Arriving at Oxford University to complete her Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy, Dr. Carolyn Weber was both a feminist and agnostic before the people she encountered there rocked her belief system. She was engaged to an atheist but soon became fascinated by the joyful attitude of Christians around her.
"At Oxford, I was struck not only by the intellectual rigor of many Christians I came to meet but also by their deep joy. This combination intrigued me – taking one's faith seriously but not oneself too much so," Carolyn explains.
Carolyn worked full-time from age 14 to compensate for her parent's divorce and admits that, until her scholarship at Oxford, she was "too busy, too distracted or full of pain" to deal with her personal questions. On campus she later found a place of rich and honest conversation and in a nearby dorm she met fellow American and theology student, Kent Harper, who gladly explained Christianity according to the Bible and answered many of her questions.
Her stereotype of Christians as stubborn and serious, not culturally savvy, and who trusted an "irrelevant Jesus" were shattered by thoughtful and highly intelligent Christians, who she says lacked "rifts between what they were saying and embodying."
One thing she greatly admired was their lack of fear. As she explains, "I began to see that the opposite of faith is not reason, it was fear.
"I had been carrying this anger and fear, growing up without a father – feeling unprotected, having nowhere safe to go and having to be self-sufficient."
However, Kent's compassion in response to her anger irritated her at first.
"I kept trying to poke holes in his armor, believing he would fall apart. I was not used to someone who stood there convicted in his God with such armor on. His patience, graciousness, kindness and compassion to me, just like Jesus, spoke most to me."
Another of her objections to trusting that God was good, she explains, was men who lacked goodness.
Citing all the women she had seen hurt by men and unprepared to give up her self-sufficiency, Carolyn declared to Kent, "I am never going to trust a man, nor hand my life over to a Jesus Christ who became a man."
Kent responded by holding her hands and saying, "I am not those men. I'm not perfect either but I'm trying in Christ and I know of men who are trying, and therefore honor women and honor their God by honoring women."
"At this point," she adds, "I wanted to trust his word because he had my respect."
Reading a Bible in the church across the road from the campus, she recalls in her memoir, Surprised by Oxford, that no-one could have made up such "a compelling piece of creative non-fiction".
She writes, "If I sat around for thousands of years, I could never come up with what it proposes... That the supposed Creator of the entire universe became a vulnerable baby, born in straw, to a poor girl who claimed to be a virgin, and who was betrothed to a guy probably scared out of his wits, but who stood by her anyway. It unwinds and recasts the world and our perception of it."
Invited to a 'C.S. Lewis' meeting, Carolyn hesitantly walked in to the room, thinking a dead white guy would have nothing to say to a feminist, but was surprised by the warm and inviting people present.
Far from her dour stereotype of Christians, Carolyn noted "a presence and a joy and a peace that I couldn't put my finger on."
“I had been carrying this anger and fear, growing up without a father...”She explains this joy is different from being happy: "I've seen people in great sorrow who have suffered great loss and still have God's joy at the core of their being."
After deciding to trust in Jesus as her Lord and Savior, Carolyn then married Kent and became a professor at the University of San Francisco, Seattle University, Westmont College and, finally, Oxford University, where she was also the first female dean of St. Peter's College.
After fifteen years teaching undergraduate students, Carolyn returned to Canada with Kent for more time with her children and her parents and to pen her spiritual memoir, Surprised by Oxford.
"My impression of Christians was that they were really dour, serious people who didn't enjoy anything, and instead, they had the inside track to eternal joy. As rock band U2 sings, 'if the joy is real then the laughter is eternal'," Carolyn shares.
Carolyn says Christians have this joy due to God's presence and His heavenly promise that "by faith in Him all tears are wiped away and suffering comes to an end – and no other religion proclaims that."
Watch Carolyn on YouTube by searching for "Surprised by Oxford", or visiting <youtu.be/NMfY89rF5KI>