Published March 6, 2014
DULUTH — The Christian Index recently interviewed Ergun Caner in order to give Georgia Baptists an up close and personal look at Brewton- Parker College’s new president. Just three months ago the BPC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to elect Caner as the 16th president of the 110-year-old institution of higher learning.
Retiring BPC President Mike Simoneaux endorsed Caner’s presidency by stating, “Dr. Caner brings a wealth of experience to the presidency with more than three decades in Christian higher education, leadership, Biblical teaching, preaching, and apologetics. This appointment will excite Georgia Baptists and Southern Baptists who will sit up and take notice that Brewton-Parker College and its trustees are serious about its stand on the infallibility of the Scriptures and its decision to honor Jesus in every area.”
The Index: You began your teaching career at Criswell College in Dallas, is that correct?
Caner: Yes, I went to Criswell to teach theology and history, specifically Anabaptist history, but I was only there for one year.
The Index: What circumstances took you to Liberty University?
Caner: During my brief tenure at Criswell Dr. Jerry Falwell heard me speak at a conference somewhere in the Southeast, called me subsequent to that speaking engagement, and I went to Liberty in the latter part of 2002. When he called I thought it was one of my buddies playing a prank on me.
The Index: What was it like to work for Jerry Falwell?
Caner: That was a great experience. I started off as a professor, but in 2004 became the dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. Our campus enrollment went from 200 to 600. We were also the first school to go online. There were already classes online, but we did not have whole degrees online and that is what I wanted.
We eventually offered a PhD that was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I could not tell you how many students were online. It sort of exploded. The online classes grew by at least 25 percent a semester. We didn’t know what to do with it.
The Index: When you left Liberty you went to Arlington Baptist College as the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost. Did you experience growth there?
Caner: Yes, sir. We had seven straight semesters of growth.
The Index: What is your vision for Brewton-Parker?
Caner: Brewton-Parker is one of the oldest Baptist institutions in America at 110 years old. Some amazing people have come out of that school, but like most schools we get so busy we develop a spiritual amnesia. My job is to stand on top of Mount Vernon and be a Baptist with a capital “B.”
What I mean by that is that there are a number of great colleges and seminaries that seem to be trying to out-trend one another. Brewton is going to be the voice of grassroots, traditional Southern Baptists. The average Baptist church does not have 2,000 members in attendance on Sunday morning, but less than 100 in attendance. Somebody has got to be the voice for them in a Baptist, brush arbor, camp meeting type of school.
Brewton-Parker has had some financial issues and athletic issues, but there is not one thing that can’t be solved by an altar call, by a revival.
The Index: How do you think you can make that become a reality?
Caner: We’ve got to invert the order of our priorities. To me the most important thing is not the faculty or the administration; it is the students. The most important thing is not the degrees we give or the classroom; it is the altar. The classroom will take care of itself if you’ve got an altar, if you get the students back.
The Index: How are you doing with your SACS accreditation review?
Caner: They could come back and say one of three things: They could say, “You didn’t do it, you did do it, or you did do it, but we want to watch you a little longer.” But this is the year we are going to hit it out of the park or strike out.
If we work in the flesh, we are going to be disappointed and baffled before our challenges, but I trust the Lord to provide every need. I had rather cancel class and have chapel go on all day. I had rather have an all night cottage prayer meeting than have a symposium.
We are going to have education that is focused on wisdom more than knowledge. Anybody can give you knowledge, but only God can give you wisdom.
I am looking at the faculty and saying, “If we get out of this it has got to be God, because no planning of man can resolve every one of these things at the same time. It forces us into a position of desperation for a Holy God.”
I want to see Brewton-Parker brought back to its glory days – to a invitation-giving, soul winning, sinners’ prayer leading, hope-to-a-local-church, inerrantist, general atonement, mission obsessed ministry.
After we get our SACS accreditation we will add several more majors and emphasize that every single major is a mission and a ministry. You will succeed if you are holy and if you are seeking the Kingdom of God first. That’s it. It is not brain surgery. It is the only way Brewton-Parker will survive.
I want the average pastor to know that when he sends us his high school students they will return from their education with more evangelistic fervor than when they left. I can’t guarantee that the amnesia will go away, but they will know the names of Bertha Smith, Manley Beasley, George Truett, Sam Cathey, Bill Stafford, Ron Dunn, R.G. Lee, Adrian Rogers, Vance Havner, etc.
The Index: I know you had a unanimous vote from the trustees when you went to Arlington Baptist College and a unanimous vote from the trustees at Brewton-Parker. Some bloggers have accused you of embellishing your background as a former Muslim. How do you handle your critics?
Caner: My brothers and I have dealt with a lot of criticism over the years, but the Internet has just made it louder. If you do anything someone is going to criticize you. By the way, everybody who is a part of my testimony – the boy who led me to Christ, the pastor who baptized me, and the church where we were members – they have all stood with us loudly and emphatically.
My critics have never been in the room with me. My critics don’t even know me. I prefer not to mention their names. I don’t want to give credence to people who spend all their time criticizing others. I have done the Matthew 10 thing of just shaking the dust from my feet and I never look back.
I think the criticism has actually backfired on them, because if you have ever heard me preach I am the most self-deprecating guy around, because I know I am an idiot. I apologized back in 2010, but I can probably tell you 50 things I have done worse. I know I have plenty to give an account of when I stand before God, but I am just not going to repent for something I did not do.
I have discovered that Georgia Baptists don’t like bullies. When the trustees elected me to be the president of Brewton-Parker it was probably not so much an affirmation of me as it was a rejection of them.
The Index: Are you still preaching to 100,000 students a year?
Caner: Yes, I have the privilege of speaking to lots of students. Interestingly, I got more invitations after the attacks started. It’s weird, because it’s like people want you because they identify with you. And they know that when you are going through something that some of your best sermons come through the fire.
The Index: How are you at recruiting students?
Caner: I don’t mind recruiting. As I travel across this state I will recruit for all three of our Baptist colleges. Each school is unique and has special things to offer. For example, Truett-McConnell has a Master’s degree. I don’t want to have a Master’s degree, but I want to have a missions program.
The Index: Why should a Georgia Baptist high school student go to Brewton-Parker?
Caner: Not every person, not every student will like the environment at Brewton-Parker. I want kids who will be the first responders. I want kids who will be the last line of defense. I want the ones who will shoulder the burden – the ones who are willing to do something hard.
I want those who will graduate from our school and we’ll never hear their name again, because they are somewhere in a dangerous place serving the Lord. They are spiritual Green Berets.
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