What happens when you seek integrity in ministry and particularly in apologetic outreach to Muslims? You would think many would stand with you, encourage you, appreciate the effort. And, that is the case. By far the vast majority of the contact we have had over the past few months after I challenged Ergun Caner to be honest about his false statements in public (first about debating Shabir Ally, then about debates in general, then about his entire story, as it unraveled under examination) has been positive, thankful, and supportive. Students and faculty alike at Liberty have urged me to stay the course, no matter what the opposition. Of course, they normally have to do so anonymously, for fear of reprisals.
But there have been the few, the proud, the…utterly irrational, who, for various reasons (often because of their anti-Reformed stance, sometimes just because they like being irascible) have taken the “attack anyone who would question a leader in our denomination” approach. The “circle the wagons” mentality has been seen in the fact that these folks never deal with the facts or documentation fairly. If they address it at all they do so one item at a time, looking for any possible way around the problem. For example, one argument that is floating around is that Ergun Caner became a naturalized citizen in 1979, though he came here in 1969, as if this is somehow relevant to his published bio and repeated claims in public. Or another, that Ergun “slurs his speech” when speaking quickly, hence explaining the non-Arabic Arabic (though, of course, Caner speaks fast in English all the time without slurring his words). This kind of “find an excuse for everything while ignoring the combined weight of all of the problems” thinking does not mark a person of honesty and integrity, but instead marks a person with an agenda, a goal that is less than honorable or proper.
But this group of folks rarely spend much time actually discussing the facts of the Caner case. They are far more intent upon the “politics of personal destruction.” I have discovered there is no road too low for some of these people to travel. Personal attack is their modus operandi, all the while complaining that the target of their attack is engaging in…personal attacks. Evidently they realize that those who are actually busy in the work of ministry will eventually tire of all of the mud and absurdity that they are producing, and hence move as far away from them, and their pet topics, as possible, out of simple disgust.
Let’s look at the situation as it stands today. Ergun Caner stands accused of rank deception in the pulpit, making claims about himself and his past that are not only contradicted by documented facts, but are contradicted by his own testimony! We can demonstrate that he was telling one group of people X, while telling another group of people Y, at the same time and in the same context. That is the very definition of untruthfulness, of deceptiveness. We have a man who has claimed to have engaged leaders of a wide variety of religious groups in debate all over the world, but who cannot provide the first bit of evidence of the truthfulness of this claim—a claim he has used to encourage others to not only believe what he has to say on various topics, but to gain his positions of leadership and authority as well (resulting in personal enrichment in the form of book sales and promotion, etc.). He has likewise been asked to lecture to even our military personnel (see picture) based upon his supposed experience as a Turkish born and raised jihadist. The ramifications of Caner’s deceptive and self-promoting behavior are deeply troubling, at least to anyone with the honesty to consider them fully. And yet, we find many seeking to protect this man’s position and authority using any means necessary in the process.
On the other side, consider my situation. Since I first learned of Caner’s false claims to have debated Shabir Ally and Abdul Saleeb in February, I have debated Abdullah al Andalusi at Trinity Road Chapel in London. This was a public debate, video and audio recorded. I have debated Robert Price, a widely published and popular critic of Christianity, an atheist, whose areas of discussion and argument are amazingly wide and varied. That debate alone required hundreds of hours of study in a wide variety of topics from history to textual matters to theology and exegesis. Two weeks from tomorrow I will be debating Shiite Sheikh Mohammad Jowad Al-Ansari in Dearborn, Michigan. The next night I will be debating Sunni Sheikh Mohammad Ahmed Awal, whose views I have been reviewing on the Dividing Line for the past month or so. I will likewise be recording programs during that time period in the Detroit area on the reliability of the text of the New Testament for the Arabic Broadcasting Network to be aired overseas in primarily Islamic areas. We are working toward scheduling at least one more debate with Sheikh Awal in the New York area in August, Lord willing, possibly around the time I will be debating world-famous “New Atheist” Christopher Hitchens. This before a very busy fall including three debates on Roman Catholicism and a trip to Peru to train pastors in apologetics.
So on the one hand you have the Great Pretender, the man who has made his position by claiming to engage in the defense of the Gospel, versus myself, who is actually seeking to do that work, work that I have been undertaking for many years now. So what is the response to this situation by the defenders of Ergun Caner? Well, let’s look at one claim made by the worst of the practitioners of the politics of personal destruction, Peter Lumpkins:
And, the official word is, James White will not be offered any future contract as adjunct instructor to teach any subject for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary including Islam.
Now, I have written to my immediate superiors at GGBTS to ask about this, but since it is the weekend, I do not expect a response very soon. I have always enjoyed the opportunities I have had to teach at GGBTS since 1995. I started off teaching Greek there, then Systematic Theology, Hebrew, Greek Exegesis, Hebrew Exegesis, Christology, Christian Philosophy of Religion, Development of Patristic Theology (really enjoyed that one!) and various courses in Apologetics. The last time I taught was this last Jan Term in Mill Valley, teaching a class on Islam and Atheism (not how they relate, but two different topics) in a Jan Term intensive course just three days after my mother passed away. The students were a joy and an encouragement, and Mill Valley is one of the most gorgeous places to visit pretty much any time of year (I think it was colder there during the summer classes I taught than it was in January!). But I have always known that I had no promises of teaching in the future. There are Arminians who detest me for what I believe. And in this case, you have Peter Lumpkins, a politico without honesty or integrity, a man who stands convicted by the facts of utter disregard for honesty in his false attacks upon me in his outrageous video (refuted here), unrepentant in his irrationality, pushing for…what? He is pushing for a man who cannot answer any questions to remain in his position of authority, while seeking to make sure the man who has unquestionable proof of his ministry in the area of apologetics will not be allowed to communicate that expertise to the students at GGBTS! The perversity of the thinking is astounding, but there it is. Of course, we realize that Lumpkins and those like him care nothing about Islamic apologetics, the students at GGBTS (or Liberty!), etc. They are in this for the political power and control, nothing more.
Since I took the time to link to Lumpkins’ article, let me briefly demonstrate how shallow and fallacious his attempts at argumentation really are. There is a reason the man will never face me, never call the Dividing Line, etc. It is easy to twist the facts and act brave behind a keyboard, but far different when you have to actually speak to someone face to face (or at least voice to voice).
Lumpkins is a video editor. He takes bits and pieces out of videos, ignores the rest, and makes absurd arguments based upon a biased, prejudiced hearing of what is said. He did this grossly in the above example, and now has produced this video:
Now, what a horrible man I am to point out that in this particular video a Muslim had decided to go ad-hominem without actually dealing with the arguments I had presented. But evidently I am not allowed to point this out without making myself an expert on Islam. The irrationality of Lumpkin’s arguments are clear to all who are willing to think honestly.
[For those looking for edifying tidbits in the midst of such material, here is the original video. It is 17 minutes long, dealing with the issue of Ibn Mas’ud. Lumpkins makes no comments on the actual substance of the video from which he grabbed a small snippet, since, obviously, he has no capacity or ability to do so. The actual purposes and context of my original statements are irrelevant to him.]
So Lumpkins attempts to draw a fantasy picture in which the Caners are not actually considered experts on Islam (which is why they are asked to speak on that topic so often, presented as such over and over again, etc.) all in the attempt to impugn my having honestly said over and over again that Islam is too broad a topic for me to ever gain expert status in all of its teachings, claims, and history in the period of life which I have left. Brilliant stuff.
Then we have Lumpkins holding me accountable for every word written by John Kennedy in a newspaper article, when Kennedy obviously drew his description of my teaching for GGBTS straight from the last class listed in my bio, which included, just last year, teaching an entire course on Islam in the Arizona Campus of GGBTS. Evidently I am somehow supposed to be held accountable for Kennedy’s choice of description of me. How I am supposed to do this, we are not told. Any rational person knows reporters summarize and, often, not so accurately. But to pretend that I had something to do with Kennedy’s choice is so absurd it is laughable. But, that’s Peter Lumpkins. Look at this paragraph:
In light of this, it is not unreasonable to query whether it was morally sober for White to allow Christianity Today to refer to him as currently teaching Islam at Golden Gate when, in reality, he was not; he is not; and, the official word is, he will not. James White evidently had no contract with Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary to teach apologetics generally or Islam particularly when CT interviewed him. Yet, White still allowed the false impression to stand that he teaches Islam at Golden Gate.
Allow Christianity today? As if I was sent the article for approval or something? I pointed the reporter to my list of classes, he picked the one that seemed to him (I am guessing, I haven’t asked him) the most relevant, which was the class on Islam I did teach for GGBTS in 2009, and ran with it. And Peter Lumpkins thinks this is relevant to video tapes of Ergun Caner telling audiences he was born in Istanbul Turkey and came here a decade after he actually did to be a missionary to Christians. This is the mind-set of the defenders of Ergun Caner, and it is amazing to behold.
Whatever the outcome of the Ergun Caner Scandal, I have once again learned some valuable lessons. There is a cost to seeking to do ministry with integrity. If you do not bow to the political powers that be, you will suffer. Evangelicalism is soaked with politics and all sorts of ungodly foolishness when it comes to who is controlling the purse strings. Your family, your reputation, your life’s work is all fair game on the part of those who do not love truth, but do love power in the name of religion. No matter how honestly you seek to engage in a difficult situation like the one created by the fertile imagination of Ergun Caner, you will be splashed with the mud created by others. It is this very cost that the politicos hope will be intimidating enough to keep you from ever venturing into such controversy again (at the cost of your personal integrity and ethical standards). And the ones who will be the most zealous in attacking you are the very ones who have absolutely nothing to show for themselves in the very fields of ministry that are under discussion. None of them would dare stand before a majority Muslim audience and proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God and the Qur’an to be in error and uninspired. None of them would last 30 seconds in cross-examination with the likes of Robert Price or Bart Ehrman. But they do not care about such things. Their life-blood is political, not theological, power-based, not servant-based. And woe be to the denomination or church that becomes infected with them.