Adrian Rogers, longtime pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, once said, I wouldnt trust the best fifteen minutes I ever lived to get me into heaven. This simple statement has such a profound truth: our hope is in Christ Jesus. This is a truth that Carolyn Weber, in her exquisitely written memoir, Surprised by Oxford, comes to realize.
Ms. Weber, a native of Ontario, Canada, grew up in a community where the name of Jesus is not included in everyday conversation. Growing up in spiritual darkness, she found herself not only opposed to evangelical Christian beliefs, but categorically annoyed by them. Surprised by Oxford, details her first year of graduate work at Oxford University, a place where she did not expect to find faith in God, but nonetheless, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, became a new creation in Christ.
Surprised by Oxford is captivating, mentally stimulating, and spiritually energizing. Intertwined with thought-provoking quotations from poetry and Romantic literature, Ms. Weber refreshingly exhibits a level of honesty and vulnerability that all readers can appreciate. Evidenced by the boldness of the classmate she affectionately refers to as TDH (tall, dark, and handsome) to share the gospel, Ms. Webers conversion to Christianity is a testament of the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit: pointing people to Salvation in Christ Jesus. She allows readers to peer into her thought process, her rational questioning of the existence of God, and her search for truth in a way that can only be rivaled by the great C.S. Lewis.
Carolyn Webers memoir is different from others of its kind. What makes her memoir special is her attention to her post-conversion experience. Sophomorically, many new Christians expect post-conversion life to be nothing but roses and bonbons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the words of John 15:18-20:
18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Ms. Webers stories are relatable, a quality that enriches the overall quality of her memoir. Her struggles are real. Her relationships with family and friends changed dramatically. She faced persecution in the field of academia, a field that generally associates faith with ignorance. Her ability to overcome these hurdles and literally stand firm for absolute truth, when confronted by old friends and professors shoveling moral relativism, is an encouragement to all believers. The trials she faced, in her relationships and in academia, are not specific to her, but rather a telling reality that, in some respect, all Christians will face.
As I aimed to become a teacher, God made me a student. This quote from Surprised by Oxford is a beautiful summation of the entire text. Its splendor is not derived from any brilliance in diction or syntax; rather it derives from a honest illustration of the sovereignty of God. Surprised by Oxford is the celebration of the grace of God, grace that is available to all those who will accept it. I consider Carolyn Webers memoir a treasure, and recommend it to believers and skeptics alike. Through this beautifully written memoir, it is obvious that Carolyn Weber is an extraordinarily talented storyteller. I am confident that Surprised by Oxford will enrich the lives of readers in generations to come.
Mark Trammell is a Policy Intern at the Family Research Council, and is a 3L at Liberty University School of Law.