Barnes to preach on ‘Signposts to Freedom’



The great thing about preaching at Chautauqua, said the Rev. M. Craig Barnes, is that “those who gather to listen are so educated and well read.”

“This always brings out the best in any preacher,” he said.

Barnes will serve as the chaplain for Week Seven at Chautauqua Institution. “Ten Signposts to Freedom” is the theme for his sermon series this week.

“The Ten Commandments were given to a people who were on the run,” he said. “Their purpose was never to restrict freedom, but to show us how to keep it.  Law and grace are not actually opposites. Rather, the law is a grace for Christians because it gives us a means of living with true freedom.”

Barnes is the seventh president of Princeton Theological Seminary. Barnes earned his Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Seminary in 1981 and began his presidency in January 2013. He also serves as professor of pastoral ministry.

“Princeton taught me that true spiritual formation could never be separated from rigorous theological inquiry,” he wrote on the Princeton website. “By the time I left seminary, the words ‘faith’ and ‘learner’ were permanently engraved on my heart.”

When Barnes preaches, he said he always talks about “the mysterious work of God in the lives of ordinary people.”

“Sometimes the mystery is so subtle we can barely see it,” he said. “Other times it is overwhelming. At all times the grace of God can be found — and with that we always have a future filled with hope.”

Barnes has served as a pastor to three congregations, including the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 2002, he became the Meneilly Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, while also serving as the senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

His writing and academic work reflect his deep commitment to the theological formation of pastors to lead the church in changing times. On returning to Princeton Seminary as its president, he wrote that he was “eager to help Princeton be the best it can be — a winsome community that is committed to developing church leaders who are theologically formed, intellectually curious and equipped to serve the church of Jesus Christ in a dramatically new cultural context.”

Seminary students are now “preparing for ministry to a church whose institutional structures are in constant flux,” he said.

“For example, there are not as many pastoral positions in the mainline Protestant churches as there used to be,” Barnes said. “But still our students come to seminary. In fact, we are expecting a 28 percent increase in master’s students over the class that entered last year. Why? These students are very entrepreneurial, and most will find new ways to start churches or other non-profit organizations focused on care for the poor.”

Everyone, Barnes said, has some type of ministry.

“Some are called to be pastors, others to be lawyers, homemakers, students, teachers, business people, or a winsome presence in a retirement center,” he said. “All of us answer the call to these ministries because it sounds like God is asking us to be a more useful form of ourselves.”

Barnes is the author of eight books which include Body and Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism, The Pastor as Minor Poet and Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls, An Extravagant Mercy. He also serves as an editor-at-large and frequent contributor to The Christian Century, which features a series called “How My Mind Had Changed.”

“I have changed my mind about how long it takes for the church to truly resolve its controversies,” he said. “My doctoral adviser once told us that all worthwhile church debates take at least 100 years to be settled. So I live with tensions and disagreements much better than I used to do.”

Barnes will preach at the morning worship service at 10:45 a.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. His sermon title will be “Choosing a God.” He will discuss his faith journey at the Vespers at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Hall of Philosophy. He will preach daily at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship services in the Amphitheater. His sermon titles include “Living With the Sacred,” “I and Thou,” “Honoring Boundaries,” “Pursuing Truth” and “Getting Close to the Kingdom.”

Barnes was raised on Long Island, New York, graduated from The King’s College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and received a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago in 1992. Barnes previously served as chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua in 2004, 2006 and 2010.