The award-winning professor whose transformation from agnosticism to Christianity is portrayed in an upcoming film says she wants her story to lead moviegoers to ask the "big questions" of life, just as she did when she enrolled at Oxford University as a skeptic of faith.
Surprised by Oxford is scheduled to release in theaters Sept. 27 and Oct. 1. It tells the real-life story of a student, Carolyn Weber, who arrived at Oxford as a skeptic but began changing her mind when confronted by the writings of C.S. Lewis and by friends and professors who believed in God. It is based on a book of the same name that won the Grace Irwin Award, Canada's largest award for Christian writing.
It stars Rose Reid (Finding You, A Thousand Tomorrows), Mark Williams (Father Brown) and Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey).
Weber went on to serve on faculty at Oxford University, Seattle University and the University of San Francisco, among others, and was the first female dean of St. Peter's College, Oxford. Today, she is a professor at New College Franklin in Franklin, Tenn.
Although Weber is one of the world's most foremost defenders of the faith, she once believed that "you can't both be a person of faith and an intellect," she told Christian Headlines. Faith and intellect, she believed, were "at opposite ends of the pool."
"I was raised loosely Catholic. I had Hungarian grandparents that took me to mass that were largely in Latin. I had some comfort in that, but then they passed, and then my father had a breakdown and lost his company and was charged with fraud, and he was in and out of our lives. And that was fairly turbulent."
Those tragedies led Weber to become skeptical of faith.
"I would have defined it by my later years as agnostic," she said, adding she was "fairly cynical towards the idea of an Eternal Father, especially given the experience I had at that time, with an earthly one."
The movie portrays her falling in love with a male student who is a person of faith. In real life, that student became her husband.
Prior to arriving at Oxford, she said, she had not considered Christianity as a faith of intellectuals.
"I really enjoyed the way that Lewis wrote in an accessible way, almost like you're having a cup of tea, but talking about these things, the gamut of topics, everything from prayer to grief, the way that he makes faith relevant to our lives," she said.
As a young student, she believed knowledge and reason were the purpose of life. She says her change involved "a slow realization that knowledge is not everything."
"There's a longing to each of us that points to really, I think, as Augustine said … the God that can fulfill us in that longing, and that is our real home," she told Christian Headlines.
Surprised by Oxford, she said, is "for anyone." For moviegoers from a faith background, she wants them to "ask questions about God – He is not a fragile God." For non-faith moviegoers, she wants them to feel "invited to think about the big questions that really matter."
"God is there and He listens to us and He sees us and He wants a relationship with us. He is all around," she said. "Our individual personal relationship with Him first and foremost is the most important. We know what's in the hearts of men; everything else is going to disappoint us."
Photo courtesy: ©Trafalgar, used with permission.
Video courtesy: ©Surprised by Oxford
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
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