Princeton, NJ — Princeton Theological Seminary yesterday inaugurated the Reverend Dr. Jonathan Lee Walton as the institution’s eighth president. A social ethicist, educator, influential scholar, and alumnus of Princeton Seminary, Walton is the first African American and first ordained Baptist minister to lead the 211-year-old Presbyterian seminary.
In a stirring inaugural address before a capacity crowd in the Princeton University Chapel, Walton called on his colleagues and the many seminary alums present to open their communities of faith and create spaces that are more welcoming, inclusive, flexible, and equitable.
“The urgency of our mission is to make the theological table more accessible and menu more inviting. It is not enough to open the doors; we must go into the highways and byways, extending God's invitation to those historically marginalized and overlooked,” said Walton, who will also serve as the seminary’s professor of religion and society. "The seminary must be an enduring resource to our alums and others throughout the globe—thoughtful, sober, Christian servants who are tending to the wounds of victims of terror and persecution, providing water to those who thirst, and building bridges of peace where others erect boundaries and borders of oppression. We must expand our menu of offerings to expand and enrich our table.”
Walton’s tenure, which began in January, has already begun to establish that vision of a more welcoming community that meets students where they are on their personal and professional journeys. Princeton Seminary has long been a global leader of theological education and is bringing that tradition of best-in-class teaching and learning online and delivering it in new ways to allow for the growth and diversification of its learning community for life.
“This is my prayer: that we remain steadfast in our institutional purpose and mission—to prepare Christian servants for ministries marked by faith, integrity, competence, compassion, and joy. Yet, who we teach and how we teach must remain an open question,” he said.
A question that Michael Fisch, chair of the board of trustees, is confident that Walton is well positioned to tackle.
“President Walton and I met several years ago as trustees for the seminary. It was during this time that I got to know both he and Cecily, and from our first meetings and conversations, their deep commitment to and love for our 211-year-old seminary was evident,” said Fisch. “That commitment fuels the energy and passion he will use to lead Princeton Seminary into a future where our learning community—on campus and across the globe—is empowered and inspired to deploy faith-informed solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Dr. Walton earned his PhD and his MDiv from Princeton Seminary, and his bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College. Before coming to Princeton Seminary, he was Dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University and previously served as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard.
Walton’s time at Harvard came under President Emerita Drew Gilpin Faust, who wished her friend and fellow educator well as he embarks on this chapter of leadership.
“A ritual like this, representing a defining moment of history and renewal, urges us to look both backward and forward; it requires a clear-eyed assessment of the relationship between past and future, a deep-seated examination of how best to seize the possibilities inherent in this moment of change and rebirth,” said Faust. “As we face a new and frightening era in the world, we mark a new era at Princeton Seminary. May it be a time when learning illuminates truth, knowledge confronts injustice, and wisdom forges a new path toward peace. An education grounded in faith and compassion has never been needed more.”
As part of the inauguration week celebrations, Princeton Seminary hosted hundreds of guests to campus for a variety of events, including a student cookout, a faculty panel on the intersections of theology and ecology, a book talk with Professor Faust, and a preview of the upcoming PBS documentary series, GOSPEL, which features Walton and several other Princeton Seminary and university professors and alums.
To learn more about President Walton’s vision and to hear his full inaugural address, visit the inauguration site at inauguration.ptsem.edu.