Jim Punton   -   his life and influence

What people say

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From Colin Marchant


I owe a lot to Jim. He sent me back ‘to search the Scriptures’. He provided both example and encouragement in life-style. He introduced me to Shalom- a key word in my life. And it all happened within 10 years. And usually ‘on the run’! Let me tell you how he touched my life. Here are four snapshots.

Snapshot 1

A group of us are gathering in the Scripture Union London HQ. Urban mission activists are planning for the Evangelical Coalition for Urban Mission [ECUM]. Leaders from the Shaftesbury Society, Evangelical Urban Training Programme, Frontier Youth Trust, Evangelical Race Relations Group and Christians in Industrial Areas are all there.

Jim is expected to join us. I’ve never met Jim. I know he is training officer for the Frontier Youth Trust. Suddenly a bearded face sticks round the door. Jim has arrived-but not to stay. He breezes in-and out. He is off to a local court. He wants to stand by a lad in trouble with the police. That clearly comes first. No argument. People matter more than meetings. A cheerful half-apology is given. Jim disappears. We go on with the meeting. Jim follows his heart.

Snapshot 2

A year or so later. Heathrow airport- I’m early and Jim is very late. We run for the flight. On the plane, I’m sitting next to Jim. Then we’re flying over Israel-en route to the Lausanne Consultation on World Evangelisation [COWE] in Thailand 1980. Jim has been appointed International Co-ordinator of the pre-COWE study groups. He is to be chair of the global Urban Poor group. I’ve been the UK co-ordinator. He dumps into my lap his preparation. It is Biblical research on the word Poor…..page after page of Hebrew and Greek references, duly annotated. I skim through it. It feels like an avalanche. Overwhelming in its weight and power. This becomes the base document for the ‘Mini-Consultation on Reaching the Urban Poor’. After 10 days of worship, meetings, discussion we fly back.

There is a sequel. Jim is supposed to write it all up for publication. He is too busy. He has moved on. In in desperation John Stott asks me to summarise. I write it up- No 22 Thailand Report-Christian Witness to the Urban Poor A third of the 40 pages is the Biblical Appendix by Jim. He has the last word.

Snapshot 3.

It is 1984. Christians across the UK have woken up to the inner city. I’m writing a book- Signs in the City’. It is about my experience in East London where I’ve been a Baptist minister since 1965, working in the churches, community centres and networks. I am telling the stories, and sharing the stirrings and shakings. I struggle with the deep underlying theological and political questions around injustice, poverty and powerlessness .

I’m back with Jim. I name him and refer to that flight. I refer to all that research on ‘poor’ he did. Now I can write: ‘Throughout the Bible the majority of references indicate that the poor are the mercilessly oppressed and the downtrodden. Nor is their poverty taken for granted in Scripture. It causes, concern, anger and protest. And its source is seen as injustice and oppression by the powerful’.

Snapshot 4

Elected President of the Baptist Union in 1986 I take Shalom as my theme. I had heard Jim speak passionately about the word and know there is a book based on that-which I’ve given away! Then I find this in Lost Bequest- A Laymans worknotes on the biblical pattern for a just society by Roger Dowley :

‘Jim Punton has written that
Shalom means-
a .For the individual- a totally integrated life with health of body, heart and mind, attuned to nature, open to others, in joy with God.
b. Between persons-sharing, mutuality and love
c .In community or society-justice, dignity, independence and freedom, harmony and reciprocity, the contentment with’ enough’ that all may have’ enough’
d. It is the opposite of oppression, violence and selfishness; it means man as caring trustee of creation. Having ended exploitation, indifference and irresponsibility. This is something of the Shalom of God ‘which passes all understanding’, the total well-being He wills for men and the cosmos, the goal of His mission, the content of His reign’

With Jim looking over my shoulder I start to uncover the breadth and depth of shalom, write Shalom, My Friends, try to share the message across the churches and go on working it out in East London.

Thirty years on Jim’s insights, writings and work are still profoundly relevant. The poor are still with us. Justice, Kingdom, Shalom and Jubilee toll like bells.

Shalom and agape are mixed up in all my passwords…literally and theologically! The snapshots live again. We journey on.

Colin Marchant
December 2012

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