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Diarist on a mission

10 April 2012

Andrew Atherstone tastes the firstfruits

Pioneer Missionary, Evangelical Statesman: A life of A. T. (Tim) Houghton
Timothy Yates

Author House £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.40

TIM HOUGHTON was a promin­ent Anglican Evangelical leader during the middle decades of the 20th century. Raised in a strict Calvinist home, he was one of five siblings who all became Christian missionaries, pioneering work amongst the Kachin people of Upper Burma from 1924.

He was nearly consecrated as Assistant Bishop of Rangoon in 1941, but the Second World War and the Japanese invasion inter­vened. Instead, Houghton returned to England, where he served as general secretary of the Bible Church­men’s Missionary Society, an Anglican mission agency now renamed Crosslinks.

Houghton bridges the gap between the Anglican Calvinists of the 1920s and the more theologic­ally diffuse Anglican Evangelical movement of today. He was the senior speaker at the epoch-chang­ing Keele Congress of 1967, where Anglican Evangelicals publicly com­mitted themselves to ecumen­ism and denominational engage­ment.

He was the first chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council, honoured by John Stott as “Uncle Tim”. Timothy Yates calls Houghton “a loyal Anglican, a committed Evangelical”, though it is not immediately apparent how he resolved the inherent tensions between these two priorities.

When Houghton died in 1993, at the grand age of 96, he left behind two thousand pages of hand-written autobiography and an extensive daily journal covering almost half a century. Yates has patiently worked through this mountain of material to produce a brief but delightful pen-portrait, commissioned by Houghton’s family.

Given the nature of the sources, it has an intimate tone, filled with Houghton’s personal observation and anecdote, though lacking sus­tained analysis and wider context. The teasing revelations from his diaries leave us wanting to know more, especially about his approach to Anglican identity.

Nevertheless, this biography whets our appetite, and, when the Houghton archive is eventually deposited at the Cadbury Research Library in Birmingham, it will prove a rich source for historians of Anglican missions.

The Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone is tutor in history and doctrine, and Latimer Research Fellow, at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

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