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07 March 2012

The Revd David Winter writes:

THE Revd John Charles Pollock, who died on 6 January, aged 88, was one of the most prolific and distinguished Christian biographers of the past half-century.

From Trinity College, Cambridge, he went on to train for the ministry at Ridley Hall, and in 1951 became curate to the redoubtable Colin Kerr at St Paul’s, Portman Square, in London. After that curacy, he took on the editorship of the Evangelical theological journal The Churchman, and combined it with the incumbency of Horsington, in Bath & Wells diocese.

By then, he had begun a literary career that would span 50 years. It soon became his main occupation, although he continued to assist occasionally in parochial ministry well into his eighties.

Among his early books were a history of the Cambridge Inter-collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), A Cambridge Movement (1953), and the story of the “Cambridge Seven”, pioneer missionaries of a previous era. He was an early contributor to Crusade, the monthly magazine launched in the wake of the Billy Graham campaigns of the 1950s. Recruited by the editor, Timothy Dudley-Smith, he wrote a series of biographical sketches of influential Christian figures of the past, including Ira D. Sankey and Thomas Barnardo, and wrote a serial story based on the life of Shaftesbury. He continued to contribute to Crusade when I took over the editorship in 1959. Several of these articles would later grow into full-length biographies.

In 1966, he was the author of the first biography of Dr Graham to be published. Over the following decades, he wrote substantial books on Paul of Tarsus (The Apostle), Hudson Taylor and Maria, Jesus (The Master), D. L Moody (Moody without Sankey), John Newton, and William Wilberforce. Moving somewhat outside his familiar territory, he also wrote substantial biographies of Sir Henry Havelock (The Weight of Glory), General Charles Gordon, and Lord Shaftesbury. In 2000, he published his last book, Wesley the Preacher.

His own burning interest was the Christian missionary movement. He and his wife travelled far and wide, researching the stories of pioneers in the field, celebrated in titles such as Earth’s Remotest End, The Christians from Siberia, and A Foreign Devil in China.

J. C. Pollock was a skilled story-teller and a compelling writer, whose books were as popular in America and the rest of the English-speaking world as they were in Britain. Stanford University, in the United States, instituted a J. C. Pollock Prize for Christian Literature, and in 2000 honoured him with a D.Litt. Suffering from a degree of deafness — the result of his wartime army service — that handicapped parochial ministry, he found in writing a rich and rewarding vocation.

He is survived by his wife, Anne. They had no children.

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