Saturday, June 26, 2010

Embellishments of the "evangelical" variety

After noting the current flap between Mike Adams and Donald Miller over the latter's alleged embellishments of his autobiography, I was reminded of two other cases of embellishment which do not fit the "oldline liberal" or "Emergent" template. The first is the now infamous case of Christian comedian Mike Warnke, who claimed to have been a former Satanist priest before coming to Christ. In his "autobiography," The Satan Seller, Warnke provided lurid details of drug use and occult rituals, all of which, it turned out, were entirely fabricated. Warnke lied about his background in order to promote himself as an "expert" on Satanism, a hot topic in the evangelical world during the late 1980's and early 1990's. He got exactly what he wanted: notoriety in the evangelical community, becoming a near iconic figure until his lies were exposed in a lengthy article in Cornerstone magazine in 1992.

Fast forward to post-9/11/01. The topic was not Satanism, but Islam. Who better to educate evangelicals than a former Muslim turned evangelical Christian? Enter Ergun Caner, a Turkish-born former Muslim who claimed, among other things, to have been trained to be a terrorist. In the celebrity culture of the Southern Baptist Convention, Caner's star rose rapidly, eventually landing him the coveted office of President and Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. But, like Warnke before him, Caner's claims about the extent of his involvement with the forces of darkness have turned out to be fabrications. After a lengthy -- and controversial -- investigation by a committee of Liberty's board of trustees, he has been removed as "dean" of the seminary while retaining his position on the faculty. Precisely what happened to his title as "president" is somewhat unclear. Amazingly enough, he continues to have his defenders, such as Tim Guthrie of SBC Today, who makes the astounding claim that the result of the investigation was Caner's "exoneration."

These episodes of embellishments of the "evangelical" variety level the playing field a bit with regard to the Adams/Miller kerfuffle. Obviously, autobiographical embellishment is not unique to one side of the theological spectrum. What both sides might benefit from is a commitment to integrity and truth.