Friday, May 21, 2010

Dr. Ergun Caner, Liberty, and Credibility

There has been quite a lot of back and forth surrounding Dr. Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Theological Seminary. If you haven’t heard of the issue (and that wouldn’t be overly surprising), here’s the basic issue: Dr. Ergun Caner has talked publicly, on many occasions, about his youth and how he grew up as a serious or devout Muslim, including wearing Muslim garb and other such details, before his conversion to Christ as a young teenager.

Why is this a problem?

Well the problem has been catalogued by Dr. James R. White on his blog (also an important post was made by a blog contributor, Turretinfan, to this whole discussion). Dr. White’s contends (and I agree) that he can show factually that Dr. Ergun Caner has lied about his story – where he grew up, what he was like, how devout of a Muslim he was, and other things. Similarly, he has lied about who he’s debated in the Muslim community as well as other issues showing an apparent lack of proficiency in understanding the Islamic religion enough to debate it. This is also a problem because Drs. Ergun and Emir Caner have risen to some prominence since 9/11 because of their reputation as Islamic apologists and former Muslims. The primary concern of Dr. White (and myself) is that if Dr. Ergun Caner is exaggerating (at best) or blatantly lying during his public speaking (for whatever his reason may be) and ties that in with his gospel presentation, that it sullies the gospel and calls into question everything he says. Christians or other westerners who are ignorant of Islamic teaching or who are unaware of Dr. Caner’s history may be unaffected entirely by this problem. But the Muslims who are aware of their own religion and come to understand that the details of Dr. Caner’s life have been altered – for whatever reason – will understandably call all of what he says into question.

But this is not the primary point of my comments here. Again, I think there are serious issues that need to be addressed by Dr. Caner & Liberty Theological Seminary. In fact Liberty is investigating, now, Dr. Caner’s comments as they indicated in a public statement here. But it is the final comments from their chancellor that concern me:
“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.”

You don’t have to be part of the bloggosphere for long to know that there is a ton of garbage out there. And there are all sorts of unfounded attacks on persons, institutions, traditions, or whatever that deserves nothing more than to be ignored. And that is what seems to be the vibe from the chancellor’s comments. Now I’ve seen and heard the instances that Dr. White has brought up and what he’s put on his blog, and it is anything but crazy, fictional and wild-eyed ranting. Why should Liberty have waited until the secular media got their hands on this story before investigating when Christians have sought these answers for far longer? Why should it take a media event to get Christians to examine one of our own if there are actual issues that are raised with facts to support them?

Whatever the outcome of the investigation by Liberty, I fear that much damage has been done to the body of Christ. Many will blame men like Dr. White for being relentless in his demanding truth from Dr. Caner. But why should truth be so hard to mine from a Christian, much less a Christian leader, much less the president of a theological seminary.

I hope and pray that the truth comes out, and that the parties (whomever they may be) who have sinned in connection with this will be open, honest, and repentant so that the gospel may be magnified.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Woodland Hills Church Has A Different Gospel

On 4/25/10, Dr. Greg Boyd (senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church) contrasted the gospel as he understands it with the gospel that “is probably the most prevalent version in America.”1 Now even though his articulation of the gospel which focuses on the penal substitution understanding of the cross of Christ was presented with a straw-man setup, he was clearly distancing himself from it.

What straw-man did he use? Briefly: his characterization of God the Father as only angry, his comparison to being put in the garden as putting a cookie in front of a child and telling them not to eat it” 2 , that the nation of Israel was an attempt to “try to fix the problem” by “giving them a bunch of rules” but this plan failed3 , and that Christ coming and dying to appease the wrath of the Father was “plan b”. 4 Now this may be how open theists who reject penal substitution articulate the gospel, but it is not a gospel summary that not many other than the most flippant of relevant church type pastors would characterize in this way.

Dr. Boyd then went on to say, “I submit to you that while that version of the gospel I just gave you bears some resemblance to the true gospel, it’s actually a rather gross distortion.” 5 What is missing, or what is wrong, with the gospel that Dr. Boyd opposes so greatly? He begins to explain it by saying that the fall of Adam is all about changing our worldview from a covenant worldview to a contract worldview. Boyd sees the covenant worldview as one of an undifferentiated universal love and the contract worldview as a quid pro quo worldview that is concerned about rule breaking. He then summarizes the problem inherent with the theology of penal substitution in this way,

“[In the version of the gospel that I reject] we make God out to be the accuser…so we cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ because we’re seeing God as the accuser. Which means that we’re seeing the accuser as God. And who is the accuser? It’s Satan, and that’s been his plan all along – he wants to be God. So if he can get these miserable subjects to think that he is God, then he’s accomplished that.” 6

As best as I can tell from listening and re-listening to this sermon, at best Dr. Boyd just said that I (because I believe in penal substitution) worship a satanic image of God. At worst, he says that I actually worship Satan. Either way would put Dr. Boyd and me on different sides of the Galatians 1 divide.

Disagreeing with Greg Boyd is not and cannot be seen as an intramural disagreement among Christians. Greg Boyd says the gospel I believe in and proclaim is a gross distortion of the true gospel. Either Greg is a heretic or I am – there are no two ways about it.

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-10)

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Quote begain around 10:12 into his sermon
2 10:20
3 10:39
4 10:50
5 11:00
6 26:25

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson