Whispers from God
About the Guest
The road of life sometimes makes unexpected turns. That’s what Carolyn Weber found to be true when a college professor submitted her application for a scholarship to Oxford, and she was selected. Carolyn reflects on those early months as a student at Oxford and her spiritual awakening which began there.
Carolyn WeberA Commonwealth Scholar, Dr. Carolyn Weber holds her B.A. Hon. from Huron College at Western University, Canada and her M.Phil. and D.Phil. from Oxford University, England. Dr. Weber is an award-winning author, popular professor and international speaker with talks ranging from campuses world-wide to Billy Graham’s Cove and 100 Huntley Street. She has given numerous radio, television and podcast interviews on the intersection of faith and literature, as well as topics related to women and faith...more
Carolyn Weber reflects on her early months as a student at Oxford and her spiritual awakening which began there.
Whispers from God
Bob: Carolyn Weber was a bright, young Canadian woman—granted a scholarship to do graduate work at Oxford University in England. It was there that she met a pastor’s son, also studying at Oxford. All of a sudden, many of her presuppositions about Christianity were being challenged.
Carolyn: Because what spoke to me more than all of the arguments—because he had answers for everything. At the time, he was actually studying Augustine and Aquinas. It was perfect timing. I threw him every theological question. I railed him about men and everything; but he—it was his example—his loving, kind, gentle example in answering everything.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. When Carolyn Weber started exploring the claims of Christ, she found herself quite surprised. We’ll hear her story today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you ever been on the campus at Oxford?
Dennis: I’ve driven by there.
Dennis: Only just slightly close. I’m not sure they’d let a guy from Ozark—
Bob: —walk on the campus? Might defile it in some way? [Laughter] You know I—
Dennis: I would definitely lower the average IQ substantially.
Bob: I’ve never been close; but, when you read the stories of C.S. Lewis teaching there and his conversion there,—
Bob: —and then you read just about all of the great thinking that has gone on there, it’s one of those places you just kind of liked to go and smell the air—see if it makes you any smarter.
Dennis: Yes. And you know, it is fun to meet someone who has graduated from there. We have the privilege of talking today to Carolyn Weber, who has written a book called Surprised by Oxford. Carolyn, welcome to the broadcast.
Carolyn: Thank you so much for having me here.
It’s a real delight.
Dennis: Carolyn has a father-in-law who has drunk the Kool-Aid®. [Laughter] She has him totally around her little finger, as a daughter-in-law. I first heard of this book from him. He shoved it under my nose—and in his deep, baritone, resonating voice—
Bob: Yes; yes. [Imitating Stu Weber]
Carolyn: That’s exactly what he sounds like!
Dennis: He knows Stu Weber—Stu said, “Have her on FamilyLife Today.”—
Dennis: —“Your listeners need to meet her.” She is a graduate of the University of Oxford. And she and Kent live in London, Ontario.
Carolyn: Ontario, Canada.
Dennis: And she is the mom of four, and she’s got a great story. Let’s start by the family you grew up in, Carolyn. You didn’t grow up in a Christian home—
Dennis: —at all.
Carolyn: No, Dennis, I didn’t. I grew up in kind of a loosely—maybe loosely Catholic home—I might define that—but not really with any sort of faith. We didn’t really go to church regularly—
—or didn’t understand any of those concepts surrounding faith. I certainly did not have a relationship with Jesus or whatnot.
I think I’m a perfect example of really someone from a middle class background that has heard of Jesus on television or loosely, culturally, but has really no concept of the gospel or who He is. We kind of assume that people have heard the gospel, but I hadn’t really heard anything along those lines. I’d never really read the Bible—knew a few little verses here and there, maybe, from my grandmother’s Hungarian church; but I did not grow up with any kind of faith.
Dennis: What was sacred in your family? You know, I read in your book—it looks kind of like intellect—reason / rational thinking—was kind of the Holy Grail.
Carolyn: Yes, I mean, my mother raised us, essentially, alone. My parents got divorced when I was older, but my father was not around for most of my life. When he did show up, it was fairly difficult—sometimes, even violent. My mom was a busy mom, raising us alone.
I love my family dearly and was trying to help them. I was working several jobs while I was going to college. So, I was also, I think, in that very sense—Canadian and North American student sense—just also very, very busy. There wasn’t really any sort of meditative or contemplative time—happy in some ways, in terms of being busy at school and enjoying myself—but it also made me burn out, eventually, too.
By the time I won the scholarship to Oxford, I was not anticipating to go to Oxford. I was actually engaged, at the time, to my college sweetheart, who was an atheist. I was agnostic by definition because I couldn’t disprove God and had grown increasingly so centered in my anger at, particularly, my father—and my feminism that was growing from that—not trusting men in general and wanting to be self-sufficient / self-reliant—that was really the epitome of what my studies represented.
Bob: Describe your feminism—
Bob: —because I’m just curious: “How would you define what you were? Were you a third-wave feminist—were you a—I mean, what would you put around all of that?”
Carolyn: Well, I think—and that’s a great question. I mean, I was studying Literary Theory. I would have applied all those high-brow things; but I think, overall, there was no way I was going to trust in anyone—let alone a man—incarnate God or otherwise—to provide for me or do anything for me. Ultimately, when the chips were down, I knew I had to do it all for myself. That was the way that I went into Oxford.
When I did win the scholarship—and I knew that it was a great opportunity, professionally—I knew I needed to take it. I definitely was doing—starting a thesis on women writers. There is nothing wrong with that; but my impetus was coming from anger—from a feeling of injustice / a feeling of unfairness—as opposed to a feeling of objectivity and scholarship.
Dennis: Spiritually-speaking, what in the world took place at Oxford for God to get your attention? I mean, you’re describing somebody who is not on a path that is seeking God. You’ve got that all figured out—you’re your own god, at that point.
Carolyn: Right; right.
Dennis: What happened?
Carolyn: I think, in all of us, I think there is a seeking—
—even those who—there is no such thing as an atheist in the foxhole. I think that there is—all of us have this ache, but I was researching all sorts of world religions. Finally, I had enough time actually to read and even, eventually, read the Bible—I finally was not working after school late hours and things like that.
But the bottom line was—someone shared the gospel with me, clearly and concisely. I had never really heard it before. I think, sometimes, we can underestimate—we can think people have heard the gospel elsewhere or that they know what the gospel simply is and what Jesus came to do and did for us; but we don’t! I can say that from the other side. I’m the perfect example of that.
Bob: A student at Oxford, on scholarship—if I were coming up to witness to you, I would presume certain things that you know that you may not have known—
Bob: —or I would also presume that I have to give some kind of a—I’ve got to get into Kamp, and Kierkegaard, and all of that just—
Carolyn: Right; right.
Bob: So, what did this person share with you? How basic was it?
Carolyn: Well, there is a funny story about how we first met over a hilarious email; but we eventually—he invited me for coffee. His very first question—
Dennis: Okay, now, who are we talking about here?
Carolyn: This is the student who shared the gospel with me, who I eventually married; but at the time—this is the scandal as I was actually engaged to someone else—you know, the atheist back home—but we were not romantically interested or anything. He was just a friend, who was down the hall.
Dennis: So, this wasn’t missionary dating by Kent.
Carolyn: No, no, no, no! This was completely an example of how, in a dorm scenario, you can witness to somebody, strategically. What he did was—he asked me, “Who is God to you?” What I realized was—one of the best ways to simply witness is to ask somebody a question. I didn’t really have an answer. Then, he asked me who Jesus was. And I could spew all the cultural stuff, but—
—and then, we had a long conversation, as friends, into the night. At the time, I didn’t accept the gospel; but the seed was planted. It was like an elephant in the room, and I couldn’t get rid of it after that.
Dennis: I just want to affirm your statement about people asking questions as they share their faith because the answer to the question reveals who the person is, how they’re thinking, where they are in their journey.
Dennis: And it allows us to determine, really, how we’re going to move forward in the relationship with them.
Bob: But you can’t ask the question like you’re a prosecuting attorney, trying to get—
Dennis: Oh no.
Bob: —trying to get to a predetermined—you have to be genuinely, “I’m curious,”—
Bob: —“who God is to you?”
Dennis: How did you answer that?
Carolyn: I gave him sort of “Oh, well, I’m an agnostic because I can’t really say that there isn’t a god.” I gave him—but I realized, as I was speaking, how loosy-goosy my own answers were—in my own soul and heart.
Bob: You weren’t hostile toward religion—
Carolyn: Oh, I was horridly hostile—
Bob: —toward religion?
Carolyn: —well, toward Kent—as sharing the gospel with me, as a representation of Christianity.
Bob: So, when he asked you the question, did it make you anger? It made you irritated?
Carolyn: It irritated me. I think Jesus’ name is the only name that has that kind of power. No other name has that kind of power.
Dennis: Did you show your anger?
Carolyn: Oh, I did! You can ask Kent. I beat him up for months. We had lots of conversations, and I beat him up for months. Praise God he was a pastor’s son, and he had a lot of spiritual armor; but I threw every dart at him. I came at him with all the stereotypical baggage. My concept of Christians was—TV evangelists, with big hair, that take your money. Certainly, I’m an example—living proof—that you can go study for a literature degree for 22 years in the public school education and not read the Bible.
But it opened a whole new world for me—even, intellectually, at the beginning. At the beginning, at least, I realized: “I have to look into this because, first of all, this guy really ticks me off.
There is something he is saying here that is bothering me for a reason.”
Dennis: Why didn’t he go away?
Carolyn: Because later, as I discovered, he was praying for me the whole time; but he was committed to our friendship.
Dennis: You’re making a very powerful point—it’s not about winning the argument.
Dennis: It is about, ultimately, loving the other person.
Carolyn: It’s so important you underline that because what spoke to me more than all of the arguments—because he had answers for everything. At the time, he was actually studying Augustine and Aquinas. It was perfect timing. I threw him every theological question, but it was his example—his loving, kind, gentle example in answering everything.
Dennis: Give us the best one you threw at him, looking back on all the stuff that you hammered him with.
Carolyn: I hammered him with so much stuff. I’m shocked he married me, years later! [Laughter] I mean, wow! The crowns in heaven for him—there are.
Bob: And you don’t think he persevered just because that girl down the hall is really cute?
Carolyn: Well, he would say that because he’s so good to me; but no, he actually had his own life going.
Remember, I was engaged, the whole time, to this atheist. This was not something that was: “We’re dating and chatting.” This was—“We were friends.” If you understand the Oxford scenario—especially if you are studying as graduate students—it’s a tight-knit community. It’s very supportive—lots of cosmopolitan students. So, there are a lot of these conversations happening.
There were several examples, Dennis, where I really—I just was determined to take him down. I thought: “If I can get a hole in his armor, I can bring down his God; and I can show—I’m sure his answers are rote. He’s a good, little pastor’s boy. He’s got all the memorized verses, and I am just going to trip him up! And you know, he’s going to be secretly have all this sin going on. I’m going to be able to blow this all apart and actually help him see things as they truly are.”
One of the examples was—I remember I was beginning to read the Bible. I started—and I’d thought: “Okay, I’m going to sit down. I’m going to read it from cover to cover.” One of the stories that really bugged me was the thief on the cross at the crucifixion—asking for God’s forgiveness—for Jesus’ forgiveness, at the last minute.
I remember saying to Kent: “And Jesus forgives him and says, ‘You’ll be with me today in paradise.’ I mean, what kind of justice is this? This is ridiculous! I mean, what about the guy, who isn’t the criminal—who isn’t up there and who has lived the perfect life?” You know—kind of like the prodigal son’s brother issue.
And Kent said to me: “Thank God! Thank God, He forgives him, at the last minute, because we are all that thief on the cross.” That was absolutely some arrow I had intended to shoot at him—came back and struck me. It wasn’t actually a deep, theological argument he gave me; but just the fact that he—I remember him looking me in the eyes and saying, “That’s who we all are.”
Dennis: It’s the grace of God.
Carolyn: It’s grace. There is grace—the word that’s thrown around, empty like other words—then, there is grace—when it’s the Word. It hits you, and you feel it, and you get it. We also get a taste of it when it’s modeled by other Christians.
Dennis: So, when did you really begin to hear God’s voice whisper—
Bob: When did you cry, “Uncle”? That’s what we want to know.
Carolyn: When did I cry, “Uncle”? [Laughter]
Dennis: No, there are two questions here. That’s one Bob’s asking—yes. But when was the first time you began to sense God whispering to you? I want to find out what the final straw was that ultimately brought you to faith; but when did you begin to sense that God was pursuing you, and was it through Kent?
Carolyn: That was one of the main forces. But I think that God sometimes whispers; and sometimes, He throws you sort of an avalanche. There were lots of little things. He knows our hearts and our Achilles’ heels. One of my great passions is words. I love words—I love puns.
I arrived at Oriel College, which was the college I was studying at. I remember thinking, “Well, is there a god?” I mean, you can’t be in a place like Oxford, and look at all the architecture, and not think about the religious implications. Walking through the Oriel College doorway, ducking under the 13th century doorway, and right in the courtyard is—
—it was built to King Charles.
It says, “Carolinas”; but the beginning, “Caro”—C-A-R-O—is carved in huge letters in the front courtyard. The first thing I saw, when I arrived at Oxford—which is my nickname—only my pet name from all of my loved ones in my family calling me, “Caro.” It’s also my father’s name—the feminine form of Charles—and so, to me, that—and to see all those little things that kept speaking to me. Sometimes, we might discard them as superstition, or people might feel silly talking about them; but I think God takes great delight in how He speaks to us in the language of our hearts. We know that something is whispering, and so just things like—
I remember not really having a Bible. Right across the street from me was Saint Mary’s Cathedral—beautiful old church—and all these Bibles were in it. It was right across the street. The door was always open every time I went between Oriel College and the Bodleian Library every day to work. I would go in; and I started reading the Bible, literally, on these kind of borrowed pages.
I thought about stealing one, but I didn’t—even I thought that was kind of low; right? [Laughter] “Why steal the cow when you can have the milk for free?”—right?
Dennis: Exactly—so, back to Bob’s question.
Carolyn: I think that there were those whisperings going on. And just the more I read of the Bible, as a trained reader, the more I realized that it was the most magnificent piece of literary non-fiction I had ever read!
On a complete intellectual level, I thought: “Wow! All these sort of ‘crazy stories’ you hear—being swallowed in whales and whatnot—when you really look at them—are so beautiful and deep. They resonate. And it’s also so intricately woven, all the way from Genesis through to Revelation. I couldn’t have made it up if I had tried!”
Bob: And written by fishermen, and written by farmers, and—
Carolyn: Yes. All walks of life, and kings, and everything.
Dennis: And painting people as they really are.
Carolyn: As they really are. I found that there was somebody I knew in my own life—there were always emanations in the Bible I could find—and parts of myself.
And in spite of myself, I found myself being drawn into it. That was before I really felt the electric jolt and volt of reading Scripture. I didn’t feel it, yet, as revealed Word. I was just drawn in by the story and how amazingly intricate this idea of God’s promise for us was. So, I read it, first, just as an academic or literary excursion; but then, it sinks in. Then, as you begin to meet more Christians, I started going to various churches and services.
At Oxford, it’s sort of in the air. There’s even song after dinner. There are so many little chapels, and there are a lot of really wonderful, vibrant Christians there. The Lord brought many Christians into my path. I think one of the most powerful things we can do for unbelievers is to pray that they are assaulted by Christians in various ways. [Laughter]
Dennis: But assaulted with love.
Bob: That’s right.
Carolyn: With love, exactly. But in various—varied degrees—I mean, sometimes—it’s again, that season thing; isn’t it? Sometimes, a gentle question is best; and sometimes, calling somebody on something hard is best, as well.
I remember Kent, at one point—I refused to let him walk between me and the traffic, as a gentleman would, when he was walking me to the theater.
Dennis: But a good feminist—
Carolyn: No, I did not—I said to him, “I don’t need”—
Dennis: That was not acceptable?
Carolyn: No. “I do not need a man between me and the traffic.” He stayed firm; and he said: “I would treat any woman like this. You honor me by letting me do this.” Well, what’s a woman supposed to say to that?! [Laughter] What are you supposed to say? You know, “The greatest love we have is laying down our life for our friend.” He would enact that.
He was not throwing these things at me—so much, verbally, all the time—but he was living them for me. It becomes water on the best type of rock. It wears you down, and you realize that there is real love in what these Christians are doing and saying.
Bob: So, when was the moment?
Carolyn: When did the shoe drop? [Laughter]
Carolyn: I think—what I love about people’s conversion stories is how different they all are—
Carolyn: —but what for me, it was a slow burn. It was Christians loving me. It was reading Scripture. It was going to Bishop Tutu when he visited. All of these wonderful things in the way that was happening at Oxford, but it was, eventually—I remember Valentine’s Day, 1994. I had just gone to a party where everybody was drinking, and partying, and throwing up, and all that kind of thing. It hit me that I wanted something more: “This was not all that we were made to be.”
I didn’t mean that in a condescending way—just—I could really see the lostness of things. I went back. I realized that really the only thing that was keeping me—I wanted to actually become a Christian—but I couldn’t! You know, you hear that from people. I couldn’t get over that barrier—I couldn’t make that leap. I remember praying, “Please, Lord, just remove my disbelief.” You know—that prayer that we also see in Scripture, too, of just: “Please help me in my unbelief.” You can’t really get any lower than that,—
—I think, in prayer. He met me there and removed the disbelief. You can’t go back—you don’t want to.
Dennis: No, you can’t go back.
Carolyn: You can’t get un-baptized.
Dennis: No, you can’t. And to that person, who is listening to your story, and they’re going: “That’s me. That’s my journey.” Introduce that man or that woman to the same Savior you surrendered to.
Carolyn: I would say to that man or that woman that our God is even greater than any doubt you can have. He’s not a fragile God and that your disbelief isn’t a barrier to Him either. I would say that—even just praying that He would come and get you if you can’t go any further. He will carry you to that place.
It’s just so hard to describe—no matter all the other struggles in life—even our doubts—
—the way that He’s wired you is meant to glorify Him. Even asking questions is fine; having doubts is fine. It’s just that—once you get to that place with Him and you are given the gift of seeing, it’s absolutely unspeakably beautiful. It’s a deep, deep joy and a peace that’s hard to put into words.
Dennis: What we can’t do is we can’t save ourselves.
Dennis: It takes what Jesus Christ did, through His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection, to ultimately come to us, and meet us like you’re talking about,—
Dennis: —and invite us into the family.
Carolyn: Right; right. And when that really sinks in, in a soul way, it changes everything.
Bob: You know, on our website, we’ve got a link there that says, “Two Ways to Live.” It really does map out the choice that’s in front of every person: “Which path are you going to choose?” One path is a path that leads to life; the other is a path that leads to destruction.
You’re standing at the fork in the road, saying, “Which path will I walk?”
Dennis: And the question for a listener, right now, is: “Who is God to you, and what is your relationship with Him, and would you like a relationship?” Nothing is being shoved down anybody’s throat here. It’s an invitation that we can receive, by faith, through the grace of God that He extends to us.
Bob: Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link you find there that says, “Two Ways to Live,” to explore what we’re talking about here and to find out what it means to have a relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus Christ.
And while you’re on our website, find out more about the books that Carolyn Weber has written. Her book, Surprised by Oxford, is her memoir of her time at Oxford. Her new book is called Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present. It’s a book that helps us re-center and recalibrate our lives around what really matters.
Find out more about both books—and you can order them from us, online, if you’d like—at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, our website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I got a note recently from a friend of mine who just jotted to say, “Hey, thank you for sending me the FamilyLife prayer card.” We have a series of three prayer cards that we’ve shared with people over the years. One is called “Lifting My Husband in Prayer.” Then, there’s “Lifting My Wife in Prayer” and “Lifting My Children in Prayer.” My friend said: “I have the one for children tucked into my Bible. It’s just a great helpful reminder of how I need to be praying for my kids regularly. It helps me direct my prayers and be focused on the right stuff.”
This month, we’ve been sending out these prayer cards to listeners who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation during the month of April. We appreciate your financial support. We couldn’t do all that we do without you partnering with us. And these prayer cards are a way for us to say, “Thank you,” and a way for us to provide you with a resource that we think will help strengthen your marriage, and your family, and your relationship with God.
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And we hope you’ll join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to hear from Carolyn Weber about how her husband, Kent, eventually began to pursue her and how he proposed to her. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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