Friday, December 6, 2013

The Innocent Dr. Ergun Caner’s Big Flaw

Some who read this have never heard of Dr. Ergun Caner. Those who have are likely checking their blood pressure over him or his accusers. For these people, have a seat and take a deep breath. The purpose of this article isn’t to join either his accusers or his backers. That said, I probably won’t make friends with anyone or cause anyone’s blood to boil over.

For those who haven’t heard of Dr. Caner, I’ll briefly summarize the issue for you:

In the course of his ministry as a Christian speaker and seminary educator, he has been filmed making what have been characterized by his supporters as no more than unintentional misstatements. In the course of a lengthy speaking career, it is understandable that misstatements occur. I won’t go into great detail about these misstatements for they are many, but I’ll list a few.
  • He once said that he was trained for jihad in a madrassa in Beirut.
  • He also said that he was trained in a madrassa in Istanbul.
  • He said that he had to learn English watching television. He has spoken Arabic from the pulpit.
  • He had difficulty in school after his family moved to America from Turkey in 1978 when he was about twelve years old with both learning in English and with practicing Islam.
  • He has claimed to have debated specific Arab Muslim apologists.

His accusers point out that his family actually moved to the United States in 1972 and that photos of his childhood show what look like a normal childhood. They say that there was no evidence that he went to Beirut or Istanbul to learn in a madrassa there. The Arab Muslims he claims to have debated have said that they never debated him and that what sounded like Arabic when he spoke it from the pulpit was not any kind of discernible Arabic.

The revelation of this apparently caused problems for him when he was a dean at Liberty University. The board of directors had him step down as dean, but otherwise exonerated him. He left Liberty, served as the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Arlington Baptist College for a couple of years and recently has been hired as the President of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia. Between recently being hired as President of a Christian College associated with the Georgia Southern Baptist Convention, and a lawsuit this past summer over the unapproved use of video evidence of his misstatements, his accusers have released a firestorm of online discussion attempting to call him to account which has been met with similar vitriol from his supporters. Since Dr. Caner also doesn’t hold a Reformed soteriology (soteriology refers to the doctrine of salvation one believes), many of his supporters point out that many of his accusers hold to Reformed soteriology, also known as Calvinism. So they counter accuse the accusers of being angry Calvinists.

As I stated above, I won’t join either side in this article. In fact, for the purposes of this article I will assume that he is utterly innocent of any kind of intentional deceit. Taking his innocence into consideration, I have one simple observation to make.

Allow me to pretend that I have the credentials to sit on the board of a Christian college whose task it is to find the next president of the college. I have before me a man with a pure heart. Since I am assured of his innocence, I know that he never intended to mislead anyone. I also know that he has the experience of effectively weathering harsh attacks by critics who insist on falsely accusing him. Surely that is a desirable quality in a college president. (As an aside, I wonder what kind of battles the board of the college plans on having even if they had not hired Dr. Caner.) Another benefit Dr. Caner brings is the fact that enrollment at Liberty Seminary nearly tripled under his leadership. Surely he could do the same for Brewton-Parker.

So he brings some good things to the table at Brewton-Parker College. But there is something that would trouble me as a board member. His accusers don’t trouble me. His Muslim heritage doesn’t trouble me since he is a professing Christian. His non-Reformed soteriology doesn’t trouble me although I am Reformed.

What would trouble me as an imaginary board member is that a college president needs to be able to communicate well. That includes being able to engender trust, be tactful yet perspicuous, and convey facts about the college accurately to the board of directors. If he is capable of unintentionally making the caliber of misstatements like the ones I listed above, my concern would be that I might misunderstand his communication to me and that the college might have to continually deal with similar misstatements to the public. I would consider that to be an unacceptable liability, no matter how innocently those kinds of misstatements were made. I would have to consider that that’s the same liability that the board of directors at Liberty took into consideration when they had him step down from his position of leadership there.

So my simple observation is this: If he’s completely innocent, I wouldn’t consider him fit to be a college president because his problem of making unintentional misstatements is at an unacceptable level.

I will consider that I am mistaken in this. After all, I'm not qualified to sit on the board of a college, Christian or otherwise. As a Christian, however, I am interested that truth is accurately espoused and communicated. From anyone so qualified, please feel free to make a case for a high level of unintended factual error.


Now, the discussion over his guilt or innocence has more than polluted the interwebs. It’s not that I get much in the way of comments on my blog. But for this kind of article, I will ask that any commenters who chance to come along would please limit conversation primarily to what level of factual misstatements are acceptable for people in leadership positions, and absolutely do not discuss Dr. Caner's guilt. I will delete any comments that don’t follow this rule.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One Of the Many Things Doctor Who Doesn’t Teach Us About Time.

Warning: I start with some arcane terms. Hang on, though because I will explain these terms simply enough.

Listening to a podcast by William Lane Craig recently, he made the comment that the B-theory of time didn’t support the Kalam Cosmological argument and that was one reason that he was an A-theorist. (Please feel free to listen to this podcast.) I haven’t spent much time mulling over all of the implications of the theories of time, but that comment was provocative because I at least knew that a full-blown A-theory supports a multi-verse. Interestingly, it also fuels Craig's Molinism.

So I considered the two theories of time against the ideas of time that I have developed from reading scripture and realized that the two theories were not mutually exclusive. On a whim, I posted as much to my Facebook timeline and got some virtual blank stares. So I apologize to my Facebook friends for just being me. The real me isn’t particularly socially acceptable. Therefore, herewith, I will endeavor to explain what I meant. Also, I have written on this some before and produced at that time some diagrams that might be helpful.

The A-theory of time, in simple terms is the idea that things stay the same as they go through time. When I look at a painting that my mom painted, for example, although it has changed hands a couple of times, it is still the same painting that my mom painted. This seems like common sense. It seems true to us because we can understand it intuitively. That’s why this is a prevalent idea of time.

This is the idea of time that classical apologists use to prove the existence of God. They often use some variation of what is known as the Cosmological Argument. William Lane Craig uses one called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It’s very persuasive. Cosmological arguments typically observe that everything has a cause. If you trace the cause of something backward through time you must find a cause that has no cause because you can just keep going back and never find a First Cause. And that’s what they call it: First Cause. Non-theistic scientists hold that the first cause was the Big Bang. The Big Bang happened and everything has progressed since then each causing the next thing to happen until you get to the present day.

The problem is that they have no scientific natural explanation for what caused the Big Bang. Cosmological arguments work because they demonstrate that the First Cause wasn’t natural. There had to have been an uncaused cause. That’s God. From that point on we can point out how the First Cause is necessarily personal and has endeavored to reveal himself to us. But the classical Christian apologist starts with the Cosmological argument.

The problem I find is that the Bible indicates that the B-theory is in some way in play also.

The B-theory is the idea that time is an illusion of sorts wrought by our ability to know the past, experience the present, and not know the future. But it holds that from one moment of time to another things that appear to be the same are really different. My mom’s painting is not the same one that she pained. The one she painted exists only at the time she painted it. It came into my possession because a family member gave it to me. That was a cause for the fact that it’s presently hanging on my wall. It stayed on my wall because I hung it on a nail there. That causes it to remain there from one moment to the next. But a pure B-theory holds that the cause may only be and illusion and that the painting that is there now is not the painting that was there a moment ago. The nail likewise is different. The wall, the house, the yard, and even me – nothing that is there now was there a moment ago and what was there a moment ago cannot be proven to actually have been there although we have some memory of it. If something were there in likeness to what is there now, it isn’t the same thing.

Now, I didn’t produce a diagram of that because I don’t believe in a pure B-theory. But the diagram I did produce marries the A-theory and the B-theory together as such:

The Biblical support I offered in passing in my original article still stands:

“…we know that God not only created “In the beginning” but he sustains his creation (Heb 1:3) and creates constantly (Psalm 139:13) and provides for his creation (Job 38:41).”

So non-Christian B-theorists use the B-theory to dispute Cosmological arguments. My realization was that neither the A-theory and B-theory are exclusively true. Now, I know that they are both in some way true because I have the revelation of scripture. However, it occurred to me that from a logical standpoint, only conclusions that did not necessarily follow from each theory were in conflict. Therefore, the theories are logically compatible.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Electronic social media is becoming well ingrained in our cultural identity. Some people bemoan the many ills of social media and others demonstrate how right they are to be concerned. Yet others use electronic social media to communicate important ideas or sell products. Most of us just use it to stay connected. It’s hard to stay connected with someone who is buried in their electronic device unless you use their electronic device to connect with them.

So I follow some people on Twitter. Some of the people on Twitter write messages like they are talking to someone in particular. I don’t have a clue what they are talking about. It’s like reading one side of a conversation. I can’t understand one side unless I can also read the other side. It kind of gives context. I’ve learned that this has a name. It’s called “subtweeting”.

But even then, there is information that may still be lacking. I’ve listened in on conversations that I had no idea what people were saying. When I hear them laugh and ask what the humor is, I often get the answer, “It’s an inside joke.” I freely admit to being a little socially awkward, and as a result am inclined toward non-interaction. So I have to be very intentional to speak to people and develop relationships or else live in relative obscurity. For example, when I observe someone speak to someone else in a certain way, I may try to speak to that person in the same way even if it doesn’t make sense to me to speak that way. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ve had to learn that some kinds of conversation require developing a rapport that is integral to the kind of relationship they have already developed. I mention this because it’s important to understanding the Bible.

When we talk about understanding the Bible, we normally talk about context. It’s important to understand something of the circumstances surrounding the writing of the text. This includes such things as who wrote it, who they were writing to, why they were writing it, etc. But perhaps the biggest factor that plays into analyzing differences of understanding, particularly as they relate to addressing different theological schools of thought is the relational subtext. A relationship that informs unique rapport is part of a larger set of communication factors called “subtext”. It’s like reading subtweets or picking up on inside jokes except that the Bible usually gives us clues to understand the relational subtext.

We are usually good at understanding the larger subtext of Paul’s letters. For example, we understand that Paul wrote to the churches he planted or helped to plant. Casual readers of the letters of Paul are often not as quick to pick up the subtext given in other parts of the same letters regarding why he is writing.

I’ll use Paul’s letter to the Romans as an example. We know that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans and that it has some specific information about salvation in it. It also has some other stuff about the Jews, for example, that just seems added in there.

But when you take the subtextual details into consideration, it starts to make sense. At the end of the letter, Paul explained that he hoped to use Rome as a base to launch an evangelistic effort into Spain. While that effort didn’t materialize in Paul’s lifetime, he took pains to address a conflict between Jews and Gentiles in Rome both tactfully and strongly. He needed the Church in Rome to be unified behind his goal to reach more Gentiles.

So he took many words to spell out details of salvation as the common ground between Jewish and Gentile believers. Then he explained how Jews were to be used in the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles and how brotherly love was to exist between Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul didn’t waste words on random thoughts when he had a specific goal in mind that resulted in the longest letter of his destined for the canon of scripture.

And so in this way we should study the subtext of scripture and understand how each part fits nicely into the whole.

Not every piece of scripture has all the information of the subtext evident among its passages, but where the subtext is important, it is given. Be sure to look for it.