Sunday, February 3, 2013

A review of, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

A Review of
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into Christian faith
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into Christian faith allows the Church to see the unfolding of Christ’s redemptive purposes in an individual’s life. Yet, one sees that his work was within and through the presence of the Church. Butterfield was a progressive lesbian; she was an associate professor in the English department of Syracuse University and her ideological grounding was in Freud, Marx and Darwin. Butterfield held a “joint teaching appointment in the Center for Women’s Studies,” and was the “faculty advisor to all the gay and lesbian and feminist groups on campus.” Butterfield’s book hold’s several unspoken gems for the Church universal. I will list them.

(1) Butterfield began her journey toward Christ by reading the Bible. She read it as a researcher who perceived the Bible to be a harmful text causing destructive actions by those who believed its message. Pastors and Christian friends, as well as an ex-Presbyterian minister who was transgender, added to her understanding of the word—but it was always the word.  My point here is that in the midst of all of our searching and planning to be missional we must not forget that it is God and his word that brings the sinner to Jesus Christ. As the word is read and proclaimed the Father through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit begins a work which leads the sinner to the Son.

(2)The pastors and church families of a very conservative denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which only sings the Psalms and that acapella, was used by God to bring Butterfield to Christ. The word preached, friendship, good conversations over food, honest questions and honest answers, faithfulness: these are God’s tools. As Butterfield writes:
God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn and thrive. The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry “specializing” in “gay people.” He and the session knew that the church is competent to counsel …. I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamour that has captured the soul of modern Evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girl friend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives. (24)

(3) Butterfield’s search for the answer to the question 'why is homosexuality sinful' led her to some answers that speak about the root of all sin. And this is particularly interesting to me because of Butterfield's feminist background. Most feminist who identify themselves as Christian will insist that while men’s sinfulness is rooted in pride (to be like God) that women’s sin is rooted in passiveness. However, Butterfield, without denying that the citizen’s of Sodom practiced homosexuality, uses Ezek. 16:48-50 and goes through each of the sins of Sodom beginning with pride, which as she reminds the reader is the root of all sin.

Butterfield asks “Why pride?” She answers, “Pride is the root of all sin. Pride puffs one up with a false sense of independence. Proud people feel they can live independently from God and from other people. Proud people feel entitled to do what they want when they want.” And then she goes on to look at the rest of the sins cataloged in that verse: wealth (materialism), lack of mercy, lack of discretion and lack of modesty. Butterfield notes that none of these sins are sexual. As the author puts it, “Sexuality is more a symptom of our life’s condition than a cause, more a consequence than an origin. (30-31) Butterfield writes:

Importantly, we don’t see God making fun of homosexuality or regarding it as different, unusual, or exotic sin. What we see instead is God’s warning: if you indulge the sins of pride, wealth, entertainment-lust, lack of mercy, and lack of discretion, you will find yourself deep in sin—and the type of sin may surprise you. That sin may attach itself to a pattern of life closely or loosely linked to the list. while sin is not contained by logical categories of progression, nonetheless, sin is progressive. (31)

The chapters which follow Butterfield’s conversion experience and her biblical and theological explanations of God’s sovereign work in the sinner’s life are really about the working out of his purposes in her life.  From a broken relationship to marriage, from a professorship to homeschooling, from hospitality In the LGBT community to hospitality to young people and children, the rest of the book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is filled with those good works that God prepared beforehand for all Christians (Eph. 2:10)

Although I told my husband, the last chapter, “Homeschooling and Middle Age” did not strike me as something that would hold my interest; I found it to be the brightest section of the book. It is not only filled with fun, worms wiggling on the writing desk, frozen birds in the refrigerator to be used as a specimen, and two young children that instantly recognize a replica of the Magna Carta of 1215, but also the redemptive work of God in the lives of some severely broken children. 

(4)And this is a final gem for the Church, perhaps unintended. Redeemed lives are like the above, filled with wiggling worms, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dogs with muddy paws, as well as broken people and days, all enclosed in the purposes of our Lord. Butterfield has written a small book—a blessing for the Church at this time in this post-modern culture.


Jeff Winter said...

Thanks Viola for this very good review. I too was captured by Rosaria's conversion experience. I appreciate that a Reformed Presbyterian pastor and his wife loved her well. These two were not trained in ex-gay ministry. They simply reached out to her in love and compassion, listened, prayed, asked good questions and trusted God for the results. Instead of backing away from an articulate and credentialled leader within the LGBTQ community in Syracuse, New York they moved toward her with the power and strength of the Lord Jesus Christ and trusted him for the results. The book is a must read for pastors, church leaders, homeschoolers and anyone who desires to see the hand of God working in the life of someone most people would be afraid of.

Viola Larson said...

Yes Jeff-it is a must read, and I had never thought of it before but it was the pastor who reached out first. And he did it in just the right way, by asking questions and then becoming a friend.

Peggy Hedden said...

Dear Viola,

Iappreciate your review of the book; it is always encouraging to see the power of God in His word and His people in bringing the dead to life.

Your sister in Jesus the Christ,

Peggy Hedden

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Peggy-I love that-"the power of God in His word and His people in bring the dead to life."
We must look to Him and his word-and only that.