As of June 30, Ergun Caner is no longer President and Dean at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. Why? According to the statement released by Liberty, Ergun Caner “made factual statements that are self-contradictory.”
Caner, however, will remain as a professor of theology with Liberty. The controversy erupted when both Muslims and Evangelicals found inconsistencies, or lies, according to some, in Caner’s testimony shared in pulpits around America.
The Washington Post wrote:
“As he told it to church audiences across the country, Caner was entrenched in Muslim extremism when he moved to the United States from Turkey as a teenager and found Jesus. He wrote books and, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, developed a reputation for his impassioned speeches on Muslim radicalism to largely evangelical audiences.”
But Mohammad Klan, college student and blogger in London, found Caner’s parents’ divorce records showing the family moved to Ohio in 1970, when Caner was 3 or 4, contradicting his account of teenage years in Muslim extremism in Turkey.
This embellishment has provided fodder for skeptics like convert from Christianity Daniel Florien:
Leave it to Liberty University to come up with a statement like this regarding Liberty’s seminary president Ergun Caner:
After a thorough and exhaustive review of Dr. Ergun Caner’s public statements, a committee consisting of four members of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees has concluded that Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory.
How can factual statements be self-contradictory? Doesn’t that mean at least one of them are not factual? Maybe they’re leaving things open for parallel universes.
Caner also claimed to have debated leading Muslim apologists such as Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre. James White, who has debated Shabir Ally, refutes this claim by Caner.
There are other notable conservatives, however, who have come to Caner’s defense, such as, Norman Geisler. Here is one answer Geisler gives in his July 6 explanation of Caner’s statements:
1. Ergun Caner claimed to have been born in Istanbul when he was actually born in Sweden.
Response: All of Caner’s books (see Unveiling Islam, 17) and nearly all of his interviews and sermons state that he was born in Sweden. Since both Ergun and his father were Turkish citizens, he strongly identified with that ancestry. Thus, an occasional misspoken word about his birthplace is understandable. Nonetheless, Ergun publically apologized for this and other mistakes on February 25, 2010.
Geisler gives seven answers to the alleged lies. Geisler does not address Caner’s claim to have debated leading Muslim apologists such as Shabir Ally.
Jeff Straub provides another example of pulpit embellishments:
About twenty-five years ago, I heard a well-known Indiana pastor claim to have preached 44,000 sermons in his lifetime—44 years of ministry! Apparently he had been claiming for years that he preached 1000 times annually. Now there was a heroic feat! Yet not one of his “friends” challenged him, at least not publicly. Do the math. To preach 1,000 times in a year, you need to preach 2.73 times per day, every day of the year. And do it again next year, and the year after that. Once I started thinking about the math, I thought I must have misunderstood him . . . until others told me they had heard him make similar statements. Then I read that the great evangelist George Whitefield was estimated to have preached between 19,000 and 22,000 times in his lifetime . . . half the number of this pastor. Whitefield was an itinerant, and there are accounts where he preached seven times in one day. What pastor in a settled pulpit preaches 1000 times in any year?
I don’t think the Indiana pastor set out to lie to the crowd . . . at least I hope not, any more than Ergun Caner set out to bamboozle his audiences with his Islamic exploits. They just got carried away. But these men still lied. And by doing so, they lost the one thing without which no preacher can really represent a holy God—personal integrity.
Why do we preachers think we must become the hero of our stories?
Do we think we are helping God out? Do we doubt the power of God’s Word or the Gospel which alone is the power of God unto salvation to every person who believes? Are we trying to exalt our name above God’s by playing to the grandstand?
All of us preachers should strive to say what Paul was able to said to the Thessalonians:
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6).
Does this mean we preachers can never use personal illustrations in our sermons?
For more on Illustrations see Seven Steps to Preparing a Sermon, Step 5 (Develop the Sermon Outline) Part 2 “Illustration.”
Certainly personal anecdotes are legitimate material for sermons as long as they do not dominate. Illustrative material should come from what we read, what we experience (personal illustrations) and what we imagine (hypothetical examples).
Paul models how to use yourself in a sermon to shed light on what you are preaching. In Acts 14:27, at the end of his first missionary journey, Paul gave his God honoring report. Luke records the church’s first missionary furlough at the sending church in Antioch of Syria: “When they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.” When our personal illustrations are God centered and not self-centered or self-serving then there is no way our factual statements will ever be self-contradictory.