Geisler_Norman I was recently forwarded a statement written by Dr. Norman L. Geisler (photo left) in defense of Dr. Ergun Caner, the dean at Liberty University. Caner has been a major target of accusations about lying, and thus deceiving the public, for some months. The story of these accusations against Canter, and the school’s response to them, has been a feature of major news sources as well as fodder for massive Internet discussion.  What made reading this defense so interesting for me is the following:

1. I have no “horse” in this race. I do not know Ergun Caner or any of those who have attacked him regarding lies and deceptions about his Muslim past or his wider life experience in general. The link above will provide you with the entire list of accusations.

2. I am not a friend of either Ergun Caner or Norman Geisler. In fact, I have had friends and associations with other Christian leaders over the years who have routinely criticized Dr. Geisler's theology and approach to apologetics. I have met Dr. Geisler but doubt that he would recall the occasion. I was a very young pastor and he was the lecturer in a local church. He was on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at the time. I have never heard, read or met Ergun Caner. I knew nothing about this debate until I read the news in Christianity Today. Furthermore, I know no one on the board at Liberty University.

3. I am more than willing to consider serious accusations against public figures and to act responsibly when accusations are proven as real moral failures and my personal responsibility makes a response necessary. I believe, in other words, that I have moral courage and will take a stand on clearly established facts.

4. In another public  controversy, regarding the doctrinal orthodoxy of the movement called The Local Church (Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, etc.), I have come to agree with those who believe that the Local Church is not heterodox and thus I do disagree with Dr. Geisler's open criticism of the Christian Research Institute's defense of this group. (This is a very developed, long-drawn-out controversy that would take some time for readers to understand but if you wish to see some this for yourself you can begin by reading here.)

Having said the above I think the reader can readily see I am not emotionally or personally invested in this conflict. I am, however, a Christian leader who understands the way slander, gossip and the Internet can work in tandem to create the perfect storm, a storm that virtually destroys a good person’s reputation and ministry. No, I have not been the subject of the blitz that Ergun Caner has undergone. Yes, I have experienced enough of this kind of slander and gossip to read Geisler’s defense with a great deal of appreciation and sympathy. Again, I urge you to read it to see how he argues and develops his case for defending Canter.

I have no idea what the relationship between Geisler and Caner is personally but I have to say that I respect Dr. Geisler for coming to the defense of a man besieged by such an avalanche of criticism. Whatever you think of Norman Geisler, and he has taken positions both theologically and practically that I disagree with, it says a lot of good things about him that he would defend Caner when he is down and under such a blistering attack. His arguments, explaining the various charges against Caner, are stated simply and answered cogently. I am sure, however, that Caner’s critics could (and will) refute Geisler’s statements with counter-statements. The facts here are clear: once this kind of debate begins it will never end. Caner’s future is damaged and many of his critics will not stop the gossip even if a court vindicated him completely.

After reading Geisler’s defense of Caner I went back to Scripture to study a few texts about gossip and slander. Gossip is a form of idle talk which foolishly or maliciously spreads rumors or (even) facts. The effect of gossip is division and brings destructive consequences to those who are spoken about. Some of the accusations against Caner involve things that he has admitted have elements of truth in them. He has even apologized for several statements about his own life story that were not entirely accurate. (Geisler puts these in a context that helps to show that these things can happen and are not necessarily real proof of the intent to lie!) But in the case of Ergun Caner there appears to be slander as well gossip. Slander is even more serious. It false and malicious talk. Slander harms those against whom it is uttered and it will eventually bring spiritual ruin to those who promote it.

Tomorrow I will explain more of what the Scripture has to say about gossip and slander and provide some personal reflection on how I have been guilty of these sins. More times than I care to remember I have been required by the Holy Spirit to repent of these sins. And these sins have, in turn, publicly harmed me as a servant of Christ.

I have found it compelling to ponder what Paul says about the depths of human sin in Romans 1. Romans 1:28 speaks of God abandoning sinful people to “their foolish thinking” and of how he “let them do things that should never be done.” Verse 29 concludes: “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.” One of the sins that God gives people over to is “gossip.” It does seem quite clear that no amount of proof-texting about the necessity of exposing supposedly false teachers justifies the kind of response some Christians routinely promote, especially on the Internet. I do not think this is a minor problem. After writing on the Internet for nearly a decade now I think this problem only grows worse as more and more people use this medium to promote their opinions without faith, hope and love. The Internet has not created this problem. It has only allowed it to grow in terms of the freedom some people have to be empowered while they sit at a keyboard and write just about anything they want to write without any accountability for their words or actions.

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Comments

  1. Keith July 27, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Hmmm . . . Let me get this straight. Caner tells lies in public, someone points this out publicly, that makes them a slanerer.
    Wow. Interesting logic.

  2. Francis Turretin July 27, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Two quick notes.
    1) In a few places above, I think you misspelled “Caner” as “Canter.”
    2) Yes, Geisler’s responses have been rebutted in detail (link to index of back and forth with Geisler)
    -TurretinFan

  3. Clay Knick July 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Wouldn’t it be nice if critics simply picked up the phone or sent a friendly(!) e-mail and started a conversation? Whew! Meanwhile non-Christians think this is all we do to one another.

  4. Francis Turretin July 27, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Looks like my link did not go through. Let’s try a plain old URL:
    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2010/07/debate-with-norman-geisler-regarding.html

  5. James White July 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

    John:
    Have you read the factual, fair, researched rebuttals of Geisler’s very poor reasoning and argumentation? If so, could you quote Hadith 2425 and explain its relevance to the Qur’an? 🙂
    It is not slander or gossip to point out that a kid who grew up in a broken home in Ohio is lying when he claims to have been trained as a jihadist in madrassas in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. It is in fact service to the church to point out that a man who claims to have debated Islamic Imams in Arabic in mosques has 1) never debated any Imams, 2) cannot speak or read Arabic, and 3) is making up an entire mythology that has given him the position of an expert in Islam when he is not. Those of us who actually do engage Muslims in public debate around the world have no choice but to expose liars in our midst, and this we have done at great personal expense.
    James White

  6. AKuyper July 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Sir,
    Addressing sin in the life of another believer — especially when that sin is public and as harmful as Ergun Caner’s has been to the body of Christ — does not constitute an “attack” or “slander” of any kind. Ergun Caner was addressed in private before this entire sad and painful affair began and he did not repent. He had every opportunity to. While there are those on all “sides” who have sinned in this situation it is unwise to paint those who have called for Ergun Caner’s repentance the way that you have and without distinction. Those involved with Liberty University are praying for Ergun Caner, but his sin needs to be recognized for what it is and dealt with. He has been dismissed there and Norman Geisler is wrong to continue to try and defend him.

  7. Chris Criminger July 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Hi John,
    I thank you once again for your generous and thoughtful words John.
    I know you have been attacked and slandered over the years as N. T. Wright and others you have tried to defend and give more balanced responses too.
    I don’t know anything of this debate or discussion but I find your approach sympathetic and not getting tangled up in the middle of it one way or the other.
    To be brutally honest, Geisler has been one who has been a very hard critic who at times I suspect has wondered too close to the mine-fields of slander and gossip and inuendo. So for Geisler to defend anyone, has some merit to me since he is usually one of the first to criticize others.
    So I too will take a ‘sit back and see’ approach but I wish more Christians would show more patience and grace when it comes to these kind of things. We are often more like cowboys willing to shoot our wounded rather than wounded healers offering healing medicine or doing the tough work or mutual repentance rather than simply trying to get a confession out of someone else!
    May God remove all slander, gossip and foolish words from my mouth. I have so much I see when I look in the mirror that I rarely have time to be focusing my gaze upon others when there is so much work that needs to happen in my own life.
    Should not the Church or Christian’s response first be one of innocence until proven quilty? Does not faith disctate that we look at the glass half full rather than focusing on the glass half empty?

  8. DE123 July 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    You mention reading Geisler’s defense…you mention going to the Bible but it appears you have not listened to the audio and video of Caner’s many deceptions and lies. How can you form an opinion if you haven’t listened to both “sides”? How can you call it gossip when it is Caner himself telling these lies?

  9. Mark July 27, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I would like to point out that Dr. Geisler did not actually take the context of Dr. Caner’s statements into account. I’ve documented how careful Geisler is when dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    James White mentioned the documentation evidence which clearly shows lying. Also, if Geisler’s defenses were applied and Caner’s statements changed to the “truth” the narrative would not make sense and lose much of its meaning.

  10. Debbie Kaufman July 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    How can you possibly have seen the evidence presented that Ergun has indeed lied and say with conviction:
    “After reading Geisler’s defense of Caner I went back to Scripture to study a few texts about gossip and slander. Gossip is a form of idle talk which foolishly or maliciously spreads rumors or (even) facts. The effect of gossip is division and brings destructive consequences to those who are spoken about. Some of the accusations against Caner involve things that he has admitted have elements of truth in them. He has even apologized for several statements about his own life story that were not entirely accurate. (Geisler puts these in a context that helps to show that these things can happen and are not necessarily real proof of the intent to lie!) But in the case of Ergun Caner there appears to be slander as well gossip. Slander is even more serious. It false and malicious talk. Slander harms those against whom it is uttered and it will eventually bring spiritual ruin to those who promote it. ”
    This is why the church is in the state it is in. People who say do not speak evil of ministers even if that minister has indeed done evil. That has been the reaction for far too long,and I for one am not buying it.

  11. Richard Pierce July 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    You said:
    “3. I am more than willing to consider serious accusations against public figures and to act responsibly when accusations are proven as real moral failures and my personal responsibility makes a response necessary. I believe, in other words, that I have moral courage and will take a stand on clearly established facts.”
    With respect, if you mean this then I am only left with the thought that you failed to do your due diligence on this matter and instead relied on the reports of those who do in fact have a bias toward covering the matter up. I encourage you to look at the evidence for yourself and see if this truly falls into the category of gossip.
    Blessings

  12. psychobob August 3, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    If Ergun Caner had committed a serious sexual sin, lied about it, was caught, and refused to repent, would all these people be lining up to defend him, calling those who exposed his sin “gossips,” “slanderers” and “extremists”?
    Apparently some sins are more acceptable than others.
    What is sad and should not be accepted within the Evangelical Christian movement is that Caner’s testimony has been destroyed among non-believers. If you are going to build your entire ministry about a supposed former life, you had better have actually lived that former life or you will be caught and you will fall. Unfortunately, people are rallying around to prop Caner up, making themselves look very foolish in the process.

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