For more than a millennium, the city of Oxford has been at the heart of England’s political and religious life. It is home to one of the world’s oldest and great universities, the training ground of kings, prime ministers and archbishops. Popular Christian movements have been born here, resulting in radical reform and far-reaching revival. Prominent Christian leaders have been nurtured here, while others have been banished or killed in the streets. In this lively account we meet a courageous princess, an outspoken reformer, three martyred bishops, a puritan vice-chancellor, some zealous undergraduates, an atheist academic turned Christian apologist, and many more. This is the tumultuous story of Oxford, from earliest times to the present day.
Dr Andrew Atherstone is tutor in history and doctrine, and Latimer research fellow, at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He has lived in the Oxford area for several years and is engaged in a major research project into the history of Oxford evangelicalism. His publications include Travel with the Martyrs of Mary Tudor (Day One, revised edition 2007) and Oxford’s Protestant Spy: The Controversial Career of Charles Golightly (Paternoster, 2007). Andrew is married to Catherine and they have three young children.
It seems to me that the popular understanding of the history of Christianity in Britain is actually an elaborate collage of half truths and myths roughly cobbled to gether to inoculate us against taking biblical Christianity seriously. ‘The Reformers executed the Catholics as heretics’, ‘Cromwell banned Christmas because he didn’t like people enjoying themseves’, ‘the Victorian evangelicals were obscurantists, blindly opposed to Darwin’. The way in which history has been rewritten in the popular imagination ranges from the sloppy to the sinister. So it was with a deep sense of appreciation that I devoured Andrew Atherstone’s little pocket guide to the Christian history of Oxford. Here are rich and faithful biographical sketches of Wycliffe, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, Laud, Cromwell, Owen, Newman, Lewis and many others and all in the form a guide book to the city of Oxford. The book is not an entirely neutral guide, displaying at times a clear evangelical sympathy. This may irritate non-evangelicals who are wary of propaganda, but it is hardly strident or ill informed. If you live in Oxford, or visit it, this is an essential for your bookshelf. And if, like me, you have numerous friends who believe the most ridiculous myths about our Christian history, why not take them to Oxford with this book in hand. You will have a great day out in a beautiful city and who knows what conversations may ensue. Evangelicals Now – Peter Comont, Magdalen Road Church, Oxford