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.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?
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)
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.