CLEVELAND, Ga. (BP)–Emir Caner, founding dean of The College at Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, was elected as the eighth president of Truett-McConnell College on Aug. 8.
Caner, 37, who was raised in a Sunni Muslim family in Ohio and converted to Christianity as a teenager in 1982, will become the youngest president ever to lead Truett-McConnell, a four-year college affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. He will begin his new duties Aug. 18.
Caner has led The College at Southwestern -– the undergraduate program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -– since 2005.
He has held faculty positions at Southwestern and at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, a master of divinity from Southeastern and a bachelor of arts in biblical studies from Criswell College in Dallas.
Terrell J. Williams, chairman of Truett-McConnell’s trustees, said in a news release, “It’s a great day in the life of Truett-McConnell College and Georgia Baptists. The TMC Board of Trustees is extremely excited about the future of our school under the leadership of Dr. Emir Caner.”
Bucky Kennedy, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said Caner will “bring to Truett-McConnell a level of Christian education that will raise the bar academically but also manifest itself in the life of the students,” while J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia convention, described Caner as “a scholar, a professor, a writer, a preacher and an experienced administrator — a powerful combination of gifts. At the same time, he has a vibrant personality and is easy to know. He has a contagious warmth, is enjoyable to be with and is an excellent conversationalist.”
Mike Simoneaux, who served Truett-McConnell’s interim president, said in the news release, “God’s leading is evident in the calling of Dr. Emir Caner as the new president of Truett-McConnell College. I sincerely believe that Dr. Caner’s presidency will be characterized by unprecedented expansion of our student body, by strengthening our readiness to serve the Lord through Christian education and by rapid growth of our financial resources.”
Caner, in an interview with The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said his vision is to build the college of nearly 500 students into “a nationally recognized college that is based on the Word of God.”
While affirming the institution’s liberal arts foundation, he said Truett-McConnell’s goal must be to “thoroughly equip students to engage the culture with a distinctively Christian and Baptist worldview. Being Christian is important, but we need to build on those Baptist distinctives that make us unique.”
He added that in time, and in line with accreditation approval, the college will be offering more Bible classes and other curriculum “that equips students to engage the culture with a dynamic witness that changes the world by changing lives.”
Citing the escalating costs of Christian higher education -– which in many instances can be double that of state-subsidized universities -– Caner said institutions like Truett-McConnell play a valuable role in shaping society. When asked why a parent should choose a much more expensive education for their child, Caner quickly responded that the two products are vastly different and that consumers get what they pay for.
“A parent should choose a Christian higher education for their child because of the investment in the student’s mind. When they send their child to a Christian liberal arts college like Truett-McConnell, they are doing it for two primary reasons. First, they are sending their child to an institution that guards the mind from the destruction that can come from a secular education, and second, that prepares their child not just for a profession but also for how to live a life of character.
“A Christian cannot be defined by what he or she does but by their character. That character, in turn, is formed by the investment of professors and staff who pour themselves into a student who will gain a thoroughly Christian worldview.”
While he said he enjoyed his role on the campus of Southwestern Seminary, he said Truett-McConnell offers an opportunity to help grow a college based on solid Baptist principles.
“We need to have a solid biblical curriculum for our students on this campus. We are going to pour our lives into missions, Christian studies and related areas. There will be a wonderful blend of students graduating from TMC and walking into the secular world and into ministry positions, both equipped with a solid Christian worldview.”
In discussing the future, Caner said one of the joys in his life is sharing Christ “with my Muslim friends around the world. I hope Truett-McConnell will be instrumental in playing a small role in reaching some of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, many who now call the United States their home.”
He said he would not be adverse, later in his administration, to the creation of an Islamic study center at the college, complete with mission trips to experience Islamic culture firsthand.
In discussing the concept of the Christian worldview model in higher education, he briefly referred to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “If there is anything good that came out of 9/11, it is that Americans have become more open to discussing religion and matters of faith,” he explained.
Caner said his dream is for Truett-McConnell students to leverage that openness as they move into the marketplace with their degrees.
“We at Truett-McConnell hope to produce students who can move into this new culture with a dynamic faith that will change lives. I want to be sure that students walk out of here, regardless of their profession, who have a passion for the Lord and for sharing Him with others.”
Caner has authored, coauthored or contributed to 16 books, including “Unveiling Islam,” which won a Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. In total, his books have sold more than 300,000 copies and have been translated into eight languages.
Caner and his wife Hana, have three children: John Mark, 5; Daniela, 3; and Anna, 1.
His brother, Ergun, is president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.