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Muslim-turned-Baptist brothers to edit new SBC history project

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For a couple of former Sunni Muslims, the Caner brothers know their Southern Baptist history.

“My brother and I have written eight books in three years,” Ergun Caner said. “We write every day of our lives.”

Caner, assistant professor of theology and church history at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and his brother, Emir, associate professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., have written two Southern Baptist history books for Broadman & Holman, the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

The Caners were raised in a strict Muslim household. Ergun received Christ in 1982, and Emir did so a year later; they later received advance degrees from Southern Baptist seminaries.

They now are embarking on a new venture for B&H that will immerse them in even more Southern Baptist history — a comprehensive two-volume set, “The Dictionary of Southern Baptists,” to be released in 2007.

The Caners, who will serve as executive editors of the project, will sign both of their current B&H books, “The Sacred Trust: Sketches of the Southern Baptist Convention Presidents” and “The Sacred Desk: Sermons of the Southern Baptist Convention Presidents,” Monday, June 14, from 1-2 p.m. in the exhibit hall at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

“This is a historical dictionary, not a dictionary of terms,” Caner said of the new undertaking. “It is about people, places and things — important Southern Baptist historical markers.”

Caner said a dictionary of this type is sorely needed for Southern Baptists because “as a denomination, we have a tendency toward nearsightedness. We want to know, for example, when a building was built, but nothing more about it. Southern Baptists have a legacy that goes back hundreds of years, and we want to write about it.”

Ken Stephens, B&H’s president, said the dictionary “will be an invaluable resource for every pastor’s study, church library, Christian school resource center and Christian college and seminary library. It will help Baptists have an appreciation of their heritage and understand their place in the spiritual history of our country and the world.”

The Caners’ other six books have focused on Islam through the eyes of women and examined the Crusades and Muslim beliefs about Jesus and Christianity.

The brothers were attracted to Christianity because of its “freedom and grace,” Ergun Caner said. “In Islam, everything is either fatally predisposed or obedience is forced. We were drawn to the Southern Baptist denomination where we have religious liberty, personal faith and evangelism, which we had nothing of in Islam.”

Once converted, the brothers “wanted to find out everything we could about Christianity and Southern Baptists,” Caner said. “We started asking a lot of questions.”

Several academic degrees and books later, the brothers are tackling a project after which “I could die happily if I pull this off,” Caner said. “Quite frankly, this is the largest undertaking of SBC history in the last 50 years.”

The dictionary will include 5,000 articles and span an estimated 2.3 million words. Entries will vary in length from 300 to 1,000 words. The last such project was a four-volume “Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists” published in 1958 and released by Broadman Press (now B&H).

Entries in the dictionary will be written by “those who know the subject matter best,” Caner said, and will be “fair and balanced.”

“Our entries on the CBF [Cooperative Baptist Fellowship] and Calvinist movements will be written by people from those movements,” he said. “We want it written vividly, and we want people from those movements to write it. Because that for which you are passionate, you will write passionately.”

Caner said readers can expect to find articles on “worship wars” or traditional versus contemporary music; the Founder’s movement, an SBC group focused on the doctrines of grace framed by John Calvin; and many “great heroes of faith,” including James L. Sullivan, former president of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BOOK-WRITING BROTHERS.

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