Previous to my leaving for ministry in London, England, I was contacted by a Muslim who has invested a good deal of time documenting problems with the claims of Dr. Ergun Mehmet Caner, President of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I had initially heard from this young man when I had put out a general call for information on how I might obtain Ergun Caner’s many debates, which he has been claiming to have done for many years now. One newspaper source claimed sixty-one debates with Muslims alone, so I really wanted to get hold of some of these encounters. This was when I first learned of questions regarding a much wider range of Ergun Caner’s claims. Surely, our encounters in 2005 and 2006 had made me realize that Dr. Caner was not only radically opposed to historic Reformed theology, but was willing to engage in a level of behavior in public that still causes me no end of amazement. But after the 2006 debacle, I had given him little thought. However, his claims to be engaged in the very activity I am, in fact, engaged in, brought us into contact once again.
The Muslim with whom I had corresponded briefly informed me that he had clips of Ergun Caner claiming to have debated Shabir Ally. This I found amazing, so I asked him to provide them. When I landed in Philadelphia on my way to London I received an e-mail giving me the YouTube link providing the information. As I was using my phone as a tethered modem and time was short at the gate, I could not listen then, but did so once I arrived at my hotel in London. Here is the clip:
Unless these audios have been materially altered, it is very plain that at least twice (and I truly doubt anyone has the time to listen to every interview, every program Ergun Caner has done over the past six, seven years or so), Dr. Caner claimed to have debated Shabir Ally. Once, he gave a specific location, Nebraska, of all places. He gave specific arguments made by Shabir Ally, again, twice. In the first clip, he gave two other names. The first is Nadir Ahmed, a wild-eyed Islamic apologist who has been rejected by even the large majority of Muslims. I know Nadir Ahmed (here’s proof). Dr. Caner had a single e-mail exchange with him on Islam and peace, which he has posted on his website. Nadir never raised the issue Caner attributes to him in their “debate” in what is posted on his website. But far more troubling was the presence of the name Abdul Saleeb. Dr. Caner claimed to have debated Abdul Saleeb, just as he claimed to debate Shabir Ally. Who is Abdul Saleeb? Well, first, what does the name mean? Abdul Saleeb means “servant of the cross” or “servant of the crucified one.” That’s not exactly a common Islamic name. It is a pseudonym, of course, adopted by the former Muslim co-author of a book with Norman Geisler on Islam. In other words, Abdul Saleeb is a Christian. Yet, Dr. Caner claimed not only to have debated him, but, at the “end” of their debate, Abdul Saleeb, the servant of the cross, argued, “So what if Jesus died?”
So, the first thing I did was contact Shabir Ally directly. I have debated Shabir four times, and contacted him about other debate opportunities many other times. Normally, Shabir is not quick to respond to e-mails, but this time he got back to me within about twenty minutes. He indicated that he had never debated Ergun Caner, and, as far as he could recall, had never met the man. Once I had this confirmation from Shabir, I wrote to Ergun Caner directly. I summarized the information, provided him with the link to the above posted video, and asked him to explain himself. He replied fairly quickly, immediately admitting that he had “misspoken” in regards to Shabir Ally.
As soon as I saw the “I misspoke” claim, I provided Ergun with a list of questions that would have to be answered before I, or any other serious minded person, could consider this claim. There is no question that all public speakers make errors. Confusion, lack of attention, simple memory errors, are part and parcel of our fallen human nature. I have made such errors myself. However, as I explained to Ergun, there are some problems with his claim.
First, it would be easy for me to confuse, say, Shabir Ally and Zulfiqar Ali Shah, or Abdullah Kunde with Abdullah al Andalusi. I have debated all of these men in various contexts, and while speaking fast (and there are times I speak fast!) I might confuse one name with the other. However, that’s because I have actually debated these men in public. Ergun Caner has never even met Shabir Ally, let alone debated him. And he placed this debate once in a physical location (Nebraska). So, I asked him a simple question: who did you debate in Nebraska that you confused with Shabir Ally. That’s a simple question that should be easily answerable if this is merely a matter of having “misspoken.”
Secondly, in the evangelism conference portion of the clip Ergun mentioned two other names. One of them I know he has not debated formally (Nadir Ahmed) and the other isn’t even a Muslim. So, was mentioning Abdul Saleeb just another “misstatement” as well? Given that the Shabir Ally “misspeaking” took place at least twice, and given that in another instance he confused Shabir Ally with Ahmed Deedat, there is another possibility that must be considered.
I believe Ergun Caner has a very bad habit of “padding the truth” as he speaks. He gets into the moment and, to add weight, or gravitas, to his presentation, makes claims that are simply untrue. I imagine he justifies this in his mind by thinking that the end justifies the means: he’s saying something true, so why not make sure people really remember it? So, he makes up debates, puts the arguments in the mouths of his fantasy opponents, and presses the point home this way. Evidently, he has concluded that using Arabic sounding names works well, so, he has a short list, including Shabir Ally and Nadir Ahmed. Sadly, he threw Abdul Saleeb in there for good measure, perhaps not realizing, as most English speakers would not, what the name Abdul Saleeb means. I truly believe this is the only explanation for Ergun’s errors, and as I will note below, this is another glowing example of “theology matters.”
I sent these questions to Ergun Caner. I wrote again a few days later, and he said he was traveling and wanted to wait until he returned as writing long e-mails on an iPhone is difficult. I waited until I saw on his Twitter feed that he was, indeed, in Lynchburg (yes, he has blocked me from his Twitter feed, but that doesn’t mean you cannot still follow someone by other means) and wrote again. He said he would be responding. After the Tim Rogers and Peter Lumpkins posts, I wrote one last time, pointing out that these issues were becoming more and more public, and summarizing my questions for him once more. Here are the questions I provided to Ergun Caner immediately prior to the posting of his public statement:
Given Timothy Roger’s blog publication a few days ago, the issue of the integrity of your claims has become very much an open and public discussion (or, on the part of many, a mere food fight). The specifics of Shabir Ally’s testimony that he has never debated you, and has no recollection of ever having met you, will eventually become a part of the factual information. Others are already pointing out that Abdul Saleeb (servant of the cross, or the crucified one) would never be a name a Muslim would hold, let alone would one having that name debate you and raise a denial of the crucifixion as one of his final arguments, again, as you have claimed. In fact, with great irony I have to note that while you mentioned Nadir Ahmed as well, I just re-read your e-mail exchange with him, and the topic you claimed was raised by him (and Abdul Saleeb and Shabir Ally), specifically, “so what if Jesus did die?” never came up in what you have posted. That would mean that the entire claim you made in the evangelism conference of 6/1/07 has no grounds—Nadir Ahmed didn’t raise the issue, Abdul Saleeb is a Christian pseudonym, and Shabir Ally has never met you. This truly raises a fundamental objection to your response that you “misspoke” in using Shabir Ally’s name. Aside from needing to know who you confused him with in “Nebraska,” it likewise seems to indicate that you were simply making things up on the fly to illustrate a point in the evangelism conference recording. My gut feeling is you feel it makes the point weightier and more urgent if you connect a number of Islamic sounding names to the argument, and then place that in the context of debate. That way people will “listen” to what you are saying. You might even be able to claim a noble purpose—but it doesn’t change the fact that your claims are untrue.
So allow me to consolidate the questions before you:
1) You claim to have “misspoken,” twice, at least as far as recorded evidence is concerned, about debating Shabir Ally. Once you claimed in Nebraska. Who did you debate in Nebraska that you confused with Shabir Ally? Who likewise raised the objection noted at the “end of the debate”? When did this debate take place? Given that you confused Shabir Ally with Ahmed Deedat, and given that you “misspoke” twice, months apart in time, on the very same topic, your answers to these questions are vital for anyone to give any credence to your claim.
2) How can you confuse the name of someone you have never met with someone you have (whoever this alleged debate opponent in Nebraska was)? I can understand how I could confuse, say, Zulfiqar Ali Shah with Farhan Qureshi while speaking very quickly, since I have debated both men; but I would never confuse Dr. Shah with Zakir Naik, because I have not debated Naik (he refuses to do so, at least, so far).
3) Why did you list Abdul Saleeb as a Muslim debate opponent when the name is clearly not Muslim and in fact, the only person I know with that name is a Christian, the co-author of a book on Islam?
4) You have been recorded confusing the Shahada with the opening of Surah Al Fatiha. How could anyone who claims to have said the prayers well into his late teenage years (which includes the recitation, in Arabic, multiple times a day, of the relevant texts) confuse these materials? I have only been studying Islam for five years, and only began learning Arabic in 2007, but I not only can hear the differences and understand them, I can pronounce them properly as well.
5) Finally, more than six thousand people have viewed the video I produced in response to your claims just over a month ago that certain “myopic Reformed” folks had “taken over” formal debates, etc. You know what you said, and you know what you said amounted to an inexcusable falsehood. It was very easy to demonstrate that. So, did you just “misspeak” there, or will you admit you spoke a purposeful falsehood freely?
Of course, the biggest question is, what are you going to do about these things, Dr. Caner? I realize it would be personally very costly for you to admit to your followers that in reality you have never stepped into the ring against any meaningful Islamic representative, from Shabir Ally down. You have chosen to create a persona that has no correspondence to reality, and as is to be expected in a day when the Internet reigns supreme, you have been caught in a web of your own making. But there truly is only one path for the person who seeks to do right, and I hope and pray you will do the right thing.
I know you are not traveling right now (despite your having blocked me from Twitter, it is still quite easy to receive your updates), so this will be my last request. I look forward to hearing from you.
I awoke in London this morning to discover that about an hour and a half after I went to bed an e-mail arrived from Dr. Caner. It contained nothing more than the link to his response, now posted on his website, here. I immediately read the statement, and responded as follows:
On Feb 26, 2010, at 2:36 AM, Caner, Ergun M. wrote:
The response has been posted on the website.
Thank you for the link, Dr. Caner.
A few items:
1) In listening to the SBC Today program I noted the centrality of your opposition to the compromise of the gospel inherent in certain missional strategies that have become sadly popular. It is my hope that you will have success in opposing these aberrant concepts.
2) Your statement seemed to put blame on the young Nigerian Muslim for compiling your own statements. Unless it is your claim that he has edited these videos, materially altering wording, or immediate context, should any opponent of the faith be able to take your words and document so many inconsistencies? While your statement affirms your birth in Sweden, for example, why is there a video of you claiming to have been born in Istanbul? Calling yourself a sand monkey? Are you saying this video has been edited? Changed? Altered? If those are your words, I have a hard time understanding how even a defective clutch between mouth and brain can explain a simple falsehood. I am led to believe you exaggerate and alter your story for effect while speaking. This would explain the vast majority of your “misstatements.”
Ergun, I fully understand the temptation to do this. I have often revealed certain conversations in the same context that I wished later I had not. I know all about getting “caught up” in the moment. However, I have never had to make things up in the process. I have never made up debates that did not take place, or assert men I have never met, let alone debated, said x, y, or z, just so I could demonstrate how wrong they are. This is the difference between us, sir.
3) Why did you not even mention Shabir Ally’s name? Why did you not mention that you had done this twice, even claiming a particular location for this “debate”? Why did you skip mentioning Abdul Saleeb? Your posted statement does not, as you know, answer each of the questions I have put to you. The list of three names you mentioned was made up on the fly. Once again, I think you string together Arabic sounding names in an effort to inflate the importance of your experience so as to add weight to your arguments—a real shame, given that you were speaking on such an important topic, and the fact is, Dr. Caner, when speaking about the sacrifice of Christ, one can trust the Spirit to make the words alive in the hearts of God’s elect. You don’t need to make up fake debates just to wow an audience. I believe we have here another example of “theology matters.” Suffice it to say that my specific questions on your claims remain unanswered, as you did not address the fact that even in reference to Nadir Ahmed, you did not address the fact that you made up what he allegedly said. I fail to see how anyone can say “in my debates with these men” and not mean exactly that. You claimed to debate them, you never did, and they never made the arguments you said they did. No amount of mental clutch malfunction can change that, Ergun. You and I both know that.
4) Your discussion of pronunciation issues is not relevant to my question concerning confusion of bismi’lahi rachmani rahim with the Shahada. I don’t care about pronunciation, that is a matter of fundamental confusion about phrases I understand you to claim to have repeated five times a day all through your formative years of life. I consider this question unanswered as well.
5) You did not address your false statements on the Pastor’s Perspective radio program, in particular, your claims that “myopic Reformed” men have “taken over” formal debates and turned them into “show ponies” and examples of the “Jerry Springer Show” where “no real conversation takes place.” Once again, this was a simple, abject falsehood, known to all who have observed those debates, and easily documented for those who have not.
I heard you say on the SBC Today podcast that you were going to “ignore” these criticisms and press on with your “work” on advice of “your Chancellor.” I hope you realize that substantive issues remain to be addressed, Dr. Caner. While there is reason to be hopeful that you will continue to address these problems, there is also reason for concern. You have yet to face the fact that you make claims for yourself on your website that are simply fallacious: you have not engaged Islamic leaders in “debate” in thirteen countries and forty some odd states. Your self-promotional literature creates a false impression, and on behalf of all of us who actually do debate Islamic leaders in the US, UK, Australia, etc., we would appreciate it if you would cease and desist from making claims that you simply cannot substantiate. I note that your bio page, which contains this claim, is currently missing from your website, and your Twitter page has been changed as well. I do hope you remove all claims to “debating religious leaders” in many countries and states. That would be a positive step forward.
February 26, 2010
Wandsworth, London, England
I would like to make a few further comments on Dr. Caner’s posted statement.
First, there are many issues that have been raised by others that I have not had the time to investigate fully enough to raise myself. While some of the points raised by Dr. Caner’s Muslim opponents seem picayune to me, many others, especially when taken in the aggregate, seem quite troubling. But Ergun Caner is not the most important person on my proverbial radar screen, and I simply do not have the time to attempt to dig through everything that I would need to examine to flesh out some of the other issues that have been raised. My purpose in addressing this entire situation has never been personal: I do not dislike Ergun Caner as a person. He is a public figure, representing my faith, who makes claims about the very field in which I labor that are demonstrably untrue; he has attacked me personally in a malicious and false manner, and has yet, as of this public statement, to explain why he has done so (in particular, the documented falsehoods spoken on the Calvary Chapel program in January of this year). As one who believes integrity is important in doing apologetics, I cannot help but face him with the documentation of his own claims and demand straight answers. Thus far, outside of the admission (without providing Shabir Ally’s name) that he “misspoke” regarding Shabir Ally, he has failed to engage why he has been shown to “make things up” as he goes along over and over again. This raises wider questions of integrity and the value of his over-all teaching that he must address with his own employers and students.
Secondly, this statement dismisses as mere “discrepancies” direct and obvious falsehoods. The questions I asked Dr. Caner before he wrote this statement press hard on this very point and that for a good reason. Words have meanings. He seems to wish to identify the vast majority of these problems as having nothing to do with the validity of his claims. He likewise seems to wish to blame anyone who has made reference to these Muslim-produced videos as if Christians should immediately reject anything said by a Muslim. This theme has been picked up by men like Pastor Timothy Rogers and Peter Lumpkins. I say once again that Christians are to be men and women of truth, and the kind of bias and bigotry that such argumentation engenders should be reprehensible to all of us. If Dr. Caner wishes to prove that his words have been electronically altered, then he should state the case clearly. If he wishes to allege that context would have changed the meanings of his claims, then he needs to say so plainly. He has instead chosen to make allegation by association, an unworthy approach for any Christian. If these videos contain true contradictions and errors, then Dr. Caner must answer for them, no matter who collected them. It is wrong on a most basic and pernicious level to make this a “Christian vs. Muslim” issue. It isn’t.
Dr. Caner says he has never intentionally misled anyone. This would mean that he has made up lists of former debate opponents with Arabic sounding names and attributed arguments to them they have never made (and in Abdul Saleeb’s case, never would make) but he did so “unintentionally.” If that is a satisfying response to you, I leave you to it.
Dr. Caner mentions me (not by name, of course—sometimes I feel like Voldemort) as believing it is misleading of him to call his interviews and interactions with students and the like “debates.” This section is classic Ergun Caner. Remember, just last month he claimed, “Formal debates have been taken over a lot by myopic Reformed guys, uh, they try to turn it into these little, uh, show ponies, it’s like the Jerry Springer Show, basically, and there’s really not any real discussion going on, there’s rolling of eyes, its huffing and passive/aggressive garbage.” Now he mentions non-Reformed men who do…formal debates! The fact remains that Ergun Caner does not do these things called formal debates. And what he has called debates the rest of the world calls conversations, interviews, discussions. There’s a difference, and he well knows it. He knows it so well his biography page, which, until last night anyway, contained his claim to have done debates with religious leaders in thirteen countries and thirty plus states, is now missing from his website, and his Twitter page has been amended as well. Why remove these claims if what he says here remains true? Do not get me wrong: I hope he removes all such claims, as they are demonstrably false, but he seems to be attempting to save face in the process as well.
As I noted in my letter to him, it would have been much better had he mentioned the “Muslim scholar” (Shabir Ally) by name. But more importantly, Dr. Caner is saying this was unintentional. Yet, he did it twice, at least twice. He mentioned a particular location for this debate (Nebraska). He has yet to answer the question, “Who did you debate in Nebraska that you unintentionally confused with Shabir Ally?” I have a feeling I will not get an answer. I encourage those closer to Dr. Caner to press for one. Yes, I appreciate that he goes on to call this sin, but this only confuses me. Unintentionally misspeaking a name is not sin. Intentionally making up debates that have never taken place is. He speaks of “any time I wrongly used names.” Does this include Abdul Saleeb? I am glad he says he will be more careful, but this only leaves more questions unanswered, questions that could easily have been closed. If he did this unintentionally, there was no sin, just carelessness; if there was sin, it is not a matter of being more careful, it is a matter of repenting. He says he repents of saying Shabir Ally’s name: but is he repenting of an unintentional mistake, or an intentional creation of fiction? Perhaps Dr. Caner will clarify. Let’s hope so.
Dr. Caner is correct to point out that some of the criticism of his pronunciations is invalid. However, my question to him had to do with confusion of central Islamic theological confessions, not the pronunciation of terms. He has yet to respond to this matter satisfactorily.
In closing, I hope first my Muslim readers will see that while none of us are perfect, some of us do seek to be as accurate as possible in our presentations of our faith, and our criticism of yours. You must carefully distinguish between when you disagree with what I say about your faith and any allegations of direct misrepresentation. Further, it is plain and obvious that when I have claimed to have engaged Muslim apologist X, I have, in fact, done so. Dr. Caner has a major credibility gap at this point that I hope he will address with clarity.
Secondly, I mentioned above that this situation provides a clear example of one of my favorite themes, “Theology matters.” I am convinced that Dr. Caner has fallen into the trap of attempting to add “gravitas” so to speak to his presentations by stretching the truth. That is, he feels a need to make his arguments more interesting, more exciting, by couching them in the context of his great apologetic exploits, his debates with leading Islamic apologists like Shabir Ally, Nadir Ahmed (!), Abdul Saleeb (!!), and other Islamic/Arabic sounding names. If you have watched Ergun speak to groups you see this is nothing new. He often speaks of death threats, for example, or brings in all sorts of other story-telling paraphernalia to add to his talk. I believe this mindset is theologically driven. As I said in my letter to him, I do not have to try to manipulate people in such a fashion. I do not have to make up fictional events to add to the “gravitas” of what I am saying. I can trust the Spirit of God to make the Word of God alive in the hearts and minds of His elect people. And it is just this truth that Ergun Caner denies in his theology. His synergism presses him to use all sorts of “methodologies” to get “decisions for Christ.” But it is just here that we see how vital it is to be truly biblical in our approach, for, theology matters.
I continue to hope that Dr. Caner will be pressed to abandon any wiggle-room in his response to these matters. I believe he has, in fact, intentionally “made up” stories. He needs to admit this and repent of it. I believe he needs to explain to his students that he is not on the cutting edge of Islamic apologetics. He has not stood in public to defend the Christian faith against the best the opposition has to offer, in fair, balanced, moderated debate. He may well say many true things about Islam, but he has created a false persona in an effort to bring more students to his school, and this is unworthy of the Christian profession. Only an open acknowledgment of this, and repentance thereof, will properly befit his continued ministry.