Archives For oxford

Posts from Jonathan Sherwin on the great city of Oxford, England.

Crossing Over

September 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.

This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.

The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.

For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.

Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.

However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?

With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.

What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.

Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.

C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.

Sorted Magazine - July/August 2015This article was first published in the July/August edition of Sorted Magazine.


Alister McGrath’s new biography of C.S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis: a Life: The Story of the Man Who Created Narnia, has recently gone on sale.

To celebrate the launch of the book The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics are hosting a book launch at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford on Thursday 2nd May. See below for further details.

Alister McGrath and everyone at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics would love to invite you to the launch of his new book, C.S Lewis: A Life on Thursday 2nd May at 7pm at Blackwell’s Bookshop. For free entry, please email the RZIM office to confirm that you would like to attend.

There’s more info about the book launch on the attached flyer but you can ignore the £3 entry fee if you email us (as above).

C S Lewis: A Life has already had some great endorsements, including one from A N Wilson, who wrote what many regarded as the definitive biography of Lewis back in 1990:

There have been plenty of biographies of Lewis – I once wrote one myself – but I do not think there has been a better one than Alister McGrath’s.

It was a great privilege to study under Professor John Lennox last year. Here’s a recent clip of his November 2012 debate at the Oxford Union.

You can catch Professor Lennox, along with Amy Orr-Ewing and the RZIM team at the Oxford Training Day on Saturday 26th January.

Confidence in the Truth

Featuring: John Lennox, Amy Orr-Ewing, Keith Small, Tanya Walker
Location: Examination Schools, 81 High Street, Oxford
Date: January 26th 2013 – 8:45am start

For more details and to book online visit the event page.

The Radcliffe Camera

In February last year, whilst visiting Oxford for the day, I paused for coffee at G&D’s with a friend. Over the light chit-chat my friend, Tom, found out that I was leaving my job to study full time. “Why not come and study in Oxford?” he asked.

And so, in October I found myself in Oxford starting the one-year programme at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Talk about your weak links coming into play.

Or talk about a God with purpose and destiny for your life.

I have found that opportunities for the next thing in life often pop up in a way one could hardly anticipate in advance. And so the next step in my life followed suit.

After a great week of mission in Sweden and another week in east-London earlier this year, one of my tutors came up to me and said, “We’re looking to launch an apologetics missional community in the heart Oxford. Will you come and lead it?”

And now, as I type, we are four days out from the launch of Latimers Oxford, a missional community in the heart of Oxford.

Dreams and prayers and planning have converged. A team has formed and is gelling together. A vision has blossomed and people want to be a part of it.

Latimers Oxford is a fresh shoot of the growing Latimer Minster church in Beaconsfield. We are a group of people gathering together to worship, pray, and get engaged in mission. The focus of the mission component is mission through apologetics – that is, dealing with people’s objections, intellectual and emotional, that they might see Jesus.

I fell in love with Oxford last year. This city of great heritage and history has played and continues to play such an important role in this nation. Great waves of revival and reformation have rippled out from this City of Dreaming Spires.

I long to see the vision of giants of the past sustained. Men like Wycliffe, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, Wesley, Wesley, and Whitfield.

The Hub
The Hub on Turl Street, where we meet every Sunday 3-5pm

Jesus’ hope is powerful to change lives, communities, and whole nations. We at Latimers Oxford seek to play our part in proclaiming the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour in our city.

We kick off the Sunday meetings with a look at the life and death of Hugh Latimer, the namesake of our little group. If you’re in Oxford why not join us? We’d love to have you.

Latimers Oxford meets every Sunday 3-5pm at The Hub, on Turl Street. Additionally, we meet to pray every Wednesday at 7am in Starbucks on Cornmarket Street.

Follow Latimers Oxford on Facebook and Twitter.

What’s Your Purpose?

April 28, 2012 — 2 Comments

On Saturday 7th April I sat down in my college common room, with my friends, to watch the Boat Race. Since 1829 this amateur event has captured special attention and it is listed amongst the crowning achievements of any rower’s career. With demanding training for 6 hours a day, for 7 months, alongside full time Oxford or Cambridge studies, there is no sporting event like this on earth.

Oxford loosing a blade in clash with Cambridge

We cheered loudly as the lighter Oxford crew pulled away quickly from the start and held their slender lead through the first part of the course. Then, the interruption of the swimmer, the anxious waiting with the legs full of lactic acid, and of course, the restart.

It was a good restart. Oxford again pulling away – but then the boats came together and with an almighty clash of oars a blade snapped clean off leaving Oxford with only seven active rowers.

The commentators were tripping over their tongues to describe the shambles. At one point they were even suggesting Oxford were silly for continuing on. They should stop, it was suggested. Record a D.N.F. (did not finish) for the record books. But the commentators and the Tweeters simply did not understand what was happening.

The minds of the 8 men and one women in the Dark Blue boat were set on one thing. Their purpose had been established months ago. They were there to race; they were there to race to the end.

It may be an international TV spectacle. It may be a source of pride and honour for the top two universities in England. It may be “steeped in tradition”. But that’s not what a rower sees on race day.

Something almost mystical happens when you get in a boat. The world outside disappears. The noise and happenings around you dissolve into background hum. You focus only on the voice of the cox. You concentrate only on your work with the oar.

The 9 people in your boat become your micro-world. You have trained with these people day in, day out. You have come to know them and to respect them. On race day, you row for them.

The purpose of the Oxford boat was to row the best race they could. To give everything they possibly could. To unleash the sum of the preparation sacrificed together through freezing months. To give it absolutely everything. Their eyes weren’t on the record books. This was their moment.

So 7 men rowed on. They weren’t going to stop. The cox put her hand down and the team lifted their heads up and they rowed, they rowed hard. So hard in fact that the bowman, Dr. Alexander Woods, needed oxygen, an I.V., and a night in the hospital to recover.

And what is your purpose? The world may be full of commentators shouting their opinions at you. But you, what have you resolved in your heart to do; what are you going to live your life for?

Now watch the last video diary entry from Oxford. Helps to sum it all up …

The opening verses of the Bible establish the bedrock upon which the rest of scripture and the Christian faith is anchored. Many Christians, however, find these verses in Genesis difficult to digest and even harder to interpret. Over time, people’s confidence in the text has been eroded by a combination of modern scientific discoveries and assaults against the authority of the Bible by groups such as the new atheists. Do believers really have to make a choice between science and religion? When it comes to philosophy, is Christianity simply ‘beyond the pale’?

‘In the beginning’ is a training day designed to help believers grapple with these difficult topics, so that they might be able to communicate and defend the gospel message more effectively and with a greater confidence.


  • John Lennox
  • Amy Orr-Ewing
  • Michael Ramsden
  • Tom Price
  • Vince Vitale

Find out more and register.

Rowing in Oxford. Image from National Geographic.

It is pitch black outside. It will be dark for the entire session on the water. The morning light will only begin to infiltrate the gloom as you hoist the boat back to the boathouse. The sweat threatens to freeze on your ears as your thoughts turn to coffee. Your friends are only just stumbling from their beds to join the day you greeted hours earlier.

When I started my studies in Oxford I did not think that I would find myself this close to the River Thames at this hour of the day. Yet deciding to row with Queens College (Wycliffe’s sister college) has been a wonderful addition to my time here.


I have just started rowing. I am not going for the top boats. Yet still to do well I, along with the rest of the crew, need to train. There are the early starts on the river. There are sessions in the boat house on the “ergs” (rowing machines). And whilst we are at it let’s chuck in a few sessions at the gym for general strength training too.

If I was taking this uber-serioulsy (as the guys in the best boats do), I would triple the above.

When that alarm clock rings at 5:30 I have two options: get up or ignore it. My body argues for the latter, my mind struggles to win with the former. Across Oxford, 8 others are going through the same thought process. It is an act of discipline to kill the desire of my body.

It is not easy to get up but I can tell you, strolling through town afterwards – celebration coffee in hand – it is totally worth it.

The benefits far outweigh the immediate rush of endorphins too. The discipline focusses my day, structures my efforts and even bleeds over into other tasks. Busting out an extra couple of hours study one night, or getting up to read my Bible, are both made slightly easier by the ‘wins’ I’ve been experiencing in my training.

You Go Further In A Team

When we row we are in a boat with 8 guys and one cox (little shouty person who’s in command that we all love). With 8 in a boat, pulling hard, we go places. We fairly zip across the water.

We go further and faster, yes. But it is not on the water that I’ve felt the teamwork the most, it is in the boathouse. A few weeks ago I attempted a ‘2k’. The goal is simple – how fast can you row 2 kilometres? It is an absolute killer.

I boarded my rowing machine next to a few other guys, ready for the command. The music starts – it’s fast and hard and forces you to row to the beat set. 1km in and the legs are burning, your lungs are bursting. 1.5km and it is agony. But then the guys in the boat house will crowd around and start shouting at you. The shouts turn to screams. “COME ON.” “PUSH IT.” “KEEP IT UP.” And some other choice phrases.

With each yell there comes an injection of motivation. You find another gear. You tap into a reserve of energy that you would have bet your last power bar didn’t exist. Finally, wrecked, you reach 2k and collapse.

The entire experience requires absolutely everything that you have but it requires everyone around you to help you to give your all.

How can I apply the same level of motivation to my brothers and sisters in the church. Just think, if we were to adopt this, what results would we see?

William Lane Craig UK Tour

November 14, 2011 — 5 Comments
Reasonable Faith

For an introduction to Dr. Craig pick up Reasonable Faith

It has been a couple of weeks since William Lane Craig visited the UK. I was privileged to catch Dr. Craig a number of times – twice in London and then at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (see below for the full video of that evening).

Dr. Craig is one of the foremost Christian philosophers of his generation and argues in the Academy that belief in God is credible. It was fascinating to hear first hand from him of the ‘renaissance’ of Christian Philosophy in the last 40-50 years. For more on that take a look at God and the Philosophers edited by Thomas Morris.


Before Craig came to England an invitation was extended to Professor Richard Dawkins to a debate in Oxford. Dawkins declined the offer, blowing off the evening with contempt. He then penned an article in the Guardian the week prior to the event stating his reasons for not attending.

This article, laced with invective, drew responses from fellow Oxford academics and atheists. Daniel Came responded in the Guardian a couple of days later labelling Dawkins’ refusal to debate as “cynical and anti-intellectual”.

Tim Stanley added to the conversation in the Telegraph, who asks if Dawkins is a coward for his no-show.

Peter Hitchens, who attended the evening at the Sheldonian, sums up the evening from his eyes in An Evening Without Richard Dawkins.

It is encouraging to hear that Christianity is once more being taken seriously in philosophy departments across the world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Professor Dawkins and his fellow ‘new atheists’ need to catch up to a conversation that is moving at a rapid pace and of a very high quality.

The Take Home

William Lane Craig has devoted his life to defending Christianity through his academic field and has committed to doing it at the highest level. It is a commitment spanning decades and with much toil. Academia is tough. The processes involved are rigorous and require skill and commitment.

His passion isn’t a fleeting feeling or a spur of the moment inspiration. It is born of conviction.

So I ask, what are you called to? What will you spend your life for?

For more on William Lane Craig check out his website. For more audio and video recordings check out Unbelievable? on Premier.

William Lane Craig at The Sheldonian

A Typical Day in Oxford

October 30, 2011 — 2 Comments

I thought I would provide a snap shot of what a day in my life looks like right now. Take for example, Thursday:

  • 5:45 Off and at ’em
  • 6:30 On the water for river session with Queen’s College Boat Club
  • 8:30 Coffee
  • 9:00 Chapel
  • 10:00 Morning Lecture
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 13:30 Afternoon Lecture
  • 16:00 Research and writing time
  • 19:00 Co-lead Alpha Course
  • 22:00 Drink in the pub
I’ve noticed an amazing surge in energy since starting this course. With vision and purpose a lot can be achieved. Without either, apathy can creep in and sap motivation. This is a reminder to motivate myself and others around me on a daily basis.