Book Review – I Choose: Subtlety in Cults

iWhen I heard about the new book by Isabelle Renaud, “I Choose: Subtlety in Cults“, I bought one on Kindle for my phone. This is a great read if you want to see a honest and sincere view of what it is like as a member of University Bible Fellowship. Isabelle was a member of a Canadian chapter of UBF around 1999 to 2002, spending about 3 years there.  I was surprised that the author even shared her testimonies (the personal applications to Bible passages) that you are pressured to write as a UBF member. These were hard for me to read because it brought back so many awful memories of losing sleep, giving up family time with our children, and boring Friday nights that were demanded of us so that we could keep good standing in the University Bible Fellowship ministry. Like Isabelle, I remember spending 5 or 6 hours hearing testimonies late into the night.

There is much that the author is thankful for in University Bible Fellowship, such as going to Bible Conferences in other countries, the love bombing in her early days, and the Bible studies. These things I am very thankful to God for as well. She mentioned that when she finally became free she never lost her faith in God but learned to serve God in different way free from all the pressure and control and undue influence.

I noticed a few common things that she shared in her book that really drives home the real issues in University Bible Fellowship that must be addressed and be changed if University Bible Fellowship is to become healthy and be a healthy ministry. These same points are addressed in Brian’s books and the one we wrote together as well.

First, She saw family life in University Bible Fellowship.

She mentioned as she took a closer look at the families in UBF she noticed that they were abusive and unhealthy. I saw the same thing in our ministry in Cincinnati UBF as well as in my own family. She noticed that kids were pressured to live in the University Bible Fellowship community and parents did not spend time with them but left them to others to take care of so that they could raise disciples of Jesus. This changed her perspective completely and contributed to her leaving UBF after being a member for 3 years in the Canadian chapter. She did not want to raise an unhealthy and unbalanced family.

I strongly urge UBF members to love and take care of their families and if can’t do so and do ministry then leave UBF immediately. Please do not abuse your children under the banner of love and ministry.

Second, She saw pressure to marry in UBF.

This is a sure sign of an unhealthy ministry. Throughout her book you can see how she had to suppress her feelings and live under the direct influence of her Bible teacher. This caused emotional anxiety and trauma to her life that is abusive in nature. UBF makes marriage out to be some kind of fantasy world where you will be eternally happy with the partner they choose for you because they are God’s servants and they know what is best for you. I lived in this illusion and dream until I got married in UBF and realized I married someone who did not like the ministry as I thought and only stayed with me because of our children. I realized that the marriages in UBF can be very abusive in the sense that you marry under pressure and someone who does not understand that they will often be expected to sacrifice their family to feed into the UBF propaganda machine. It is not real.

Yes, there are some good marriages but much is cover up. One young man in Cincinnati UBF left his wife and children, he was one of my shepherds, to spend his life with a same sex partner. These stories are covered up and never talked about.

Third, She saw that she was not her real self.

She describes it as an out of body experience in her book. It was nice to read a book from a woman’s perspective for a change. She saw that the longer she stayed in UBF the more and more activities were thrown on her life to seize unhealthy control of her life until she ended up in depression and even fainted a few times at work and in a library a few times where she worked.

Finally, she got the courage to leave. I strongly encourage anyone who is in University Bible Fellowship to read her book to just explore these issues in a loving way. I can see that she did not write this book to bash UBF but with a sincere and loving desire to come to terms with her life and to find healing for herself. In the same way, Brian and I wrote our stories with the same purpose. There is no money to be made in writing books but much time and effort in writing. These love letters must be read, I promise you that you will learn more here than staying up all night half asleep listening to repetitive and boring testimonies. Isabelle Renaud is our sister in Christ and she deserves to heard in the University Bible Fellowship community.


  1. Does anyone know Isabelle Renaud? Is anyone able to send this book review to her? Perhaps ask if she would like to introduce herself or comment here?

    • I don’t, but I’ve contacted Melissa C. to find out (no response). I left a review on Amazon for Isabelle, and she should see a spike in book sales, so she should be alerted to see this :)

      It is intriguing that she decided to publish a book in 2013, 10 years after she left ubf. It is further intriguing that her profile says she has “expertise in cults” that was gained during her short 3 year stay. This is a small, but common theme I’ve notice among former ubf people– some who stayed only 1 to 3 years already notice the cultic elements of control in ubf.

  2. bigbear you nailed the 3 core issues that Isabelle presents. This is perhaps the best summary of all 4 reform/exodus movements at ubf the past 53 years:

    1) Neglect of families.
    2) Arranged marriage.
    3) Loss of authentic self identity.

    Remove those and I have little to criticize ubf for :)

    But the opposite of these are the very things ubf Koreans have committed their lives to and pledged the “ubf pledge” to do, and will stop at nothing to do:

    1) Teach mission-centered compliance.
    2) Raise 10,000 house churches.
    3) Raise 100,000 ubf shepherds.

  3. forestsfailyou

    I also got a kindle and got this book. Me and my roommate read it together. A few things to note here. First, being in UBF was exhausting for her and she had a panic attack at one point. I think that this is a common model. In November I attended every meeting weekly while holding a full time job and doing bible study twice a week along with writing the testimonies on chapters in Genesis. I have no idea how people do this with a family. Eventually I stopped going to the Friday night study because I was so tired and just wanted to sleep Friday nights and stopped having bible study with my roommate. Second of all, the guy she liked got married by faith to someone else and this hurt her deeply. I wonder how often this has happened? I honestly think this was a major factor in her leaving along with a host of other problems. One of those being that she saw that families were not happy (due to exhaustion and expectation of having multiple bible studies) and she very much disliked that the missionaries kept pressuring her about her attire. This has never been something I have experienced. Besides that nothing at all surprised me in this book. Seems like the standard sort of thing that goes down here.

    • The need for the shepherd/leader to control their sheep and the details of their adult life, including dating/marriage is just NOT going to work long term in this day and age.

    • “The need for the shepherd/leader to control their sheep and the details of their adult life, including dating/marriage is just NOT going to work long term in this day and age.”

      I’m not sure about that. What makes UBF attractive is that they seem to present an “alternative draft” to this day and age. Please keep in mind that even in this day and age, even in our modern countries, you still see people convert to radical Islamism and obey its strict rules (much stricter than ordinary Islam), women who voluntarily submit to it. For some it will be even more attractive when it’s so different and opposite to how the mainstream is living. Sure, for the majority of young people it will never be attractive. But the majority never found UBF attractive anyway. UBF attracted only people who were unsecure, lonely, had lack of self-confidence, strong sense of duty and guilt, particularly at the moment of an existential crisis. Then they manage to redefine their understanding of freedom, and in the end, they will continue to live according to their re-framed worldview, even if their existential crisis and weak moment has long passed.

    • forestsfailyou

      Native Koreans UBF leaders who emphasis certain virtues of obedience, conformity, high demand discipleship, etc. Appeal to certain people who tend to become “ideal” disciples in my experience. Socially awkward people who become Koreanized can be frustrating to deal with to say the least. I think another thing to consider is that fishing biases the pool of potential UBF members because it tends to select people sitting alone, quieter people, people not in large groups.

      I would have never been fished at SIUE since I was always the loud one in the middle of a crowd of people. When I went fishing once I noticed this, and the next time I tried to ask all the people who would never be asked. I stopped a guy a bike for example, approached a crowd of attractive blond women, raced a woman who was running, etc. I am sure this has been discussed though.

  4. big bear

    Second that Ben…God has blessed me with a wife after leaving UBF that wants me teach her the Bible and our children…she has great passion for ministry…she has read her book too and sees the forced nature of marriage and pressure…UBF must trust God to work and not control families, students, and people lives..I think there is so much pressure in UBF to raise disciples that they are hurting people…just love people…bear with them and serve them with humility and prayer…do not stick your head in the sand or be stiff what former leaders have to say…have learning minds…we are your brothers and sisters in Christ…stop thepride and abuse…50 years is enough

  5. Watch Greg Boyd’s excellent sermon on Good News-ing on how to be like Christ when evangelizing or raising disciples: – See more at:

  6. big bear

    Chris good point…there will always be abusive and unhealthy ministries and controling ones…it is hard to return to a healthy life style once you are indoctrinated in such a religion…but those who get out realize the abuse and bad teachings….UBF programs its members to believe their way is glorious and free…even David in Waco group thought it was us against the world…those families died in a fire….such strict and rigid rules foster abuse…I thank God daily I was freed

  7. big bear

    I can feel the pain of people who get out of UBF..the spiritual abuse and trauma many people can’t believe so they don’t tell their stories…but writing a book is therapy for us.It explains why UBF demand people to write testimonies under much pressure…it can be called UBF therapy because you need it to make sense of all the unwritten rules and to counter act the indoctrination that steals your life under a deceptive disguise as religion…world mission is more about feeding into their crazy system instead of loving people families and the body of Christ…the hardest thing is to see thevreal damage UBF does to lives…

  8. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    I confess that I didn’t pay much attention to such people who left after a short time. I was more prone to sympathize with or listen to those who had stayed for a long time and sacrificed much. I proudly dismissed their reasons or complaints for all the wrong reasons. I saw them as not being familiar with UBF and its practices, as leaving the “conversation,” as having ulterior or impure motives (such as romance!), as just being “young” and immature, and as not having sacrificed much seemingly to the ministry, its efforts, and to God. Still, these are real people who were genuinely hurt or noticed bad practices / beliefs. People can easily be demonized and their words / stories / issues dismissed by calling them “half-truths” and whatnot. Now I see the importance of listening to others. By dismissing others, one thing that may be evident is the desire to make them conform to the UBF way, rather than a humbling and changing on the part of the servant (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Without listening we also can’t see our own shortcomings and sins to be dealt with.

  9. big bear

    Charles…I spent 29 years in UBF…you are right there are two sides to every story…it is healthy to listen to both sides to truly be healthy and recognize sin but more important to know how to love families students and the body of Christ…UBF is unhealthy because of this…there is no roomfor repntance and change…until people start really listening to leaders that left in UBF then they will only live in hypocrisy and religion not love and forgiveness

  10. big bear

    Love this book..

  11. Wow, I was in UBF during this same time period and I relate strongly to each of the main points brought up. I’d really like to read this book now. Here’s a little bit of what I thought of my whole experience: It was desperate and beautiful, totally alien to my common and everyday experience, the Korean culture, the conservativism and family atmosphere, coming from a very creative, liberal, academic place. I was fascinated by the culture more than anything else and fell in love with many of the people. A lot of the times it was so odd or different that it felt pretty bad, pretty awkward. It would take on this general field of being a pretty terrible overall scenario except for one miraculous little shining light in the midst of it all. For me it would usually be one beautiful girl whose image and soul would capture my heart. I could never really believe in the Christian message, more, I was drawn in by the strangeness of it all. In some ways it feels like wasted time, in other ways it seems like one of the most amazing things ever. I will always be thankful for the generosity shown to me, especially during 9/11 in NY. I was fairly deeply involved for those 3 years many friday nights, sundays and weekday bible studies. I still can’t believe it actually exists. They speak to everyone like children, so blatantly, how can anyone really stand it?

    • Joe Schafer

      Very interesting and insightful. Thank you.

    • Hi Inter, and thanks for sharing. Your thoughts are welcome here.

  12. Hey check it out. Isabelle’s book is in the top 100 in the Religious Studies – Sociology category on Amazon:

    Amazon best-sellers in Religious Studies – Sociology