Joe Holland: After planting a church in Camden, NJ, you went on to be the founder and first president of Grimké Seminary. And part of your story, part of the history of the American church, and part of what we’ve traced in this interview as we’ve covered the biblical history of God’s people since the garden is reflected in Grimké Seminary, which is a multiethnic seminary that has a center for urban ministry. Training men to minister in the urban context is part of what we do at Grimké. So how has your story and what you believe about the Bible shaped the theme of Grimké around race, ethnicity, and those kinds of pastoral issues?
Doug Logan: If we dive a little bit into history, we find that almost every reformed school of theology in America—the conservative seminaries before and after Emancipation—have had white presidents. There have been some African Americans that have led well episodically in different places when given the opportunity, like Francis Grimké, who studied at Princeton under Charles Hodge. Representatively, theological education has been Euro-centric and primarily middle-class Anglo in America. This goes for most of the Reformed publishers and conferences as well. The content that has been produced has been predominately for a white, middle-class audience rather than folks coming out of a context marked by poverty or even just rural settings. Now don’t hear me calling this racist; hear me calling this a blindness to a comprehensive picture of the Great Commission. The Great Commission of Matthew 28, the call in Acts 1:8 to be witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth, and the all-nations perspective of Psalm 67—texts like these remind us that God’s intention was always to reach people outside of the covenant, Gentiles of all nations, through the covenant-keeping Christ, the Messiah who has come.
And if the sweep of covenant theology includes all nations, it must include all neighborhoods. And those neighborhoods are ignored in the primary landscape of our American Reformed heritage. And so, when I started to see some of these things, the fleshly, sinful, and childish nanny-nanny-boo-boo-I-can-do-it-too posture in me said, “Forget them. We’re going to do an all-black-everything urban school.” And so back in 2007, with one of my pastoral mentors, I began dreaming of what an all-black seminary could be. I had multiple conversations with multiple seminaries and none of them would ever pull the trigger on it—these are seminaries that you and I both know. I love those brothers.
But I couldn’t shake the fact that God is really serious about reaching all the nations. So, I wanted to be really serious about reaching all the nations. That led to a conversation with Bryan Laughlin where I told him my dream of starting an all-black-everything urban school. Bryan Laughlin said to me, “I can help you with that, Diddy. But how awesome would it be if we did center-city and inner-city church planting in the same room? Let’s not overcorrect, but let’s let the Bible guide us. If it’s all nations, let’s do a school for all nations.” And in my anger, in my internal frustration, I wanted to say, “Forget that! They didn’t care about us, them white folk.” But then I heard my own words quoted back to me in my head.
“If the sweep of covenant theology includes all nations, it must include all neighborhoods.”—Doug Logan
When I’m talking to friends or debating folks on a particular theological topic and they start getting off in what they’re saying, I’ll say, “What about that Bible though?” I’ll say, “I hear what you’re saying but I don’t hear no Bible.” Bryan took my dream of an all-black-everything seminary and basically said to me, “But what about that Bible?” And I got pretty emotional in that conversation with Bryan because I realized that I had become the enemy that I hated. I had become distracted, not focused on building, but more focused on competition rather than collaboration. There is a thin line between competition and collaboration, particularly in the church.
So, we just started and decided we’re not going to do an all-black-everything school. We’re going to do Grimké Seminary with an emphasis on urban missiology, recognizing that a lot of schools aren’t focusing there.
We want to shape our school contrary to how other schools were shaped that didn’t introduce their students to solid scholars and thinkers like Francis Grimké, Frederick Douglass, and Tom Skinner. Nor did they typically introduce us even to theology from non-white authors with whom we disagree. A lot of my white brothers who went to seminary have never read a work by a black theologian—either as a positive or a negative theological example.
So, classes at Grimké purposely include books on the syllabus from non-white scholars—African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others. But this isn’t some kind of race-based book quota. We just know that there are more people who have added to scholarly debate and the Academy than white men. We want to present that beautiful picture, this multifaceted, multiethnic reality so that other scholars make it into the conversation that shapes the next generation of pastors.
And this is where the two strands of my story come together. We want our students to read broadly to develop their critical thinking skills and to stumble upon orthodox theologians they may not have heard from before. To do that we need to keep asking that question that got me started in this direction, “What about that Bible?” Our students read broadly, they are taught soundly, and as a seminary, we bring everything under the rule of King Jesus as he has revealed himself in the Bible.
Joe Holland: You could look at the photographs of our graduating classes and see that we have a multiethnic student body. But talk a little bit about the diverse contexts our students are coming from and your intention to found a seminary that had a student body like that.
Doug Logan: Our school did not start with a demographic of a particular kind of student we wanted. All we did was set up a framework, cast a vision, and spoke to churches about what we wanted to accomplish.
We didn’t block calls from white people and take calls from black people. We didn’t bus people in to create this false diversity. So the diversity of our school, which includes students from Alaska, California, the East Coast, and everything in-between, that includes dudes who are from various Ivy league schools and guys without a bachelor’s—they all end up with us. It just shows you the great need for affordable, accessible, achievable training.
Our vision brings about a people group that is in need of the kind of seminary education we provide. It’s the same reason why Paul likely packed out Tyrannus Hall with people who had no seminary to go to. I mean, Epaphras goes from Colossae to Ephesus—a hundred miles give or take—to hear Paul wax in debates at Tyrannus Hall. Epaphras is a biblical example of a non-residential seminary student. And then Epaphras takes his church planting and theological training back to plant a church. How amazing is that? It’s amazing!
By God’s grace, we want to send out hundreds of guys like Epaphras, Christian men called to pastoral ministry, called to reach the nations with the gospel of Christ.