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Journey of faith leads to mountain college
The Truett-McConnell College Concert Choir sings Thursday during the inaugural ceremony for incoming school president Dr. Emir Caner. - photo by Tom Reed

Southern Baptist leaders flocked to Truett-McConnell College to celebrate the inauguration of the Cleveland college’s eighth president.

Emir Caner began serving as the college’s president in August, but was officially installed Thursday as president of the Southern Baptist college.

With musical fanfare to the tune of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Baptist leaders from across the South honored Caner as the first former Sunni Muslim to take the helm of a Southern Baptist college.

As the ceremony unfolded, numerous Baptist leaders referred to Caner’s remarkable religious transition to a Baptist Christian.
Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said Georgia’s 1.4 million Baptists can rejoice in Caner’s presidency.

“We believe these will be the greatest years in the history of Truett-McConnell College,” White said to Caner. “... There was no doubt in our minds that God had led us directly to you.”

Caner said he first found Christ when he was a teenager at a revival near Columbus, Ohio, where he was raised a Muslim. Caner’s brother, Ergun Caner, serves as the president and dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.

Ergun Caner and his mother were on hand at the ceremony. In his speech, Ergun Caner painted his brother as a rascal to which college kids can relate and from which they can learn. He said although he’s four years older than Emir, his brother is his hero.

“He’s the best preacher I know,” Ergun Caner said. “He may be my younger brother, but he’s my elder.”

Emir Caner earned a Bachelor of Arts in biblical studies from The Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. He then earned a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. and a Doctor of Philosophy in history from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Caner has also served as a lecturer and seminar leader in numerous colleges and institutes. He has held pastor and staff positions at churches in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas over the past decade. From 1999 to 2004 he was assistant professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In 2005, he became the founding dean of The College at Southwestern and also served as the director of the Center for Free Church Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, until he came to Truett-McConnell.

Caner also has written or contributed to 16 books about various topics, including Islam, persecution, church history, Baptist history and apologetics. His book “Unveiling Islam” received the Gold Medallion Book of the Year award and has sold more than 200,000 copies. His book “More Than a Prophet” was a finalist for Book of the Year in Evangelism for “Outreach” magazine.

At 38, Emir Caner is the youngest president in Truett-McConnell’s 62 years.
Students and alumni said they are excited to have a young scholar with a passion for international mission work as the college’s new president.

Caner said he plans to open an international missions center on the Cleveland campus, and charges all Truett-McConnell students to complete an international mission trip before graduation.

He has participated in many overseas mission trips, the most notable of which was a trip to the Czech Republic in 2000. On that trip, he met Hana Titerova, daughter of the General Secretary of the Czech Baptist Union in Prague. The two married within a year, and now have three children. The family resides on the Truett-McConnell campus.

Will Taylor, a third year student at Truett-McConnell, said he will accompany the new president on a mission trip to Thailand this summer.

“He’s passionate about preaching to us and about global missions,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to see what he’s going to do at the school and for us.”

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Caner’s “swashbuckling ways” will be exciting for students. Patterson said he challenges the new president to restoring morality to youth today. He said greed, in particular, threatens to ruin the United States.

Trent Williams, a Gwinnett County native and second-year student at Truett-McConnell, said he believes Caner is the best man for the job. He said the new president is an avid sports fan and is already igniting students’ passion for Christ.

“You can really tell he loves what he does and really cares about the students and faculty,” Williams said. “He always takes time out to talk to us about everything, life, family, the Bible, relationships and of course, sports.”

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