Christianity Today, Dr. Ergun Caner, and Liberty

May 4, 2010
In light of yesterday's Christianity Today article, "Bloggers Target Seminary President," I thought I would share some of my thoughts. (If you are unaware of the events, articles, YouTube videos, or blogs surrounding Dr. Ergun Caner at the moment, it may be helpful that you read the Christianity Today article prior to reading my ramblings. [Update, 5/5/10. The Associated Baptist Press has release an article titled, "Liberty U. backs seminary president amid charges of misrepresentation." It is also worth a look.])  

I am not a Southern Baptist, nor am I presently (or was I ever) a Muslim.  And although it doesn't mean much, I am a student of the Distance Learning Program at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary where Dr. Ergun Caner is President.  In addition, my apologetics course used a textbook by Dr. Caner as well as his lectures and discussions on various topics specifically recorded for the course.  But none of this makes me qualified to discuss the controversy of Dr. Caner's past with any authority.  These are just my thoughts.

It seems some accusations were brought against Caner, first by a Muslim or a Muslim group.  They claimed that Caner's background might have been puffed up, exaggerated, or even fabricated.  While I have no idea if these individuals contacted (or attempted to contact) Caner directly, it is clear that there were blogs and YouTube videos making claims against him.  Then some Christian bloggers joined the Muslims, leveling their own claims.  I am unaware if any of these Christians approached Caner before making claims publicly on the Internet.

Jesus outlined what should be done when a brother sins against us.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
This passage raises some interesting questions.  First, should a seminary be treated as the church?  How about the readership and purchasing base of Caner's books?  The YouTube community and blogosphere?  Second, when an individual is a public figure, such as Ergun Caner, who has he sinned against?  Is it against the public who have read his books which may contain incorrect information about his past?  Maybe; probably.  Close friends and brothers in his local church where he worships?  If nothing else, they could at least offer him some oversight and maybe insight.  But more significantly, there very well could be a sin against the school Dr. Caner is expected to represent.  His actions could hurt the reputation of the seminary and its students.

So then it seems that an individual at the school, likely in a position of authority, holds a responsibility to address Caner on these maters.  Based on the CT article, it looks as if this task fell to Elmer Towns.  The article also indicates that this matter was brought before others.  It reads, "The Liberty board has held an inquiry and directors are satisfied that Caner has done nothing theologically inappropriate."  Towns adds, "It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue," but doesn't clarify what kind of issue it is, if any. He then says in the article, "We give faculty a certain amount of theological leverage. The arguments of the bloggers would not stand up in court."  I personally find this statement concerning given that the secular standard of the court system is used rather than anything biblical.  (Using a secular system as the final authority is not what I have been taught at the seminary under Dr. Caner's direction.)

"Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us."  [Titus 2:7-8, ESV]

However, being that Dr. Caner is a public figure and acts as the face of the seminary, I would find it rather valuable if the committee (or Caner) provided the information that proved that Caner was not in any kind of ethical or moral wrongdoing.  If they felt Caner had done nothing wrong, I trust that it was based on more than the poor quality of the charges against him.  I understand that the Bible dictates that charges of wrongdoing be brought by two or more witnesses, but I am not sure how that measures up regarding a public figure in the world of mass book publication and the Internet.  Whatever the case, this information would certainly put my mind at ease.  It would also help demonstrate Dr. Caner's credibility as an apologists, educator, and representative of the Christian community. 

On the other hand, if the Liberty board is not adhering to high biblical standards, instead condoning a fellow believer and colleague, they are hurting a brother in Christ, the reputation of the school, and themselves.  I would find it rather problematic if my fellow students were expected to maintain a high standard of honesty and credibility as we write papers and engage in study while the President was not an example of this same standard of moral fortitude.

I'd like to conclude with one final thought.  In January, I was sitting in a coffee shop with a pastor when the apologetic work of Dr. Caner came up in conversation.  It might have been something from one of his books or maybe from a recorded discussion.  At that moment, it seemed as if a rolling cloud of thunderous anger moved over the pastor sitting across from me in the booth.  "That man is a liar!" he shouted.  I asked him how in the world he could know, and this pastor friend said he had seen a YouTube video.  I would like to caution against this type of behavior.  I don't believe my pastor friend had ever spoken with Ergun Caner, nor had he done any further research on the matter (as far as I could tell).

The best thing here is to evaluate the evidence provided by those making accusations (and I'll admit it is compelling), and we must also evaluate the evidence (or statements) provided by (or in support of) Dr. Caner.  But first we need to see the evidence of all sides.  We should also remember that the inability to provide evidence serves as evidence as well.  Only then should we make statements with such certainty.  If it turns out that these other Christians have incorrectly slandered Ergun Caner, than they should be rebuked and restored in love.  However, if they are right and Dr. Caner has lied to the extent that they claim, it is my hope that Caner takes up a repentant heart and those around him support him back to restoration.

Dr. Caner and the leadership of Liberty remain in my prayers.  I also pray that this article acts as a reminder in my own life.  If there is anything that I might have exaggerated or misrepresented in areas of my life, I pray it is made know so that I may repent and faithfully represent Christ's gospel as honestly as I am able.  If given the opportunity I would appreciate any additional conversation on this, especially with Dr. Caner.

[UPDATE, 5/10/2010: Liberty University has formed a committee to investigate Dr. Caner's statements.  Dr. Caner has stated that he welcomes this process.]

*The above photo is taken from and uses by implied permission.