James (Jim) Houston was born to Brethren missionary parents in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 21, 1922. He spent his early years in Spain where his two sisters were born, before his family returned to Edinburgh. The young Jim was an academic ‘late bloomer’ in school but then completed a first degree at Edinburgh University and then his doctorate, social geography, at Oxford University. Over 25 years at Oxford he was a fellow, in Geography, at Hertford College, and later as bursar. It was those formative years in Oxford, where the tutorial system is foundational to learning, that Jim’s deep conviction about ‘personhood’, took root. Whether in his office or his home with his wife Rita, there was always a rich welcome to each unique person, to engage in rich dialogue. Over nearly sixty years, Jim and Rita – as they were known to thousands – welcomed others to their table, their home and often their hearts. Their four children, Christopher, Lydele, Claire and Penny, were steeped in a hospitality that made space for others, regardless of status, creed, or origins.
Though a ‘professional academic’, Jim eschewed ‘professionalism’ in Christian faith and began a lifelong pursuit to be a ‘mere Christian’ (as his Oxford acquaintance CS Lewis phrased it), He embraced the paradox of the simple, deep faith of his own father and mother and the scholarship of a Christian mind. Oxford was, for Jim, a training ground in both the importance of excellence in scholarship and the perilous dangers of dehumanizing professionalism against which he has rebelled for his whole life. In 1970, Jim and Rita, left Oxford academia behind and founded, along with a group of Brethren leaders in Vancouver, Regent College as a graduate school for the theological education of the laity. Its location was no accident; in North America, facing the Pacific rim, on the edge of a secular university campus – a new base for Christian scholarship for an emerging world. Soon, other similar institutions emerged, and a movement of Study Centres was launched. By the early 1980’s, Jim had left behind academic administration and for the next twenty-five years poured his prodigious energy into the lives of thousands of students through his mentoring, teaching and writing. Jim and Rita continued their hospitality until Rita’s death in 2014.
As an intellectual, Jim has been both an historian of ideas and pioneer of emergent thinking. He wrote on Creation stewardship long before sustainability took hold, on Spiritual Theology before this age of spirituality and mentors, and on the Uniqueness of the Person before diversity and inclusion became mainstream. While some of his best ‘friends’ are the ‘ancients’, Jim has lived ahead of his time and at 99, he is still at it! While his mind has stayed active, Jim knows the aging that took Rita and the frailty that comes to the body with a century of use, so has explored how we all deal with aging and the aged. Jim still resides in Vancouver and delights in his encounters with visitors who include his burgeoning family of children (4), grandchildren (9) and great-grandchildren (13.5).