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God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas
Author: Kelly Monroe Monroe Kullberg
IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press
Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas by Kelly Monroe Kullberg, is a difficult book to categorize. It is part theological memoir, part institutional history and cultural critique, and part song. As theological memoir, it is Monroe Kullberg’s own reflections on her spiritual growth and development over more than a decade of intense involvement with university students, notable Christian thinkers, and staunchly anti-Christian academicians. The personal stories that infuse this book paint a compelling picture of a woman who is determined to pursue Truth at any cost, through personal pain and victory alike. She recounts how her own faith developed from a belief in veritas as an abstract concept to a belief in veritas as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. “What is veritas? Veritas is a Person. The Healer. The Lover who empowers us to love – the Life-Giver. . . .And so I came to believe that truth was knowable, not because I was smart or virtuous or strong, but because the Creator of reality is loving enough to reveal himself to me. He speaks not only through the brokenness and insufficiency of the world but also more clearly through the wonders of Creation, his written Word and his living Word, Jesus Christ. All questions lead back to him. Life coheres in this rich understanding of reality. He is good. He is at heart lovely and a Lover” (145, 6). Monroe Kullberg’s newly-found spiritual theology focused on the person of Jesus Christ: “Along with the students, I was learning that real faith isn’t intellectual assent to the doctrine and data points of ‘belief in God,’ though that’s a useful starting point since it’s hard to entrust our lives to what we doubt as real. But faith is believing God’s Word about all things and being grafted into God as our life. Biblical faith is an opening and receiving into oneself the gift of God – Jesus Christ and his Spirit. Inviting his life into our lives” (153).
Interwoven throughout Kullber’s memoir is the institutional history of the Veritas Forum, and with it a stinging critique of contemporary American academia. The Veritas Forum is an organization whose stated mission is to “create forums for the exploration of true life. We seek to inspire the shapers of tomorrow's culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ” (veritas.org). Monroe Kullberg started the Forum at Harvard University in 1992, in response to what a culture that she describes in this way: “The overall ethos of HDS [Harvard Divinity School] at the time was like this: We wear black and are tolerant of anything but belief in truth. We are sophisticated post-Christian intellectuals who understand, rather than stand under, any authority or truth claim. We are subject to no one. All things are subject to our interpretations and preferences” (25). What Monroe Kullberg and some of her friends created was a place for students to come which would allow them to ask some of their hardest questions and hear them answered by some of the world’s most brilliant Christian thinkers, apologists, artists, and activists. This first forum, along with the book Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians, (edited by Monroe Kullberg and which included the stories of Harvard professors, alumni and students who had found veritas in the person of Jesus Christ) began to have ripple effects throughout American higher education. Today the Forum is active at over 70 college and university campuses across the country and in several in other countries as well. Monroe Kullberg says of her own journey: “I expected in Cambridge [Massachusetts] to find something new, something beyond Jesus, but instead I found more of him. I saw how the pure light of God’s truth refracts and falls in every direction with color and grace. I found him in the color of crimson, in the iron and stone of the gates of Harvard Yard and in the symbols on the college seal. I could see his truth in the work and eyes of Fellow students, in rare books, in a friend’s chemistry lab, the observatory, and in the legacies of founders and alumni who, whether living or beyond this life, would befriend and teach us” (193).
It is the interweaving of these two narrative threads that made this a perplexing book to review. Though I found the book very readable and engaging, it is difficult to know exactly for whom this book was written and to whom I might recommend it, other than someone specifically interested in Monroe Kullberg and the development of the Veritas Forum. The fact that there are twelve pages of “acknowledgements” (an overwhelming list of single names) and sixteen pages of pictures at the end of the book suggest to me that is, in fact, the book’s intended audience. This seems a rather small demographic, however, and may unfortunately be off-putting to those not already in this cadre. In a way, this book does have a little something for everyone, but on several points it definitely left me wanting more.
That being said, Finding God Beyond Harvard does, indeed, have some beautiful and inspiring moments. Not content to simply recount a story or delineate an argument, Monroe Kullberg also allows herself to sing, in praise of Creation and the Creator, in praise of Christ and His Church, in praise of the “severe mercy” of suffering and the abundance of God’s Grace. She writes with an unreserved, passionate enthusiasm that would, no doubt, earn her disdain from many of the educated elite, and yet is welcoming and compelling. Her hope is contagious and her joy infectious. Where many of us might be tempted to ignore the secular university in favor of more “fruitful” mission fields, Monroe Kullberg encourages Christians, borrowing a sentiment of J.R.R. Tolkien, “There may come a day when believers will be called to abandon the university to itself, to its idols and self-deceptions, to its self-worship. But it is not this day.” Amen, and sing on, Veritas, in Christi gloriam. Sing on.