On May 10, Christianity Today posted an article entitled Liberty Panel to Investigate Seminary President Caner’s statements. The title pretty much says it. Here is a statement from a Liberty University email update recorded in the article:
Liberty University Provost Dr. Ron Godwin is forming a committee to investigate a series of accusations against Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Internet allegations have questioned public statements Caner has made regarding the details of his personal life story. Godwin is forming a committee to conduct an official inquiry with a goal of issuing its conclusions by the end of June. Following inquiries from several members of the mainstream media, Liberty decided to initiate its own investigation. “Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said. “However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”
Yesterday, May 17, Religion News Blog posted an article entitled Christian leader Ergun Caner faces questions about Muslim past. This article includes the above video by James White and is itself derived from an Associated Press article by Tom Breen.
Admonition Concerning the Scandal
Finally, yesterday Tom Chantry, pastor at Christ Reformed Baptist Church, posted a helpful article entitled Why the Ergun Caner Scandal Matters: a Plea to Pastors. Here are a few excerpts from Chantry’s post, which I hope you all will read:
I am convinced that this issue is of the utmost importance, not only to Caner and to Liberty University, but to all Evangelicals. While Caner’s misstatements have become unusually public, they are hardly unique to him. Every Evangelical preacher should seriously consider how this scandal has come about ….
Much attention has been paid both to Caner’s sub-standard apology and to the comments of Dr. Towns in the Christianity Today story. I believe, though, that the real story is in the other statement above – the euphemistic characterization of “exaggeration” as “ministerially speaking.” This statement appears without citation; I do not know whether it is traceable to anyone at Liberty. It does not matter, for it is an entirely true statement. What Caner appears to have done is nothing other than what is common among preachers: he has exaggerated, embellished, and perhaps even fabricated the stories about himself which form the backbone of his sermons. That is where our attention ought to be. Liberty University has misjudged the severity of the scandal, but they have done so because it fails to appear scandalous to Christians who have become comfortable with the idea that preachers regularly tell fibs in the pulpit.
The train of thought which has led to this sad state of affairs is wholly indefensible but easily described. First, we have become convinced that listeners will be more interested in entertaining stories than they will in the truth of the gospel. Sermons are therefore more illustration than exposition. Furthermore, we have accepted the proposition that preachers must be personable and relatable if they would reach anyone. Consequently they tell an inordinate number of stories about themselves. Finally, in the pragmatic culture of American Evangelicalism we seem willing to overlook any ethically questionable practice so long as a preacher can hold the attention of the congregation. As a result, when preachers tell untruthful stories we cannot think of them as “lies,” but merely as “ministerial speech.”
This is a scandalous state of affairs, and one in which the emergence of an Ergun Caner was inevitable.
We tried to create a form of preaching that would be gripping and convicting, but instead we have created a tradition which is laughable. Our antics have done great damage to the cause of the gospel. Do we really expect that unsaved persons are going to be impressed by preaching laced with lies and half-truths? Do we have no respect at all for our neighbors?
May God show His grace to Ergun Caner, and may He guard us from the same error!
Update 12 July 2010
I apologize for the late update, but on June 25 Liberty University issued the following statement about the results of the Ergun Caner investigation:
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. However, the committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence. Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review. Dr. Caner’s current contractual term as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary expires on June, 30, 2010. Dr. Caner will no longer serve as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The university has offered, and Dr. Caner has accepted, an employment contract for the 2010-2011 academic year. Dr. Caner will remain on the faculty of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary as a professor.
As I read this I couldn’t help wondering how “factual statements” could be “self contradictory” and still be “factual” and why such contradictions that have been consistently asserted for years are then referred to as “misstatements” rather than lies. And I couldn’t help wondering why, if such things are just innocent “misstatements,” Ergun Caner has been demoted and will no longer serve as the Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary? It sure looks bad to me. It looks to me like they found that he did lie for years and are too embarrassed by it to admit it publicly. Apparently they are just hoping it will go away, but in my opinion their own apparent efforts to sweep things under the rug just makes them look as bad as Caner himself in all of this.
Update 8 December 2010
James White posted this video back in September, but I didn’t see it until today.
Update 31 May 2011