Kelly Monroe Kullberg has had quite an adventure. As founder of the Veritas Forum, Kullberg has used her gift with words to capture audiences, invoke thoughtful discussion, and, most recently, share a story of trials, hard work, and hope—a story that starts—where else?—at Harvard.
In her most recent book, Finding God Beyond Harvard, Kullberg reveals the joys and successes of the Veritas Forum, which she founded fourteen years ago. The Forum, which strives to act as a venue for students and faculty to engage in discussions about Truth and Christ, is now in place at over fifty universities across the country. In the book, Kullberg weaves her story of personal spiritual growth with the account of the Forum’s development. We should not be too surprised that as she was building this new program, she was personally grappling with issues of the highest importance—love, feelings of uncertainty, and the relief of redemption.
Kullberg begins her story by painting an image of her first encounter with Harvard itself, where, as a Divinity School student, she faced a culture of extreme tolerance “except that for which Harvard College was founded—In Christi Gloriam—Jesus Christ’s glory” (pg 30). As she works with other universities for the Veritas Forum, Kullberg discovers that many other major institutions have similar foundations that they have abandoned. While visiting Dartmouth, Kullberg encounters a chapel located in the heart of the campus, which featured stunning stained-glass windows depicting Christ’s life. The windows, however, had been covered by dry wall because a group of students felt offended by the images. Similarly, she finds that several other prominent universities promoted education influenced by the Christian faith in their original charters but today no longer acknowledge their religious roots. They have figuratively plastered over their founding purpose.
Today these universities seem to view the principles on which they were founded as simply historical accidents—conditions that made Christianity the focus at the time. But what colleges seem to forget is that the search for Truth, for Veritas, was closely linked to the academic mission of these universities when they were founded. Their mottos were salient reminders to faculty and students of their everyday purpose. A common element in these mottos was that Truth was ultimately held in a higher power; that theology had to be considered to engage with the full picture of Truth. Today, colleges seem to have abandoned this ever-important, yet lofty search for Truth, and consequently jettisoned Christianity as well.
But Kullberg has dedicated herself to the original purpose of many of these universities, including that of Harvard—Veritas. Her vision of truth is apparent on every page, and her selfless goal to allow this truth to be revealed in her book is clear. Lessons of forgiveness, love, sacrifice, and humility seep through the pages, yet Kullberg never seems overbearing or too imposing. As a woman who values academia, Kullberg shows intolerance for deceit and ignorance, yet at the same time displays an unwavering compassion for those who have not yet discovered the truth.
The Veritas Forum soon featured influential Christian scholars and speakers, including author Madeleine L’Engle, philosopher William Lane Craig, and Condoleeza Rice, who was, at the time, the provost at Stanford. Kullberg tells stories of students becoming engaged by the intellectual discussions concerning Christianity and the impact of these conversations. Through tales of personal experiences, speakers such as Craig were able to reach students on a deeper level, and, as Kullberg explains, when “other Christian philosophers and scientists are allowed to use reason and to include their personal experience, it is hard to find a willing opponent, and there is rarely a contest” (pg 94). While this certainly does not mean each discussion led to conversion for non-believers, it does indicate that Christianity can have a place in the forum of academia. Kullberg has shown us that we can rationally discuss and advocate a theological Truth, remaining faithful to an honest and humble quest for Veritas while avoiding proselytizing.
One of the most personal passages in Finding God Beyond Harvard is the chapter entitled “Knowing and Believing.” In this section, Kullberg recalls several events in her life that have helped define her personal motivations and beliefs. She remembers an evening where she and several other graduate students discussed the wonders of the universe and the concepts of creation and the Big Bang. Although several physics students excitedly shared how they are able to explain the Big Bang and measure time back to the universe’s conception, an M.I.T. student stated: “The only problem with that theory is that there was no time, energy, matter, or space before the Big Bang. It’s all a consequence, not a cause. The first cause had to be immaterial, omnipotent, and genius” (pg 135). Students seem to yearn for disucssions about the highest things, which intensifies Kullberg’s enthusiasm for the cause of the Veritas Forum.
Kullberg continues to describe how God’s love has saved her time and again, and how her faith has helped her through turbulent times in her personal life outside her work with the Veritas Forum. Near the beginning of the Forum, Kullberg began a relationship that lasted six years but never resulted in marriage. She discusses the pain and healing that she experienced as a result of the failed relationship, and shows how God worked through her trials to increase her commitment and vision for the Forum. As she began to forgive, she discovered how much she depended on others and on God’s grace. “God was asking me to live forwardly,” she says, “to be reestablished in love… I sensed him asking me to take him at his word, to believe in his sovereignty and power beyond my own mistakes” (pg 150).
Kullberg never offers a true alternative to the increasing secularization of college campuses, but she does clearly suggest how Christian students should promote Veritas. She remarks that “Veritas is a new way of seeing and living. It begins with the humility to say that we know little on our own.” This is perhaps the most difficult concept that Kullberg presents. As Harvard students, we sometimes revel in our intelligence and take pride in our accomplishments. Kullberg, however, argues that we ought to replace pride with humility in order to display the love and light of Christ, who embodies the Truth. Only with an attitude of humility can we truly show love toward others and pursue knowledge that is much greater than ourselves. For Kullberg, then, the first step toward Truth—and the embodiment of Kullberg’s personal life and dedication to the Forum—is to cultivate humility.
As students at one of the most influential universities in the world, we are called to be the light in the world of learning, and to foster a sense of knowledge and intelligence combined with the Truth that Christ offers. As Harvard students, we should not leave our pursuit of academic excellence behind, but as Kullberg makes clear, we must also not make that our main focus.
By uniting the quest for truth in academia with the realization of Veritas in Christ, Kullberg’s organization has captured the hearts and minds of students across the world. Finding God Beyond Harvard is a book that examines this connection and delves into Harvard’s reasons for abandoning its Christian foundation. It should also make people think more deeply about the simple, single-word motto of the university that is emblazoned everywhere on this campus— Veritas. It is the one word that still remains from the original motto of Harvard University: “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae,” Truth for Christ and the Church. And it might lead readers to wonder if perhaps the reason Veritas still shines today is that those unspoken words are inextricably tied to the very core of Truth.