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Welcome to all of our new subscribers. We’re glad you’ve opted in to receiving updates from Sola Ecclesia. As a reminder, this substack serves as what would traditionally be the editor’s column at the beginning of a new edition of our theological journal. But the digital medium gives me some latitude to do things I couldn’t do with a normal print publication, like give you a preview of what is coming out on Monday.
A few weeks back, I sat down with Doug Logan, the president and founder of Grimké Seminary. I recorded an interview with him about racism, pastoring in urban contexts, and the founding of Grimké Seminary. We’ve already published the first and second parts of that interview. The third part will be live on Monday morning at Sola Ecclesia. But you, our faithful subscribers, get an advanced viewing of the complete interview.
Doug and I have known each other for over a decade. When we were both pastors and church planters, he was my first phone call whenever any topic about race or racism sprung up in the church. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent on the phone with him, listening and soaking up his wisdom on these topics. But the thing I love most about Doug is that he is, in his own words, a Bible-boy. Like John Bunyan, if you prick him, he bleeds bibline.1 That stood out most in our interview.
I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
Here it is in full.
Joe Holland: You talk a lot about race—academically and personally. You and I have talked a lot about race in personal conversations. And what I love about you is that you always take the conversation back to the Bible and talk about racism from a biblical perspective. If you are going to offer advice to someone who is trying to come to grips with how to understand racism, how would you want to start that conversation? How would you like to frame that conversation?
Doug Logan: Well, I’m just an old preacher man. If I was going to start with a picture, it would be to encourage someone to view the topic from God’s perspective, from man in the garden at creation before the fall. The first two humans were made in the image of God, Adam and Eve. And I love that. Even after the fall in the garden, God’s intention that multiple nations would come from Adam and Eve wasn’t removed.2 God’s intended diversity, intended before sin entered creation, was not removed after the fall. And so, I would argue that a conversation about racism and ethnicity should begin with the concept of the imago Dei, the image of God, in man at creation with the intention that diverse nations would eventually come from Adam and Eve.
Trying to describe what happened after the fall is a little more difficult, but we must stay rooted in the Bible. We can’t step out into the culture and use culture’s definitions. As a Bible-boy and a preacher, I’m always making the culture conform to Christ. I’m not conforming to the culture’s view. So, for me, God’s intention for the world to be filled with all nations was always the plan. There would be diversity but not division. But one of the products of the fall is division amid diversity. Adam and Eve were separated from God, they were separated from one another through sin. Satan’s temptation to Eve, and subsequently to Adam, was the temptation to gain supremacy contrary to the rule of God. It is from that root of evil, God-despising, self-exalting supremacy that other sins sprout, like classism, elitism, pride, and the desire for racial superiority. These are all the opposite of who Jesus is. So, racism is one of the symptoms of the fall, a symptom that must be dealt with through the promise we hear in the protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15). In that promise we learn that there is going to be a serpent slayer who’s going to come and make things right, healing the division between God and men and between men and men.
So, in light of that, when I look at racism, I see it as unaligned with the gospel of Jesus and unaligned with how God intends to restore biblical community as described in the New Testament. Ephesians talks about this multidimensional, multicolored picture of people reconciled to God and one another. The great commission talks about this. But the church in the New Testament isn’t diversity-centered. They aren’t united around the idea of diversity; they’re centered around the throne of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. Paul says in Ephesians that God is using the church to bring about the manifold wisdom, the manifold picture of the revelation of what we’re looking for, a picture that was jacked up in the fall. So, when I consider how we should talk about racism, I look out at a couple of different pictures—the imago Dei in the garden, Paul’s description of the church in Ephesians—but one that I return to often is Paul’s confrontation of Peter, recorded in Galatians 2.
What is going on in this passage is more than racism, but I think we could use the term racism to describe it—Peter’s attempted supremacy over the Gentiles as a Jew—to describe the way that Peter puffed up, tried to swag out, and threw up full Jewish gang signs when he, just moments before, was listening to Jay-Z and eating bologna sandwiches with the Gentiles. Peter made a radical switch in how he acted based on religio-ethnic lines. When the circumcision party comes, he acts like he doesn’t know the Gentiles; he dismisses them. So, he sets himself apart as elite, he moves away from the family of God to puff himself up in something other than Christ against a whole people group. At that moment Paul does something brilliant. He doesn’t just call Peter a racist—not that he used that term—but he says, “Peter, what you’re doing is out of step with the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). And the thing he was doing that was out of step with the gospel pertained to people, it was a form of supremacy. The last thing I’ll say about that is that the only solution to supremacy or racism is the gospel. The gospel shows why racism is wrong. Period.
The gospel shows that the only answer to racism is justice—biblical justice. Yet in too many conversations, Joe, we’re advocating for anti-racism when we should be advocating for gospel justice. There is a big difference between anti-racism and biblical justice. Too often we’re calling a plumber for an electrical problem. We have to deal with the problem of racism from a biblical perspective.
Joe Holland: So, you mean that God’s prelapsarian design for humanity included diversity. It was sin that created division which led to a battle for racial supremacy. And that created the animosity between different ethnicities, an animosity that is being reconciled through Christ as a result of the gospel.
Doug Logan: Exactly. And so that would be my counsel to a Christian who wanted to think through or talk about racism: start with and argue from the Bible in light of the centrality of Jesus Christ.
Joe Holland: Now, I know that you’ve personally experienced racism before you were converted and after you were converted, before you were ordained and after you were ordained. Your wife has experienced racism. There are a lot of reasons why you could be very angry and very riled up. It would be easy for you to move from biblical anger at the injustice you’ve experienced to unbiblical anger. What has God done in your life to help you respond in a biblical way to the racism you’ve experienced?
Doug Logan: I’ll give a shout-out to my wife. My wife is white and is from a middle-class diverse community in South Jersey. When she grew up, her father was in the music business. So she grew up around every type of race, particularly living in her primarily black neighborhood. And her block, in particular, was a black neighborhood. Her family was the white family with the pool that everybody came to. I grew up in the ghetto, in Paterson, New Jersey. We both grew up in incredibly diverse communities.
Angel has been such a calming presence for me. She sees the racism, she despises it, and she handles it way better than I do. She experienced racism at my historically black church. The church that I grew up in, the church I was ordained in, was founded the day after the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a part of the Underground Railroad and all that. The subtle but consistent racism Angel experienced from a few pastors and leaders at that church as a white girl at a historic African American church was atrocious and evil. I’m not scared to say that as a black person. It needs to be said because it’s true. I’ve seen her cry. And at the same time, with gospel grace, she came back to the church that next Sunday with a smile, loving people and forgiving people. She’s been a rock for me in that example.
For me, I had to learn to calm down. For me, the key was learning from Angel, learning from the way my kids endured racism graciously, learning from the Word of God, and having people that God blessed me with: you and the church you planted supporting us, Paul Tripp’s mentorship, Phil Ryken, Eric Mason . . . I had a diverse group of people on the front side of planting in Camden. And all of this was happening as I planted a church in the midst of being a part of a large white network, being a part of a super-duper, -duper, -duper, predominantly white denomination. For many years as a Presbyterian, I’ve experienced racism in both of those entities—my network and my denomination. And by God’s grace, I’ve been reconciled with many of those brothers over time. So, for me, I learned to endure racism early on from my wife, watching my kids, and all the great white friends I had.
And I should say, in those early days, that when I experienced racism, every time I tried to deal with it, I never really dealt with it well. I obsessed over it instead. I was not doing the work that God called me to do. I was arguing with white people about racism and neglecting my ministry. Of course, now, I’m not going to be silent about racism and excuse my silence by saying that I’m busy doing ministry. I am going to confront it. But by God’s grace, I don’t obsess over it like I used to.
There’s a level of balance we have to pursue in our ministries. God didn’t call me to confront just one sin. Racism is just one of many sins. The minister of the gospel confronts all sin and calls all people to repent and place their faith in Jesus. Because if grace is real and God’s patience is real, then we need to have this burning patience for mission. We have to have this burning patience for people who haven’t seen the gospel rightly as it pertains to race. I know I can’t just obsess over one sin, like racism, and make it my hobby horse. That isn’t what it means to be a shepherd.
Joe Holland: So, 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 Judea, 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.
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.
Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, “Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline.”
The diversity God intended to come from the line of Adam and Eve can be discerned from various statements in the Bible, including Gen. 12:3; 17:6; Acts 17:26; Rev. 5:9.