus Christ, as Bonhoeffer was, than to honor wolves who rip apart the sheep.

  4. Thanks Viola,

    I can see a difference between Dirk Ficca and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They are writing about different things. You don't have to hate one to love another.

  5. John,
    I am not asking you to hate anyone, but to disagree with them and to hate their doctrines if they keep others from knowing the truth of the gospel. There is a difference.
    But as far as Dirk (sorry I just saw I have been giving him the wrong name) Ficca and Bonhoeffer not writing about the same thing, I disagree with you. The whole basis of the protest made by the Confessing Church in Germany was that the German Christians who were both liberal, (They did not believe in the deity of Christ or that his atonement had any reality.) and nationalist, was that a new revelation along side of Christianity was being pushed. Supposedly the "spirit" was revealing Hitler as God's new thing. The Confessing Church and its leaders, Barth and Bonhoeffer and others, insisted that God's final revelation was in Jesus Christ. The church was to have no other Lord.
    Ficca is suggesting that there are other Lords for other people as you and those who belong to the progressive groups are insisting. Bonhoeffer would have been able to Ficca and you where that leads for the Church. When believers start looking for God's revelation outside of Jesus Christ they open the door to all kinds of evil.