James, or Jimmy as he was popularly known, was a world-class biblical theologian and a wonderful human being. With a warm smile and mischievously twinkling eyes, Jimmy endeared himself to all he met and garnered respect and friendship in equal measure.
I was privileged to have Jimmy as my personal tutor in Durham when I did my theology degree as part of my ministerial training. Jimmy and his lovely, hospitable wife Meta regularly invited students to their home for a meal. The first time Shona and I went, we rang the bell and the door was opened by a beaming Jimmy, resplendent in one of his immaculate suits and a Heinz Tomato Soup apron. The look encapsulated the man. Vivacious, welcoming and always interested in others.
Like so many others, I was deeply impacted by Jimmy’s writing and teaching. His lectures were always fun – he particularly loved the word 'eschatological', usually taking delight in saying it in a faux but passable American accent. As a world-class scholar, he knew all the big words, of course, but had that precious gift of making the complex simple, and the accessibility of his books and his speaking marked him out.
Together with his predecessor as Professor of New Testament – the equally wonderful Kingsley Barrett – he provided an approach to biblical study that has informed and shaped my life and ministry. If you have encountered Holy Habits, you will know that it is Barrett and Dunn who provide the scholarly foundations for that work.
I remain indebted to Jimmy for his timeless classic Jesus and the Spirit. I really love, admire and respect his Christ-centred, Spirit-filled and downright divinely sensible approach to faith and life. When we left Durham and went to Yorkshire, Jimmy came to speak at our District Synod. My Chair asked me to chaperone him that day. When he arrived, he was a tad anxious, saying he needed some friendly or humorous opening line to use. He was wearing a blue-and-red-striped tie, so as we were meeting in Sheffield, I suggested he made some quip about Sheffield Wednesday and United – which he duly did with charm and aplomb. Again, that was the man, humble enough to ask for help, full of fun and then overflowing with scholarly wisdom that he never grew weary of sharing.
Blessed are those who die in the Lord; even so, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labours.