Monday, October 09, 2006

What really happened to the debate, pt. 1

This is a post I had hoped never to have to write. Instead of looking up dates and rereading emails and phone logs, I had hoped to be spending this week finishing up preparation for the debate in which Emir Caner, Ergun Caner, James White and I had months ago agreed to engage. Instead, I now find myself compelled to set forth the facts of what actually happened to sabotage our agreement and thus the debate.

Before giving my perspective on all this I want to direct you to several places where others have helpfully or humorously (which, these days is also very helpful!) commented on the debate. For a very accurate rendition of the facts of the case, read James White's explanations found here. Timmy Brister also has a helpful review of the events, including many helpful links including one to this hilarious "pre-debate video" put together by Josh Chavers . Timmy also put together some comments by some Liberty students.

Those who have been reading this blog for the last 8 months, or who have been industrious enough to do a little research, will know that the genesis of the debate is found in various comments that Ergun and Emir Caner left on a post I wrote about Johnny Hunt's announced candidacy for the SBC presidency. They were offended by remarks made by some commenters who disparaged Hunt and others, and took it upon themselves to respond with inflammatory and bombastic accusations. In the mix of all of the responses, a challenge to debate was issued by James White to Ergun Caner to debate issues surrounding the doctrines of grace. That exchange that this challenge provoked ultimately was taken off the blog and into email exchanges. After a few weeks, Ergun agreed to a debate with the stipulation that he be joined by Emir and James be joined by someone, preferably a Southern Baptist. James asked me to participate and I accepted.

After several more weeks of attempting to get details of the debate (thesis, length, date, etc.) arranged, things once again grew so heated that at the end of June I bowed out, unwilling to participate in the kind of mudfest that seemed to be shaping up. James agreed to plan on debating both brothers by himself. Ergun agreed, and that is how things remained for several more weeks. On July 13, in what was surely a remarkable providence, I was in the middle of composing a private email to Ergun when I received one from him. His was about a writing project and was very gracious in tone. My email was an effort to promote understanding and to express real sorrow over the way things had degenerated regarding the debate. I had absolutely no interest in being involved in the debate at that time. My interest was primarily to repent over my sin in some statements made and to ask for forgiveness.

This led to a phone conversations between Ergun and me on July 18. We profitably discussed many issues, including the debate. He indicated that he and Emir genuinely wanted me to participate and that they sincerely were looking forward to it. A few days later he emailed James and asked if Emir could contact me to discuss my participation in the debate. James agreed, Emir contacted me and we spoke by phone on July 26. He asked what would be necessary for me to get back into the debate. I said we would need to negotiate 3 things: length, format, and thesis. After much discussion we agreed to the following:
  • Length: 3 hours of actual debate
  • Format: modified parliamentary (only one interrupting question per speech, and that limited to 15 seconds; and ample cross examination)
  • Topic: Baptists and Calvinism: an Open Debate
This agreement represented compromise on both parts. I wanted a more focused thesis. I wanted a different format. Emir wanted less time, the parliamentary format and an unrestricted thesis/topic. We compromised and agreed on the compromise. Both James and Ergun signed off on this agreement. I also proposed a public statement that the four of us could issue. I wrote such a statement, incorporated suggested changes, and published it August 3 on this blog with the announcement of the newly negotiated agreement regarding length, format and topic.

This agreement was left undiscussed until September 13, when I sent another email to all four participants.

to be continued tomorrow


johnMark said...

Thank you.


Q. A. Jones said...

Dr. Ascol,

I'm saddened by the turn of events. I'm praying that this debate can happen at some level at some time. I don't know if you saw my post that urged you guys to go forward regardless. I know that oversimplifies things a bit, but I just think this such an important issue. I know you two do as well. Keeping you all in prayer. Hoping to meet you at some point in the future.


Sola Gratia said...

Well, if you ask me, it was almost as if Dr. Caner was pleased that the debate was cancled. The only thing on his website that was "sad" was the fact that Dr. White "backed out". Why can't Dr. Caner actually tell the truth? When i first looked on his website it looked as if Dr. Caner has an ego problem. So I think all this is about him. Dr. White and Dr. Ascol wanted a biblical debate while Dr. Caner wanted wanted fame. My cousin goes to LU and he said that he did not think to highly of Dr. Caner. Why? Ego.

bristopoly said...

Hey, Mr. Caner, I’ll be your Huckleberry. J Seriously, why don’t some of us go down and debate him anyway. Come on, Gene, let’s go. You can speak and I’ll just knod my head in the background.J

I did think this was funny: “Incidentally, this Sunday night at 6:00pm Dr. Emir Caner will be preaching at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and he will address this topic. I will be there. Whosoever will may come.”

Really? Whosoever will? Shut-ins? Those impoverished on the other side of the country and have no means to get there? People who have never heard about it on the other side of the world? People who work at nights? Are on vacation? Etc.

Maybe Mr. Caner’s whosoever is the same as ours: Whosoever- “those who are brought about to the right situations and conditions by the will of God and are given the ability to come by His sovereign grace, to the exclusion of everyone else who isn’t.”

Doesn’t anyone else think it’s kind of creepy to see him sign off with the “whosoever will” every time when in fact that phrase is not in John 3:16, which he thinks he is quoting; but instead is quoting a man-made tradition that makes its way into our English translations. I guess it is appropriate to have a man-made text to back up a man-made theology, but you would think the superficial cliches in one’s life would make a man lay awake at night wondering if there was more to the truth than clever soundbites that ignore exegetical facts of the Holy Writ.

Oh well, I’m bummed about the debate. But maybe truth witheld is also a sign of judgment from God, and we should not whine about it then, but be saddened instead. May God have mercy on the faculty at LU and the students who follow them. They will need it to break through such ignorant and rebellious darkness.

bristopoly said...

hey, my J's are supposed to be laughing faces. Oh well.

GUNNY said...

"continued tomorrow ..."

What a tease! ; )

So far so good and the history is helpful and nicely written, very magnanimous.

We'll definitely tune in next time for another episode of As the Weirdness Turns.

brucewright said...

This sure looks like a Preacher who acts as though he's a liberal political canidate. Isn't (spin)like half-truths. Why would a representative of Christ need to skew words to favor his position?

I'm one of the simple ones who regrets the hundreds of dollars that Falwell's pimp tactics convinced to give to his cause.

How many true ministries are damaged by these men who promote themselves in the name of Jesus.

Sorry but this lack of integrity is disheartening. How do these men pray?

johnMark said...

Emir responded with a much nicer tone


Gojira said...

Dear bros. Tom and James,

It is indeed very sad to see how this is turning out. While it may be somewhat mean to say, one can't help but come to the conclusion that either Ergun is an immensely immature believer, or he has saddly retained certain Islamic tactics.

Regardless, I do look forward to seeing both of you continue on with your ministries.


Jeff Downs said...

I was listening to the program James put together here. Caner begins by stated that he received a phone call (unknown person) stating that he was not going to preach on the topic he wanted to address (i.e. "Calvinism"). Of course he went with it, but I wonder who the unnamed person was who told him he was not going to address the issue and why and does this have anything to do with the craziness on their side.

Gene Bridges makes a comment about Ergun that I fully agree with, especially since I've been on the receiving end of Caner's free wheeling thoughts.

Bridges states "In Dr. Caner's case, he seems to have a habit of opening his mouth without thinking first."

The biggest problem with this is that what comes out of his mouth, at least in my case, was a lie. He has never apologized or explained why he lied to me. He has actually been pretty silent after I caught him in his lie and asked why he did so.

This situation is very sad.

Bartimaeus said...

kpWell I certainly looking forward to the next instalment. But so far it seems is that one side is spinning a good yarn. How can anyone agree a debate format then put it in writing and then unilaterally twelve days before the debate without any consultation from the other side change the agreed format of the debate. Any honest person Calvinist or non-Calvinist would not engage in a debate under such circumstances. e

J. Gray said...

I'm glad that this will be out there to help combat the sad misrepresentations of Ergun.

How anyone can think that the rules can be changed at the last minute after they were settled previously is beyond me.
Caner says that White whined, was arrogant, and wanted things changed...seems to me the arrogant one was Caner...who wanted everything HIS way. He wants to rant, not debate (as has been said well by others).

But he got out of it...which is what he wanted all along.
He dodged requests for debate for a logn time, then was guilted into it because of his embarassing performance on this blog.
Then, too scared to go it alone, he had to 'phone a friend' to get help.

The "evangelical bulldog" is all bark, IMO.

Larry said...

I agree with others who've said this is what Caner & co. wanted all along. In my opinion, he was looking for a way to save face by seeming to accept so that he could then orchestrate the demise of the debate in such a way that it appeared the other side was at fault. He's done a very poor job of the latter BTW, since its obvious to all who can read who is at fault in the demise of the debate.

Bottom line is, I think Falwell knew that a true debate with Messrs. White and Ascol would be a disaster for his golden boy and deep down Caner knew it too. Hence this scheme.

Patrick Berryman said...

I just read Emir's response. It is definitely more temperate than Ergun's. Still, it seems to miss the more salient points that Drs. White and Ascol were concerned about. Does the half hour (give or take) that would be added to the overall program to accommodate the preliminary introductions, intermission, etc. actually make the debate unworkable? Was the only feasible solution to cut into the actual substantive portion of the debate? Are we supposed to believe that Dr. White is terminating the debate over six minutes of debate time? Did Dr. O'Donnell change anything other than the time allotment for each segment? If so, isn't it disingenuous to imply that Dr. White's sole concern is the amount of time? And what about the media rights? How is it that the moderator would have any say over the rights to any video or audio recordings of the debate?

With all due respect, Dr. Caner, you're leaving some important questions unanswered.

August said...

The bottom line is, if the Caner brothers et al are so sure of their position, why not debate anywhere? They seem to be hiding behind debate mechanisms and the "walls" of Liberty, instead of grasping the opportunity to show why their position is the correct one. They are all confident and loud in front of a captive student audience, but when it comes time to defend their views at a neutral venue, they seem to shirk.

Their insistence on doing it their way from the beginning sure does put some questions on their motives.

I am all for unity, as well as fruitful discussion among the followers of Christ, but that puts a responsibility on all who calls themselves Christian to act in an intellectually honest and morally upright fashion.

Brian said...

I saw that the time change was not very significant... maybe only a half hour. Although I agree it is a dishonorable thing to retract a written agreement in such close proximity to the actual debate, it seems that the actual change was not very significant.

Was it instead the rights to recording and showing the debate, etc, that is the reason Tom and James didn't go through with it? Or was it just the principle of the thing?

I ask this because I find it hard to believe the real reason was the half hour lost, even though that half hour should have never been taken away in the first place.

Ransom said...


If you have read Tom's second part, you will notice that Dr. O'Donnell's changes to the format also give the "affirmative" side the first and last word. It should be easy to understand how that would give that side an advantage.

Angelz said...

Dr. Tom and whosoever hears,

I wish I could say I was "saddened" by this whole thing...actually I am deeply angered by it. I see men who have the position and responsibility to represent God and their bretheren accurately outright..lie. Yep I said lie, not "misrepresent", not "alter the facts", but just plain old garden variety lie. The Ninth commandment has been trod underfoot by the Caners. How dare I judge their hearts...I don't, I can't, I won't, but their actions, words and smart alec attitude would have won a rap on the mouth from my mom. Sorry ladies and gents if I seem perturbed (that's a fun word to say)...but I'm broodingly angry at God's men being lied about by self proclaimed evangelical "pit bulls" More like pit bull-oney to me.
Sigh...I need an Advil. thanks for letting me vent.;)

DOGpreacher said...

yeah...a temperate lie is better right?