Home > Books, Current Events > reading Velvet Elvis, thinking about Ergun Caner

reading Velvet Elvis, thinking about Ergun Caner

So as I mentioned earlier I recently took the plunge and picked up Kindle editions of three Rob Bell books: Love Wins, Velvet Elvis, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians. I’ve read the first and I’m about halfway through the second. The experience has left me thinking more about standards and practices of interpreting Scripture more than anything Bell is saying.

In Chapter 5 (“Dust”) of Velvet Elvis Bell is attempting to make sense of the rabbi-disciple relationship in Second Temple Judaism as context for the relationship between Jesus and His disciples, and he tells us that in Jesus’s time a rabbi (by which he means Jesus or any other itinerant teacher) would have been through two levels of education: Bet Sefer (“House of the Book”) and Bet Talmud (“House of Learning”) by which time he would have memorized the Pentateuch (Bet Sefer) and the rest of the Old Testament (Bet Talmud). All by the age of fourteen. It’s a mind-boggling image; Bell suggests that Jesus would have known the entire Old Testament by heart, and His disciples and much of His audience would have had huge chunks of Scripture memorized as well, on some sort of sliding scale according to how long they went to or stayed in school.

It’s a fascinating concept, and Bell uses it to interpret Jesus’s references to His own education, in e.g. John 15:15. I think I had always interpreted His use of the verb “to learn” to mean something involving divine revelation, or informal education, or maybe practical knowledge, but this piece of historical detail changes the way we might read the text substantially.

This sort of interpretive machinery brings new problems to replace the ones it solves; among other things it moves the foundation on which we understand Scripture from a plain reading of the text to some sort of consensus among historians, or of individual specialists, or in Bell’s case the novelist Milton Steinberg. That’s not to say that one authority is necessarily normative and others deviant; it’s just important to remember when using one framework or another what its hazards and shortcomings are.

I have to admit that I don’t know anyone who has memorized the entire Old Testament, so it seems like a superhuman feat to me. I mean, it’s something like 23,000 verses, meaning that if you memorized ten verses a day you’d need more than six years to memorize the whole thing. By way of contrast the New Testament has about 8,000 verses, and the Koran about 6,300. We know there are people today who memorize the entire Koran; there are enough of them that there’s a word for them: hafiz [link]. And memorization of the Koran, in the original Arabic, with the appropriate intonation, etc. is one of the two courses of study in a madrasah [link]. Which brings me to Ergun Caner.

Ergun Caner is still making speaking appearances at churches [link], including one in a couple of weeks at Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX. Here’s the blurb he’s using for this appearance:

Ergun Caner is a Professor & Apologist at the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Raised as a devout Sunni Muslim along with his two brothers, Caner converted in high school.  After his conversion, he pursued his call to the ministry and education.  He has a Masters degree from The Criswell College, a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of of Theology from the University of South Africa.  He has written numerous books with his brother, Dr. Emil Caner, who is the President of Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist college in Georgia.

This biographical sketch no longer refers to his having been a jihadi, educated in a madrasah, or whatever. I honestly don’t remember what his sketch used to say before questions were raised about his background. Still, I am led to wonder, since Caner was raised as “a devout Sunni Muslim” how much of the Koran he can recite, in Arabic or otherwise. I’d pay a whole dollar to see him reciting one of the longer suras on stage at Calvary Baptist. That’s the sort of thing that might convince me that the bio above is accurate as presented. Just saying.

I wonder if Calvary pastor Brian Loveless will ask him about this while he’s in town.

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