Creation, Islam, Evangelism, & Academic Integrity
Lita Cosner interviews Dr. Emir Caner of Truett-McConnell College
Dr. Emir Caner is the president of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia. He has an M. Div. from Southeastern Baptist, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Arlington. He is a prolific author, notably of Unveiling Islam and More than a Prophet. He and his wife Hana are the parents of three children.
Emir Caner grew up in Columbus, Ohio, with his two older brothers as Sunni Muslims. As teenagers, they came to Christ when they were invited to a revival service: he recalls, “That Thursday night I accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour.” When their father found out they had converted, he disowned all three of his sons. At the end of their father’s life, Emir was called to his deathbed. “I came hoping to convert my father to Christ, but he was hoping to bring me back to Islam and refused to discuss the Bible.” His father refused to convert, and he died four days later. “But in the wake of God’s providence, my mother, a convert to Islam, came to Christ, and so did my grandmother. God has been very good.”
As a former Muslim, Dr. Caner knows that Islam and Christianity differ even in some doctrines that on the surface seem very similar. For instance, both religions are monotheistic. But he emphatically states, “It’s absolutely key to realize that Allah and Yahweh are not the same God. People make a massive mistake when they equate the God of the Bible with the god of the Koran.*Just because both are monotheistic faiths doesn’t mean that they both worship the same God.”
On a superficial level, Islam says that Allah is the creator, and even that he created in six days. But the nature of this creation is very different from how God’s creation is portrayed in the Bible. Dr. Caner elaborated, “For instance, in Islam to partner anything with God is the highest and most heinous sin, so they would never speak of man being in the image of God. Also, man is not inherently sinful – Islam says that man is born weak and forgetful, but not sinful. So there is no salvation in Islam as such, but the belief that what man needs is guidance.”
So the differences in how Christians see God and how Muslims see Allah are grounded in their respective doctrines of creation. “Your view of creation will directly influence your view of salvation. If there is no image of God and there is no Fall, then there will be no need for a Saviour, only the need for guidance.” This explains why Islam primarily provides only a path for man to follow, not the Redeemer of Christianity. In contrast, “Christ’s identity is enveloped in creation. He defines Himself as redeemer because the creation is fallen. He defines Himself as deliverer because mankind is in bondage to sin. Islam doesn’t see that sort of need for a Saviour-Redeemer, though in some sense they do see the need for forgiveness of sins.”
When asked how to start evangelizing Muslim friends or neighbors, Dr. Caner emphasized, “First, it’s important to realize that what leads a Muslim to Christ is the same that will bring anyone to Christ – they’re not a different ‘species’ when it comes to evangelism. The primary thing is to reach out them like you would anyone else.”
“Second, put a Bible in their hands. When you speak to a Muslim, they believe that parts of the Bible were inspired, so a lot of times they’ll accept a Bible. Then, when they have hardships, whether it’s a loss of job, a divorce, illness, or something else., they will often come to an end of themselves and go to that Bible, and they may well see the abundant life offered in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He also emphasizes the need to start a conversation by asking questions. “When I open a conversation with a Muslim I tell them, ‘Whatever you say to me I will not be offended’ and ‘I will be honest with you as I hope you will be with me.’ That will help to bring down any false barriers, and many times Muslims will be more open in the conversation.”
There are two types of questions that are particularly effective in these conversations. “The first are intellectual questions: questions that bring out obvious differences and compare and contrast Christianity and Islam. Islam says that it wasn’t Jesus who died, but someone in His place. So who was it, and when was Jesus replaced? And how is it that the very mother of Jesus and His best friend didn’t recognize that it wasn’t Jesus on the cross? And how do you explain all the fulfilled prophecies in the life of Christ?”
The second are relational questions that bring out the superiority of Christianity as compared to Islam. “When you read the Koran, what do you expect it to give you? Can you have any guarantee of eternal life?” He says both intellectual and relational questions have been very effective in witnessing to Muslims.
However, he points out some things to avoid in evangelism. “First, don’t assume that we have a lot in common with Muslims. Islam is a complete repudiation of Christianity. Whatever we hold dear, they most likely do not.” For instance, Christians believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But the Koran says that “he [Allah] is not begotten nor does he beget.” Jesus says “Come unto me, all you who are heavily laden, and I will give you rest,” but the Koran says “If anyone is heavily laden, he must bear his own burdens.” Dr. Caner summarizes, “Every time we hold something that is crucial to our faith, Mohammed takes it and steps on it. Even the things that seem similar at first glance really aren’t.”
Second, Christians should avoid offending Muslims unnecessarily. “If you invite them over to dinner, don’t serve pork or alcohol, for example.” Building relationships with Muslims allows us to demonstrate a godly life to them. “Invite them in so they can see your family. Many times all they’ve seen is what’s on television, and many Muslims think that’s an accurate portrayal of reality because they’ve never really known Christians.”
Dr. Caner has been the President of Truett-McConnell College for the past four years. He affirms that biblical creation is heavily emphasized. “Truett is one of a handful of Christian colleges that has a science faculty that emphasizes young-earth creation. We think it is the biblical model and we want to demonstrate an institution that is biblically and academically representing what the majority of the laypeople hold to in the pew, including the parents of our students. I want the school to represent what the parents in the pews believe. They’ve invested in their children’s lives for 18 years and now they’ve sent them off to Christian schools. I want to demonstrate to these students from an academic view that young-earth creation is the most consistent with Scripture and with science.”
Biblical, or young-earth, creation is the view of TMC because it is the result of a “simple hermeneutic”: “Dr. Adrian Rogers had a great statement – ‘The Pharisees took that which was simple and made it complex. Jesus took what was complex and made is simple.’ When you take Genesis and read it plainly, young-earth creationism is the view you have to come to. It is also the view of Christians for the majority of church history: “One of the main reasons we hold to young-earth creation, and expect our professors to do so as well, is that when you look at church history, there is near unanimity on this issue until the last three hundred years or so. As a historian, the question I have is, why did we change after 16 or 17 centuries of young-earth creation? Did we get a special new revelation that wasn’t available before then? I don’t think so. What happened was the ‘Enlightenment’, when the common view went from Scripture judging man to man judging Scripture. We started to see Scripture from the secular worldview and started to question its veracity. Ultimately this resulted in new views of creation like the gap theory, day-age, and so on, but these are relatively new views. The fact is, no one was able to see a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 until 200 years ago. Why hold a theory that’s only 200 years old when no one saw it for 1800 years previously?”
We often talk about the problem of kids leaving the church when they leave home. Dr. Caner thinks there are multiple reasons for this. “I think some of it is pragmatic. They’re free for the first time, and that translates into not going to church. Sometimes the atmosphere of the college isn’t conducive to being involved in a local church, and churches, even those near college campuses, don’t often reach out to the colleges.”
“Some of the blame has to fall on Christian institutions. In many Christian schools the Bible class will teach a conservative view of Scripture, and the science class will teach evolution. So at one point they’re learning the Bible is true, and at the other, evolution is true. And this is from the same institution! What is the student supposed to think?”
But many kids go to Bible colleges that fail to affirm biblical creation, with disastrous results. “I would rather my kids go to a secular school where they expect liberalism than to get liberalism at a Christian school where they don’t expect it.” He advises parents to help to prepare their children for the inevitable introduction of anti-biblical ideas. “Mom and Dad have to raise them up in ‘the fear of the Lord’ (the beginning of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ – Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). And they also have to begin introducing those secular ideas. Let them read books that disagree with Christianity in a controlled environment, and disciple them and teach them how to defend the faith [1 Peter 3:15].”
Lita Cosner has a B.A. in Biblical Studies fro Oklahoma Wesleyan University and an M.A. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the full-time Information Officer for CMI-USA.
References and notes
Re-printed with permission from Creation Magazine. www.creation.com