March 10, 2015

Surprised by Oxford

This is now a new favorite of mine. : )
What a wonderfully written memoir. Full of honest, witty and thoughtful reflections on her journey to faith in Christ.

I couldn't have described this book any better than what it says on the back cover:

"From issues of fatherhood, feminism, and doubt to doctrine and love. Weber explores the intricacies of coming to faith with an honesty and insight echoing that of the poets and writers she studied. Rich with illustration and literary and poetic references, Surprised by Oxford is at once gritty and lyrical, humorous and spiritually perceptive."

Carolyn Weber was a student of Romantic Literature while attending Oxford University in England.

That first year changed her life.

I love how God worked to pursue Carolyn through the things she loved to bring her to Himself. To show her how much He loved her. I was reminded while reading her memoir, of the C.S. Lewis book The Four Loves, as each of these four loves are experienced and shared within Carolyn's story.

This book was also filled with profound and engaging thoughts. Things many of us have grabbled with in our hearts and minds.

I thought I'd share a few of these profound and engaging thoughts.

Firstly, that 'despair is the greatest sin.' Despair meaning hopelessness, having no hope whatsoever, lost all hope.

One of her professors, while discussing John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost, said this:

"Despair is the greatest sin...It involves forgetting that God is there. Forgetting that He is good and that all He is and does extends from and works toward this perfect goodness. That doesn't mean that He allows evil, or creates it, or perpetuates it. That's our entwinement. Rather, He uses even our evil toward His good. We all need forms of remembering this first great love...writing, reading, creating, being."

This really got to me. When we reject God and believe He does not exist then all that is left is despair. There is no hope or meaning in this life without Him.

It actually made me think of something I read by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor imprisoned for speaking against communism in 1948. He said the torture there was beyond bearable and that the ones who cried out to God first, were the atheists! They needed hope. They needed God. And in those horrific moments they knew it.

In Christ there is no despair, only hope.

Paul says to the Corinthians:

"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" 2 Cor. 4:8

And Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations says we are not consumed by despair but rather have hope in God:

Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.

They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion, says my soul, 
Therefore I hope in Him!”    Lam. 3:24

Secondly, Carolyn says she was invited to "high table in honor of my Commonwealth scholar status." The guest of honor was a brilliant scientist named, Dr. Sterling.

She shares the conversation around the table and it is fascinating! Sitting with her were, a heart surgeon named Dr. Inchbald, a professor of philosophy named Dr. Rieland and the brilliant scientist, Dr. Sterling.

The topic...death.

The heart surgeon begins with:

"when I see death, I know it is wrong."

Dr. Rieland snickered, "Obviously"

Then the heart surgeon, Dr. Inchbald said something mind blowing...

"But really, really wrong. In-my-gut wrong,' Dr. Inchbald almost pleaded. 'It was not meant to be. It was not meant to be for us. We were not built for it. Everything in my body, at a cellular level, let alone a metaphysical one, twists against it. Not just my death, but the death of every living thing."

When God created us we were not meant to die. We were meant to live. We became spiritually dead when sin entered the world as well has cursed with physical death. But Christ came to freely give life, the life we were meant to live, if we put our trust in Him.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23

Lastly, was Carolyn's encounters with Christians. I found this so encouraging and I pray we all can have an impact on others the way these friends had on Carolyn.

She says of the Christians she was getting to know:

"These Christian people were deliberate. They were pursuing despite being persecuted. They were deliberate in discerning and knowing their owns hearts, confessing their own faults, desiring forgiveness, and being grateful for grace. They were then deliberate in exercising the same forgiveness that had been granted to them, deliberate in at least genuinely trying to sidestep the continuous trap of self-reference and judgement."

I loved that. The world doesn't need us to be super hero Christians, they just need us to be real.

To show that our weaknesses make us strong in Him.

The apostle Paul encourages us here:

"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:10

Buy it HERE on Amazon


  1. Thank you for the book review. I love the line that you quote from Carolyn about Christians-they were pursuing while being persecuted. May I be as strong as that in my own faith.

  2. Beautiful book and beautiful review. Thank you! It's on my to read list!

  3. "It was not meant to be. It was not meant to be for us. We were not built for it. Everything in my body, at a cellular level, let alone a metaphysical one, twists against it. Not just my death, but the death of every living thing."

    That is chilling,

  4. I've already gone over to order it! Oxford + History + God = I can't wait!

  5. I love this review. Eveny scholarly folks need Jesus.I like the realness. thanks for sharing at Literacy Musing Mondays. ;)

  6. wow, sounds like a deep read. I'll have to visit some of your other books here. Interesting blog!

  7. I love this be deliberate.

  8. What a powerful book! Happy to be next to you at Weekend Brew and to find this reading recommendation.

  9. I've been so guilty of forgetting about the hope Christ gives us. I need to get my head on straight and focus on that instead of the despair that creeps in. I'm looking forward to more of your great insight and book reviews over at Literacy Musing Mondays.

  10. Thank you for sharing this book review with us at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings and looking forward to the next one.

  11. Thank-you all for stopping by and sharing in the comments. It was such a great memoir and glad so many of you want to read it! I highly recommend it to everyone. : )

  12. This sounds like a wonderful book! I appreciate the way you incorporate biblical truth into your reviews. I love your point about the surgeon's view of death; it's not what we were made for. Hallelujah! Thanks for sharing this at Grace & Truth. :)


Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments. I try to respond to all of them by the end of the week. : )