Fuller Theological Seminary Names First Black President

Milton Quintanilla | CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor | Published: Sep 14, 2022
Fuller Theological Seminary Names First Black President

Fuller Theological Seminary Names First Black President

David Emmanuel Goatley, a Black church theologian and missions leader, has been named the next president of the California-based Fuller Theological Seminary, the largest Protestant interdenominational seminary in the nation.

Goatley is leaving his research professorship and associate deanship at Duke Divinity School to assume his new role at FTS in January 2023. Not only will he be the sixth president of 

FTS, but he will also be the first person of color to take on the role.

“There’s a certain representation that is important … The journey of which I am part matters,” Goatley told Christianity Today. “I am a Black person in the United States, which means some of my story has to do with discrimination and segregation and slavery, and all of that helps to give insight to how I handle myself and how I seek to handle creation and engage with other people.”

“It also means something significant that Fuller Theological Seminary was able to take seriously the candidacy of a Black man,” he continued. “They did not explicitly or implicitly rule me out. I’ve had that happen to me before.”

Outgoing president Mark Labberton, who announced his departure last year, hoped his replacement would be a woman or a person of color.

According to Jimmy Mellado, an FTS board member and the CEO of Compassion International, the board unanimously selected Goatley out of a pool of about 1,000 candidates. He believes Goatley will carry a global vision for the school.

“We’re not looking for a 180-degree turn here,” he said.

Goatley was previously ordained in the National Baptist Convention-USA and pastored a Black Baptist church in Kentucky for nine years. He then spent the next 20 years as the CEO of Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society, a historic Black missions agency.

He believes that seminaries in the U.S. have limited themselves to “a Euro-centered vision, or a Western North Atlantic vision of theology.”

“It’s not that that’s bad,” he said. “But there are other sheep that the Lord has. There are other voices. … I’m not saying we need to do away with European and Western North Atlantic insights and frameworks. What I’m saying is we don’t need to rely exclusively or primarily on that alone.”

Goatley also recounted how churches in Liberia continue to work faithfully amid a civil war, where checkpoints are guarded by teenagers with guns.

“One of the challenges we have in the United States is to come to the realization that we are not the axis of the universe,” he said. “We are not the center of what God is doing. We need to … come alongside our siblings in other places of the world where God is working despite the challenges that people are experiencing.”

Tom Lin, a Fuller board member and the head of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said that the board appreciates that Goatley is a “holistic leader” due to his background as a pastor, organization leader, missions agency leader, and academic.

“He’s going to lead ethnically diverse leaders in an ethnically diverse world. I was one of the first nonwhite presidents of a large national evangelical organization, Jimmy [Mellado], and I share that.” Lin explained.

“I understand the challenges Dr. Goatley will face. … People will want him to speak to particular issues in the Black church because he’s a Black leader, or assume that he’s going to lead it in a direction that’s this or that because of his ethnic background,” he continued. “We chose him because he’s an outstanding candidate.”

“He holds dearly that the evangel that Jesus proclaimed is truly good news,” Lin said.

FTS, which was established in 1947, has had leadership from Presbyterian and Reformed traditions in the past 30 years, including Labberton, who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and his predecessor Richard Mouw, a Reformed theologian.

Photo courtesy: ©Creative Commons/Bobak Ha'Eri

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for CrosswalkHeadlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.

Fuller Theological Seminary Names First Black President