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  (Olaf) Raymond Johnston (1927–1985), by unknown artist (Olaf) Raymond Johnston (1927–1985), by unknown artist
Johnston, (Olaf) Raymond (1927–1985), director of the Nationwide Festival of Light, was born at 51 Dunsmore Road, Hall Green, Birmingham, on 4 April 1927, the son of Olaf Louttit Johnston (1900–1986), timber merchant's salesman, and his wife, Kathleen (Kitty), née Knowles. He was educated at Solihull School from 1937 to 1944 and read modern languages at the Queen's College, Oxford, taking second-class honours in French and German in 1947. He came to Christian faith through a Crusaders group in Solihull, and at university joined the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union where he formed a lifelong friendship with James I. Packer, later a prominent professor of evangelical theology.

After graduation Johnston studied for a teaching diploma at the London University Institute of Education followed by a diploma in theology at the London Bible College. From 1949 he taught French and German, and sometimes divinity, at Maidstone grammar school where the headmaster described him as ‘a man of strong religious convictions’ (reference letter by W. A. Clayton, 26 November 1951, Latimer Trust archives, Raymond Johnston papers). In 1952 he moved to the modern languages department of King Edward VII School in Sheffield. He was married on 12 April 1955 to Margaret (Peggy) Bell (1922–1990), a schoolmistress, daughter of Herbert Younger Bell. The couple had two daughters.

During his years as a schoolteacher, Johnston contributed to the post-Second World War revival of reformed Christianity in Britain. In 1949 he and Packer approached Martyn Lloyd-Jones (minister of Westminster Chapel) with a view to establishing a Puritan Studies Conference to stimulate interest in reformed theology. It was launched in December 1950 and became an annual fixture, and Johnston gave papers at several of the early meetings. He also published a number of articles in the Evangelical Quarterly on puritan theology. He put his linguistic skills to good use with a new translation of Martin Luther's The Bondage of the Will (1957), in collaboration with Packer, and a translation of Jean Cadier's biography of Calvin, published in English as The Man God Mastered (1960). Packer later dedicated his collection of puritan studies Amongst God's Giants (1991) to Johnston's memory, describing him as ‘champion of truth’ and ‘campaigner for righteousness’.

In January 1964 Johnston was recruited by the education department of the University of Newcastle, founded in August the previous year. His particular research interest was attitudes to religious education in state schools on which he published several articles, culminating in Religion in Our Schools (1969). Johnston argued: ‘Just as the health of the Church is bound up with the quality of its ministers, so the health of the nation is also bound up with the quality of its teachers’ (Evangelical Magazine, April 1969, 28). From 1968 to 1970 he served on the editorial board of Spectrum: a Magazine for Christians in Education, the journal of the Association of Christian Teachers. In Newcastle Johnston became more intimately involved with Anglican affairs. He served as churchwarden of Jesmond parish church and in 1965 was elected to the Church Assembly for the first time. In 1974 he joined the council of Latimer House, an Anglican evangelical research institute in Oxford, and the following year was elected to the council of the Church Society. He published papers in defence of Christian nationhood and the establishment of the Church of England; and later became chairman of the editorial board of the Church Society's theological journal, Churchman, after the old board was dismissed for being insufficiently conservative.

In the last decade of his life Johnston campaigned widely on questions of national morality, with a particular concern for the protection of family life. A campaign group, the Nationwide Festival of Light (NFOL), was set up in 1971 by evangelicals and other Christians concerned about pornography and ‘moral pollution’. Johnston was one of the keynote speakers at NFOL's ‘Land Aflame’ rally held at Westminster Central Hall in March 1972. Two years later he left academia to become NFOL's first full-time director. His lecture to the Leicester ministers' conference in March 1975 under the auspices of the Banner of Truth Trust, published as Christianity in a Collapsing Culture, set out Johnston's rationale for evangelical engagement in social and cultural renewal. His diagnosis was stark, ‘Britain today stands on the brink of a precipice … on the point of collapse—culturally, politically, economically and morally’, but he called for the revival of ‘active Christian citizenship’ and an end to evangelical isolationism. Johnston's London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity delivered at All Souls', Langham Place, in 1978 were published as Who Needs the Family?; and his lectures at the C. S. Lewis Institute in Washington DC in 1980 were published posthumously as Caring and Campaigning (1990).

By some separatist evangelicals NFOL was criticized for its ecumenical collaboration and lack of clarity over evangelical doctrine. The NFOL rally at Trafalgar Square in September 1976 aimed, in the words of Johnston, ‘to re-state the abiding authority and relevance of the Ten Commandments in national life’, but the publicity material carried quotations from men as diverse as Solzhenitsyn, the chief rabbi, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the pope. The Evangelical Times complained that NFOL was muddling the gospel with social reform, but Johnston defended the movement as ‘fully evangelical’ and insisted that every member of the executive committee ‘believes in the full verbal inspiration of Scripture and believes the word of God to be an infallible guide’ (Evangelical Times, October 1976, 11). Among anti-permissiveness campaigners there were also tensions. NFOL collaborated over matters of public decency with Mary Whitehouse's National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA), but Whitehouse warned that NFOL under Johnston was dissipating its energies by campaigning on too many different issues, including abortion, homosexuality, religious education, crime, punishment, Sunday trading and race relations (Whitehouse to Eddy Stride, 30 January 1979, NVALA papers, University of Essex). Within NFOL itself a clash of priorities between Johnston and Steve Stevens, co-founder and general secretary, led to Stevens's departure for Adelaide in 1978 as director of the Festival of Light in South Australia (renamed Family Voice Australia in 2008). Johnston's background in academia pushed the British movement towards a stronger emphasis upon patient research, the gathering of evidence, lobbying of MPs and the media, and submissions to committees on broadcasting and legal reform. There was decreasing focus on public rallies or mass demonstrations, and in 1983 NFOL rebranded itself as the Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) Trust.

Before he had an opportunity to develop the work further, Johnston died after a short illness, of cancer of the pancreas, at the Acland Hospital, Oxford, on 17 October 1985. His home was in Steventon, Oxfordshire, and he was buried in the village churchyard, where his gravestone recalls his evangelical faith, ‘A sinner saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone’.

Andrew Atherstone


D. Holloway, A call for Christian thinking and action: the life of Raymond Johnston (2004); www.christian.org.uk/pdfpublications/raymond_johnston.pdf, accessed on 17 April 2012 · R. Wallis, Salvation and protest: studies of social and religious movements (1979) · Latimer Trust archives, London, papers · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.


Latimer Trust archives, London, papers |  CARE Trust, London, Nationwide Festival of Light archives


photograph, CARE Trust, London [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

£10,509: probate, 7 April 1986, CGPLA Eng. & Wales