With the start of the new year, the Rev. Jonathan Lee Walton has begun his new role as president of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Walton is only the eighth person to serve in the role in the seminary’s history and is the first Black president of the school. He is not a stranger to Princeton though. He earned his doctorate degree and his master’s of divinity degree from the school, and also served on the seminary’s board of trustees. In 2019, he delivered a lecture on campus when a portrait of the late Geddes W. Hansen, a beloved seminary professor, was unveiled.
“My heart is full of joy and deep appreciation…we are thankful to you for your many prayers, phone calls, and messages of support in recent weeks. Your love extended to us during this period of transition exemplified the warm community of welcome that lies at the heart of Princeton Seminary,” Walton wrote in a welcome message on Jan. 3.
Walton, a social ethicist, previously served as the dean of Wake Forest University’s divinity school. He also has served as a professor and minister at the Memorial Church at Harvard University. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of evangelical Christianity, mass media, and political culture. He is the author of two books: “Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism,” and “A Lens of Love: Reading the Bible in Its World for Our World.” Walton has also been published widely in various academic journals, books, magazines, and newspapers. His insights have been featured in the New York Times, CNN, Time Magazine, and PBS.
He said he accepted the offer to become the next president of the seminary for two reasons.
“First, Princeton Theological Seminary is unapologetic about its mission. This mission is reflected in you, the amazing people who constitute this community. Whether you are a student or an alum, work in facilities or on the faculty, serve in the library or on the board of trustees, all are engaged in the formative work of preparing servant leaders to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly throughout the church and world,” Walton wrote.
“Second, Princeton Theological Seminary is a premier institution of higher learning that understands the importance of tradition and innovation. We are part of a rich Reformed tradition that took root as a campus here in 1812,” he wrote. “Yet the lasting import of this tradition is a result of innovation—innovation born of expanded moral imaginations and more inclusive conceptions of whom God calls. Princeton Theological Seminary has always honored tradition and innovation, and we have long championed intellectual rigor and expanding access.”
Princeton Theological Seminary is innovating and expanding access to lifelong learning by adding new degree and certificate programs and offering hybrid learning options, he wrote.
“These are exciting times. I understand this is a time of significant change in higher education and faith communities,” Walton wrote. “Theological education is at an inflection point. Yet I am confident in our future because I am confident in you and the God who called each of us to this glorious task. Thank you for welcoming me back to this special place.”
Founded in 1812, Princeton Theological Seminary is the largest seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is the second oldest seminary in the United States. Walton replaces M. Craig Barnes, who served as president of the seminary for a decade.
Walton is married to children’s book author Cecily Cline Walton and they have three children, Zora Neale, Elijah Mays, and Baldwin Cline.