Seminary president apologizes for calling IMB head a liar
LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP) -- The president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary has apologized for calling the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board a liar, saying he got carried away in an interview while criticizing a mission strategy used to evangelize Muslims.
In a Feb. 24 podcast on the SBC Today website, Ergun Caner, a former Muslim turned Southern Baptist who has written extensively labeling Islam a false religion, defended earlier statements critical of a strategy called the Camel Method.
The method uses verses from the Quran to convince Muslims that what the Christian Bible says about Jesus is true. Caner said that is like using the Book of Mormon as a bridge to someone in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But Caner said he "became an idiot" and "stepped over the line" in a Feb. 3 SBC Today podcast with comments picked up by other media accusing IMB President Jerry Rankin of lying by allowing missionaries to use the method in engaging church-planting movements in the Muslim world.
"I believe that the Camel is lying," Caner reiterated in the new podcast interview. "It assumes the ignorance of a Muslim by saying, 'Oh, you believe Allah? I believe in Allah.' That's one of my ethical issues with the Camel. I think it's based on deception."
"And then the idiot opens his mouth and says, 'Do I believe it's lying?'" he continued, quoting his previous words. "Sure. Do I believe that Jerry Rankin is lying? Yes."
"And so what happens is, in one fell swoop I cast aspersion on a brother, and given the last few days I've discovered that's not the biblical thing to do," Caner said.
Caner said he acknowledged his mistake before students in a chapel service at Liberty Theological Seminary and in a letter of apology sent directly to Rankin.
"If you're dumb enough to say something like that, you've got to be man enough to own up to it," he said. "What does it mean to call somebody a liar? You're questioning their motives."
Caner said one reason he is going public with his apology is to separate his criticism of the Camel Method from his statement about Rankin.
"I don't want to confuse the Camel issue -- which I believe is absolutely based on deception -- and opening my stupid mouth and sinning against a brother," he said. "I don't know Dr. Rankin's motives, and I don't know why he would believe the Camel is usable, but you certainly shouldn't say something like that."
Caner said he isn't opposed to using "Allah" as a title for God when discussing the gospel in Arabic, but it should be clear from the outset that the God of the Bible is not the same being that Muslims believe is revealed in the Quran.
"I think you can use the Quran [for witnessing], just like you can use a Rolling Stones lyric," Caner said. "The problem comes when you say the Rolling Stones are as inspired as the Bible."
Caner said the Camel Method, developed by a Southern Baptist missionary who adapted it from mission strategy already in use in places where large numbers of Muslims are converting to Christianity, "assumes that the Quran is partially correct" and acts as "a valid bridge" toward understanding God.
"I would argue that it's not a valid bridge," Caner said. "I don't think it's a good bridge for anything. I think you begin by proclaiming Jesus. What did Paul say? He said 'I preach Christ and him crucified,' and the Quran is explicit that Jesus wasn't crucified."
David Garrison, global strategist for evangelical advance at the International Mission Board, said in an interview on the Christian Post website that he thinks most criticism of the Camel Method is based on confusion about how it actually works.
Garrison said the method is very explicit about not using deception, and that if a Muslim asks a missionary using the method if he or she is a Muslim, the correct way to respond is, "No, I'm a Christian who loves Muslims."
Garrison said he has used the method many times. "One of the first questions that Muslims will often ask you if you do get into a conversation with them is, 'Have you read the Quran?'" he said. "And when you can say, 'Yeah, I've been reading the Quran,' it is easy and natural to follow-up with 'Have you read the Injil?' which is the New Testament."
Proponents of the Camel Method say it is similar to the Apostle Paul's conversation with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Noticing a city full of idols, Paul acknowledges the Athenians are very religious and then appeals to a particular altar inscribed, "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD," which he tells them is the Lord of heaven and Earth that they already worship in ignorance.
But Caner said there is an important distinction between Paul's appeal to an unknown god and telling a Muslim that God and Allah are one in the same.
"He doesn't use any of the gods that they have named," Caner said, "because, goodness gracious, if you do, now you're in an area of syncretism, which is confusing the two gods."
Caner pointed to recent news coming out of Malaysia, where Muslims have taken Christians to court over the issue of using Allah to describe the Christian God. "You cannot use Allah; that is our name for our God," he quoted the Muslims as saying. "So even the Muslim scholars, even the Muslim leaders -- the imams and the leadership -- even they know that word is exclusive for the Muslim world."
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