Annual Oxford tour engages students in history of Christianity
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students and seminarians trod timeworn paths to learn new perspectives during the 2019 Oxford Study Tour, July 15-31. The group of 36 traveled to the university city of Oxford, England, visiting key historic sites, immersing themselves in church history, and engaging in evangelism.
Over the years, the annual tour has remained focused on church and Baptist history while offering an opportunity to engage in cross-cultural ministry. Students experienced the sights, sounds, and culture of historic cities as they studied theology and philosophy, relived church history, and earned credits for classes. Madison Grace, associate professor of Baptist heritage and director of the Oxford Study Program, was joined this year by Stephen Presley, associate professor of church history at Southwestern Seminary; Travis Dickinson, associate professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Seminary; and Stephen B. Eccher, assistant professor of church history and reformation studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The study tour hosted students from both Southwestern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary.
“The Oxford program is a unique opportunity for participants to not only visit and learn about Baptist and church history as they visit sites where these events occurred, but also to interact with the current work of churches in Great Britain,” says Grace. “Added to these aspects of the trip is the ability to build community with professors, students, and other believers from across the convention.”
“One of the great joys of taking part in the Oxford study tour is watching our students ponder the depths of their beliefs in places where figures like Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hamilton, and others died horrific deaths for their own convictions,” Eccher says. “But perhaps my greatest joy from this year’s trip took place even before we left, as I received a support letter from a participant on the 2018 Oxford Tour who is planting their lives in the U.K. for the next year.”
In Oxford, students heard church history lectures and worshiped at churches in the “city of dreaming spires.” At Regent’s Park College, Grace delivered a sermon, and, throughout the week, students heard lectures on church history, apologetics, and church planting in the chapel of this college with historical connections to British Baptists.
On a walking tour of London, the study tour explored the British Museum, with its treasure trove of biblical artifacts. Participants visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and walked through Paternoster Square, where religious printers once flourished, and the site of the former Newgate Prison, where Thomas Helwys, the first Baptist pastor in England, was imprisoned for his faith.
They visited the Smithfield Market, where Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake. At Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, Grace lectured on the accomplishments of Spurgeon, a leading figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition. He then spoke about Christianity and the age of dissent at Bunhill Fields, the dissenters graveyard. In the Westminster sector, Eccher spoke about British culture and faith. Students also heard about church planting efforts in London from International Mission Board workers.
In Colchester, a city rich in church history, Grace spoke at Artillery St. Evangelical Church, the place of Spurgeon’s conversion. At Moulton, participants visited Carey Baptist Church, where William Carey developed his missionary vision while cobbling shoes, and Presley preached from the pulpit. In Olney, they visited the church of John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and the group sang the hymn together inside the centuries-old church. At Kettering, a market town, they saw the site where the Baptist Missionary Society was formed, and Grace spoke on theologians Andrew Fuller and John Gill.
“The day we visited Moulton and Kettering was by far one of the most meaningful and impactful days of the trip for me,” says Adam Covington, director of communications at Southwestern Seminary. “It was surreal to stand in the room where William Carey worked as a cobbler and school teacher while he pastored the small village church next door and to recognize this place as the location where the Lord began to burden his heart and his mind for the task of taking the Gospel to the unreached corners of the earth.”
Traveling to Scotland, the group shared the Gospel with Edinburgh’s residents, worshiped at Charlotte Chapel, and learned about ministry in Scotland. They also heard a walking lecture by Eccher while touring the Royal Mile and visiting the church of John Knox, a Scottish theologian and leader of the country’s Reformation.
Eccher praised the trip for “allowing students to see, feel, steep in, and interact with a culture that is ticking down to roughly 1 percent evangelical. That means students get time to soak in a context that is, at best, post-Christian, perhaps even pre-Christian.”
Personal evangelism has always been an important emphasis of the Oxford program. This year, students had numerous opportunities to share the Gospel on the streets of England, says Eccher. “The dissonance they experience between a visual skyline dominated by Medieval church spires and surrounding streets filled with what the IMB would classify as an unreached people group is striking,” he says.
Covington emphasized the importance of relationships forged as a result of the trip. “We had students who were taking their first class ever at Southwestern Seminary, students who were working on their second and third degrees, a long-tenured pastor of a church in Arkansas, and an international student from Southeast Asia,” he says. “We had all of these students from different walks of life, from different stages of life, gathered together for a concentrated period with the sole purpose to learn about church history, Baptist heritage, and theology. We experienced Christian fellowship in this community to a degree that our busy lives don’t often allow at home.”
“I was able to see the heritage of the British Baptists to where they gave up their lives for the principles and doctrine of the Baptist faith,” says Kyle Hamby, an enrollment specialist in the Office of Admissions and a bachelor’s student in Scarborough College. “It makes you wonder, are you willing to give your life for such principles or doctrines? It is easy to say that you would but going to places where you know someone was burned alive, drowned in a river, or murdered by a mob for doctrines such as believer’s baptism makes Baptist heritage and history come alive.”
“This trip brings what we learn in the classroom to life in so many ways,” says Hamby. “Not only does the history come to life, but so will friendships that you never saw coming.”