Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“Let Oxford be Oxford”

Written by: on August 31, 2023

I’ve been looking forward to the Oxford Advance for a few months but what sold me was the famous quote by Dr. Jason Clark, “Oxford is the oldest, whitest, most elite place in the world…Let Oxford be Oxford.”1 As a black man growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the oldest, diverse, and founded by William Penn a graduate of Christ Church at The University of Oxford, I am really looking forward to learning about this beautiful city.2 I am looking forward to seeing how Penn’s education influenced his founding of my great State and how it influenced his leadership.

This week I read, The Secret History of Oxford, and was embarrassed and mesmerized. I was embarrassed because I had no idea or I had forgotten that C.S. Lewis attended Oxford University and was a professor at the prestigious university.3 Also embarrassingly, I had no idea J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor at Oxford University. How could I avoid the most elite place in the world…and be satisfied with my education?

Sullivan’s book opened my eyes to a place and history I should have known about for years. His book helped me to appreciate what I had not known before:

1. The founder of Oxford was abandoned in the forest and eaten by wolves.4
2. Oxford was levelled in 1067 and much of the land was described as ‘waste’ in the aftermath.5
3. King Henry I only had one legitimate son.6
4. King Henry VIII closed down various religious houses and established his own college, now known as Christ Church.7
5. Although Oxford has medieval college foundations and Georgian facades, many larger landmark buildings were built in the nineteenth century.8
6. Women who had been studying in Oxford for forty-five years were finally allowed to take Oxford University degrees in 1920.9
7. There are forty-four colleges and permanent private halls in the University of Oxford.10
8. By the time Edward VI (1537-53) was on the throne, most librarians were out of work. Books were associated with worldliness and idolatry.11
9. Roger Bacon’s quote has me thinking about why I have been so ignorant of Oxford’s history. “A little learning is a dangerous thing, but none at all is fatal.”12
10. I had no idea William Davenant claimed that he was the illegitimate son of William Shakespeare.13
11. Oxford had a Civil War known as the Anarchy.14
12. King Henry VIII divorced his wife Katherine of Aragon.15
13. Tom Tower is one of the most iconic architectural features of the city.16
14. The Oxford coat of arms can be seen in various places throughout the city.17

Oxford is known as the “City of Spires” because of its beautiful skyline of Gothic towers and steeples. Most of these belong to the university, which is the oldest in England. Once again, another little-known fact, which fascinates me. I am really looking forward to experiencing these unique spires.

Even though I learned so much about Oxford, I also realized I actually had assumptions and biases about Oxford. I was surprised to hear Oxford had scandals and Kings had mistresses. Every time I read this, I was surprised because my bias told me that Oxford and its prestigious history was upright, loyal, committed to what is right. But how could there be a culture that is completely upright and loyal to the laws of God? Why did I think this way? Why was I so surprised at Oxford’s scandals but never surprised at the biblical accounts of scandals and sinful behavior? To be honest, I had placed Oxford on a pedal stool and never really looked into the history and background of its beautiful citizens.

By not looking into or studying the people, buildings, and museums of Oxford, I was losing out on understanding a remarkable culture and even seeing how this prestigious place connects with the United States and my culture. Oxford’s industries include motor manufacturing, education, publishing, information technology and science. I’m wondering if part of my Christian education kept me from exploring this important city. These industries may not have a been a priority centuries ago in the United States, but they have been a priority for this amazing city. I am ready to allow Oxford to be Oxford.

[1] Dr. Jason Clark, Doctoral Class, August 28, 2023. Online.
[2] Paul Sullivan, The Secret History of Oxford (Stroud, UK: The History Press, 2013), 39.
[3] Ibid, 129.
[4] Ibid, 10.
[5] Ibid, 19.
[6] Ibid, 20.
[7] Ibid, 27.
[8] Ibid, 35.
[9] Ibid, 38.
[10] Ibid, 40.
[11] Ibid, 42.
[12] Ibid, 103.
[13] Ibid, 109.
[14] Ibid, 21.
[15] Ibid, 138.
[16] Ibid, 140.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

6 responses to ““Let Oxford be Oxford””

  1. Adam Harris says:

    Loved what you said right out of the gate about letting Oxford be Oxford as a black man from Philly in one of the whitest places on earth! As far as learning about all the scandals in Oxford it does go to show that wherever humans exist messiness is not too far behind and greatness can emerge despite it all. Some of it may even be a necessary part of that journey. Looking forward to hanging with you soon in Oxford (imagine I’m saying it with a British accent)!

    • Hey my brother! I love your British accent! 😊 I love how you Brough out that messiness is part of the journey. That’s powerful and encourager for all leaders and disciples of Jesus. I’m looking forward to seeing you too my awesome friend!

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Todd, enjoyed reading your post. Sometimes I forget I am an Oriental House Husband. In the Army I was “green” and race hardly mattered, you were valued for getting the job done.

    However blind I felt to color, when I married a redhaired rose from Texas, I realized that I could not really live in my beloved Hawaii anymore. My wife would be labeled a “haole/white woman/visitor” and my daughter would be labeled “hapa/half.” No thanks.

    It was better for me to put up with the racial side glances than for my family.

    I am looking forward to Oxford because of its fun history…I hope we don’t get eaten by wolves…but from England I am hoping we can peer a bit into the “continent” and particularly the Ukrainian war.

    As a side note, a friend of mine has started a Trauma Clinic in Kyviv. http://www.ODukraine.com (OD=Open Door).

    Looking forward to traveling down the streets of Oxford with you.


    • Hey Russell! I love reading about your history and how God has used you across the globe. Sorry, you and your family had to go through some racial challenges. It’s amazing what God uses to open our eyes. I’m looking forward to learning from you man!

  3. Kally Elliott says:

    I respect the idea of “Let Oxford be Oxford” but I also wonder about the voices that were or are at Oxford that have never been heard. Why don’t we know about them? How might their voice have changed the direction or the landscape of Oxford or even the lives of those whose voices we have heard? Just something I’m thinking about after reading The Secret History of Oxford. It seems like we might unearth some more secrets if we could somehow lift up silenced voices that were also part of the university.

    • K’Mon Kally! This is why it is so easy to love you! Yeah, what about the voices at Oxford that have never been heard…and why?!? What secrets still need to be uncovered? Thank you so much for pointing this out. You are a gem young lady!

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