Jamie Buckingham: Prophet With a Pen (1932-1992)





For a quarter century, his words gave shape, substance and hon-esty to the charismatic movement. Whether he was poking holes in religious balloons or poking fun at himself, his stories had a way of bringing us face-to-face with Jesus.

Others may take up his mantle, but no one will ever take his place. His parents named him James William Buckingham II, but everyone just called him Jamie. Born on March 28, 1932, in Vero Beach, Fla., he was educated at Mercer University (A.B.) in Macon, Ga. After graduate studies at South-western Baptist Theological Seminary (M.R.E.) in Fort Worth, Texas, Jamie became a Southern Baptist pastor.

But by 1967, he had been fired twice and was disenchanted with ministry. "I was in terrible despair," Jamie once said of this painful time. "I didn't know where to go or what to do." Desperately searching for God's direction in his life, he saw an advertisement in Guideposts magazine announcing a writers' workshop.

The ad invited manuscript submissions, so Jamie dashed off a piece, submitted it, and was invited to the conference. That week, editors John and Elizabeth Sherrill concluded that his was a "major talent." They recommended Jamie to Dan Malachuk of Logos publishing company (later Logos Fellowship International), who persuaded him to write the story of converted gang warlord Nicky Cruz.

Jamie was hesitant; he thought he knew nothing about book writing. But when he sat down at the typewriter, he later recalled, "everything came natural. From the moment I got into the project, I knew I was going to do this for life." The result: Jamie's first book—Run. Baby, Run—was a best-seller, catapulting both Nicky and Jamie into international fame.

That writing project did much more, however, than simply launch Jamie's writing career. While doing research for the book, he attended a Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship meeting in Washington, where he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Soon he was occupying a prominent place in the emerging charismatic movement as a popular speaker and author.

During his 11-year relationship with Logos, Jamie helped introduce many of the charismatic leaders of the day to a wider audience: Dennis Bennett, Bob Mumford, Harold Hill, Merlin Carothers, Ivema Tompkins and Judson Cornwall, to name a few.

He edited the Logos Journal for a time and wrote 14 books for the company, including the best-sellers Shout It From the Housetops (1972), written with CBN founder Pat Robertson, and Daughter of Destiny (1976), the story of Kathryn Kuhlman. Jamie also served on the original board of directors for Logos, alongside such charismatic leaders as David du Plessis, Bob Slosser and Gen. Ralph Haines.

When he recently looked back on that time, Jamie reminisced: "Those were the golden years of the charismatic movement. We would meet quarterly, planning world conferences, discussing book publishing and trying to figure out where the Holy Spirit was going. When crises arose in the kingdom—such as the shepherding crisis or the fuss over charismatics rebaptizing Episcopalians—we served together on 'summit committees.' We never did settle any of the crises, but the fellowship was sweet."

Meanwhile, Jamie was becoming one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time. He wrote or ghostwrote 47 books that sold a total of more than 34 million copies. An excerpt from his book. Power for Living (A.S. DeMoss Foundation), inserted as a booklet in the April 1985 issue of Readers Digest, resulted in tens of thousands of conversions to the Christian faith.

One writing project that took Jamie around the world for two years of research—Into the Glory (1974)—also introduced him to a mission field that won his lifelong support: Bible translation. This intriguing story of the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, an arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators, began a lasting friendship between that ministry and the Buckingham family.

Last year, Wycliffe's U.S. board of directors honored Jamie and his wife, Jackie, with lifetime membership. In 1979, editor Stephen Strang invited Jamie to become a columnist for Charisma, where his articles and popular "Last Word" column won several awards from both the secular and Christian press. He took over as editor-in-chief of Ministries Today in 1989 and turned the magazine into an award-winning publication with a growing circulation.

Convinced that America has "raised a generation that doesn't like to read," Jamie added to his publications in print several series of videotaped Bible teachings, including The Tourney to Spiritual Maturity. These videos, filmed in Israel and the Sinai, reflected his life-long love affair with the lands of the Bible, which he visited two dozen times.

He led a number of tour groups to retrace the steps of Jesus in Israel and also made seven camping trips in the Sinai wilderness to become more familiar with the life of Moses. Jamie loved not only Israel, but the Jewish people as a whole. His dear friend Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, called him "my rabbi."

Despite Jamie's success as a writer, editor and speaker, he never lost his love for pastoral ministry. In 1967, the same year his writing career was launched, he founded the Tabernacle Church, now a 2,000-member nondenominational fellowship in Melbourne, Fla.

His multiple careers complemented each other well: "If I cut myself off from this church," Jamie once mused, "my writing would dry up and I'd have nothing to say in my traveling ministry." According to John French, a close friend and the producer of Jamie's video teaching series, Jamie had a great burden to build a loving Christian community that "reflected his own ability to love and accept anybody as they were."

That goal was clearly realized: Under his leadership, "the Tab" has cultivated a vibrant, caring fellowship with outreach to dysfunctional families and the poor and homeless. In connection with the church, Jamie also created a refuge to nurture and restore hurting people—a ministry in which he was effective because he himself had been a wounded pastor. Yet Jamie's hand was not extended only to hurting people; he reached- out to quarreling people as well. In the last installment of his Charisma magazine

column published before he died, he noted: "Most of my adult life, it seems, I've been trying to build bridges between people who don't want to come together." Having gained the respect of Christians from a variety of backgrounds—Pentecostals, charisrmatics, evangelicals, Catholics, historic Protestants—he stood in a unique position that allowed him to understand conflicting viewpoints, point out common ground and challenge misunderstanding and prejudice.

Jamie concluded: "There is no higher calling." Len LeSourd, former Guideposts editor and Jamie's long-time friend, recalls seeing Jamie's bridge-building skills when he accompanied him on a trip to Jerusalem in 1982. The day they arrived, a Baptist church in the city was firebombed and completely destroyed. The next morning, Jamie led an intercessory prayer walk through the streets to the ruins of the church, where he preached a sermon on reconciliation to the Jews, Christians and Muslims who had gathered there.

Says LeSourd: "That was the theme of his life. His gift was to reconcile people." Of all his accomplishments, however, Jamie took the greatest pride in his role as patriarch of the Buckingham clan. Healing ministers Charles and Frances Hunter, calling the Buckinghams "the closest-knit family

we have ever seen," observed at Jamie's passing: "The world may remember him for his writings, but forever we will re-member his family relationships, unbeatable anywhere except in heaven."

The Buckingham clan Jamie left behind includes his wife, Jackie; his mother, Elvira; five married children—Bruce, Robin, Bonnie, Tim and Sandy—as well as 13 grandchildren. The youngest grandchild was dedicated to God at Jamie's memorial service in Melbourne as a fitting sign that his her-itage lives on.

In June 1990, Jamie was stricken with cancer of the kidney. The diagnosis—"inoperable and incurable"— caused Jamie to re-evaluate his priorities and to ask God for a "second chance." The story of his second chance is described in his book Summer of Miracles (Creation House). His healing, Jamie said, left him with a "dual status": "one foot in heaven and the other on earth."

Late in 1991, Jamie was diagnosed with cancer of the liver, and in February his strength began to fail. He died, appropriately, surrounded by his family, who released him to God singing the praise chorus "I Will Enter His Gates." At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17, Jamie began a new chapter in his life.

Having detested neckties and formal dress, Jamie was buried in his favorite 'attire: cotton drawstring pants, polo shirt and stocking feet. Having spurned extravagance as well, he was placed—according to his previous instructions—in the least expensive casket that could be found.

In death as in life, Jamie was, above all, unpretentious. Perhaps the words of Bible teacher Bob Mumford sum up best Jamie Buckingham's life and legacy: "He was a prophet with a pen. May the Lord give us others who will challenge the status quo and live in that inexorable tension between Christian charity and the need to know the truth. We needed him, and we will need others like him."

This article originally was published in the April 1992 issue of Charisma magazine. From 1979 until his death, Jamie Buckingham (1932-1992) wrote the "Last Word" column for Charisma magazine. He was the editor of Ministry Today magazine at his untimely death in Feb. 17, 1992—20 years ago today.

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