Interview with Dr. Caner, First Former Muslim to Become Seminary Dean in U.S.

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March 28, 2005|1:16 pm

Last Month, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, celebrated the appointment of Dr. Ergun Caner as the new Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS). Dr. Caner is the first former Muslim to become the dean of an evangelical seminary in the history of U.S.

On March 21, 2005, the very popular professor of Theology and Church History took some time to speak about his conversion, mission and vision for the future.

The following is the full text of the interview with the Christian Post staff:

Your conversion from Islam to Christianity is said to have taken place in 1982. Being brought up in a strong Muslim background, with your father as an Islamic scholar, how did this conversion come about?

We had come to America from Turkey to build mosques. My father was an architect and the first place we had settled in was Toledo, Ohio, where there is a very strong Islamic population. Then following that time period, we went to Columbus, where there was no Mosque. Muslims began to meet at the Ohio State University campus and from there, my father helped build the Islamic foundation.

I’m the oldest of the three sons. As the oldest, I was probably the most “trained.” My background was based heavily on Islamic studies. I read through Koran and followed through on the teachings. I did not have any Christian friends because many of us vow to take no friends among the Jews or Christians. Because of this, I had no exposure in the Christian world.

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It was one young high school boy who would not leave me alone, so to speak, who made me his project and continued to work on me over a course of 2 years that I finally became open to listening to him.

What ended up happening was that I went to church with him. This was my first time going to church and being around Christians. It was there that I heard the gospel of Christ and was saved shortly there after.

Of course in our culture, this is more than just something that changes your Sundays. I went home and told my papa that Jesus is Allah, Jesus is God. I went back to the mosque, thinking that they wanted to hear about Jesus.

Everything I was taught in the Koran about Jesus was 600 years after his death. What reached me as I was reading about Jesus is that if he claimed to be God, could he also be a prophet? Even in Islam, could he be a prophet if he claimed to be God? Of course the Koran is explicitly against the trinity. It says in Surah 19 (chapter 19 in the Koran) that Jesus is a prophet, not God, for Allah does not beget, nor is he begotten. And so there is a very strict denial of Jesus’ divinity.

So if Jesus said he was God, could he be a strict adherent to Islam? Of course the answer was “no.” and that was a hinge for me. Islam teaches that Jesus is indicted for claiming to be God – the only punishable offense by death in the religious community – but that somebody else was crucified in his place.

That’s what got to me. That and the doctrine of grace reached me. In Islam, we live by scales and we die by scales. So all of a sudden, I heard about grace and the fact that he shed his blood. In the most crass terms, I realized that if Jesus shed his blood, my blood in not necessary. If he died, then I don’t need to.


How did your father, who was an Islamic scholar, react to this?

He disowned me. Around the world, as you know, to convert to Christ is punishable by death. Muhammad said that anyone who changes his Islamic religion shall be killed.

He disowned me as an act of mercy, as an act of kindness. I understood that. I was old enough. I was in high school, getting ready to go to college. This was stark and harsh, but it was necessary.

One of your brothers is also Christian and has recently written a new book. Were you the one who had guided him to Christ?

He’s also a professor and he writes with me. He and I had written 11 books, 6 of them written together. “Unveiling Islam” has won a Gold Medallion for Christian Booksellers Association. He just wrote a book on conversions from all sects of Islam, the “Costly Call.”

Both of my brothers accepted Christ and there were many others who had great influence on them. My mother and my grandmother accepted Jesus. That was over the course of 13 years, but we all came to have faith in Christ. My father never did and died as a devout Muslim.

Do you think there is a reason why God had brought you up from a Muslim background before leading you to Him through Christ?

I guess that’s an issue of perspectives to which I couldn’t speak. I think that’s probably for the history to speak. I don’t know that to be a fact. What I do know is that after the bombing of 9/11, there was so much misinformation about Islam and about Christianity.

Even among the Christian community, there were those saying that Islam is peaceful. This is the terrorist of hijack of Islam. You cannot discount the 80% of the Muslim population who believes in Jihad just by saying that they’re terrorists.

I thank God for our administration but I believe that they’re painfully wrong on that. So we began to speak out. I think what happened was that Emir and I spent almost 20 years in education. I had never held a Bible. I needed to get educated. I didn’t know where the books in the Bible were. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know history. So we both got Ph.D.’s. That lent us a measure of respectability as professors, more than just as Muslim converts. What was added to that was not writing under pseudonyms.

Virtually every Muslim in America that you can cite who has written a book about Islam writes under pseudonym. They are great men, phenomenal authors, but they write under pseudonym. Emir and I decided that we would write under our own names because threats are going to be threats no matter what you do. I don’t think that it helps the cause in any way to hide behind the false name.

We had finished the book before the bombing and we edited it after the bombing. We simply began to speak out on things that are untrue. That was our position. We spent most of our time discounting what somebody else said.

We held debates even before we became professors. We would go to a campus at the invitation of some group and we debated against the Baha’i, Buddhists, Hindi, Shinto, and Muslims. I think having that background helped us prepare for all this.

Have you studied about different religions?

Yes, 140 of them. That’s my specific area of expertise. It is the world of apologetics, the global apologetics.

When debating with people of various religions, how do you share the views of Christianity while remaining respectful (or not offending) of their beliefs?

It is decidedly confrontational. I think we’re somewhere in the middle because presently there are two approaches to Christian witnessing. The first approach is to be obnoxious. Screaming and yelling and “all you heathens…” It is embarrassing.

The second approach, however, is equally embarrassing. It is shyness and recalcitrance. It is almost a hesitation in desire to say we’re almost the same. Of course, that’s an embarrassment to the cross of Christ. If Jesus Christ is the Lord, he’s the Lord of all. He is not one of many, but he’s the “only.”

We find ourselves using the methodology of confrontational witnessing where we don’t back up, but remain very respectful. You have to earn a hearing. But to earn a hearing, you have to have something to say. Much of what we do is cutting away that misinformation such as the belief that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I’ve never met a Muslim who said we’re worshipping the same God. I think it’s embarrassing when we find Christians saying this.

Then could you explain how God that Christians worship is different from god that Muslims worship?

Islam is a medieval Mormonism. Mormons don’t worship the same God and neither do the Muslims. What Muhammad did was the same thing that Brigham Young did 1100 years later. They took the Christian God and changed his nature. Remember, Christian God is intimate, personal, imminent, and loving. There is no such Muslim having a personal, intimate relationship with Allah.

In Islam, there are 99 names of Allah and not one of those terms is intimate. They say he’s merciful, but that simply means that he did not kill you. That is not the definition of mercy as the scripture defines mercy.

So you cannot take the verses you want to keep and discount the ones you don’t. You can’t turn salvation from grace to works. If you change the nature of God, you can’t be speaking about the same God.

Upon your appointment, you shared your vision toward the seminary for global apologetics and proposed a challenge to the students to reach a world with 140 major religions. How do you plan to carry out this task?

It’s certainly a bigger task than I’m prepared for. Traditionally, the way that every seminary has been set up when it comes to apologetics and when we come to world witnessing, is that we prepare for the cults. There are 4.8 billion adherents to the world religions. 900 million Hindi, 360 million Buddhists, 1.6 billion Muslims. There are Confucianism and Taoism. There are so much out there, but we’re unprepared. Traditional, evangelical Christianity is unprepared for the Sikh and the Taoist. We don’t know the first thing about them.

When Dr. Falwell approached me, I said I would do it under the condition that we can do something that no one has ever done before. I want us to be the first seminary to prepare the people for a global world, to prepare ministers so that they can distinguish between religions and understand them.

It’s like the difference between a foot soldier and a general. A Foot soldier understands his orders and his weapons, but a general understands the enemy. That is vastly different. It is harder. That’s why we’re instituting languages, philosophy, cultural apologetics and teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

We’re bringing back a world-minded Christianity. It has not been done in America yet. We have some wonderful schools, but this has not been attempted. As I’ve said, it’s bigger than I am. I don’t know whether it will succeed or fail, but the desire is very clear. I want to do something bigger, broader, and deeper than seminaries have ever done before. Thankfully, I have the school behind me to do this.

Dr. Caner said he spends much of his time answering e-mails averaging about 80 per week from Muslims and people from various sects around the world who ask him honest, sincere questions.

“I answer every e-mail…..I spend much of my time doing this and I enjoy it,” said Dr. Caner in his final remark.

To ask Dr. Caner any questions or for additional information on Dr. Caner, visit his official website: http://www.erguncaner.com/.

 

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