Book Review: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

9781884527388Rosaria was leading what many would call a good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field she really cared about. Her partner and her owned two homes from which they provided hospitality to students and activists who were looking to make a difference in the world. Her partner rehabilitated abandoned and abused dogs. Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. She was a respected advisor of students and oversaw her department’s curriculum. However, a point came at which Rosaria encountered something that shook her world—the idea that Christianity, a religion that she saw as problematic and often damaging, might be right about who God was. This idea was totally contrary to thepeople and causes that she most loved. Her story is as she describes it – a “train wreck” at the hand of the supernatural. This book is about her secret thoughts during the fundamental shake-up that happened in her life.

Firstly, it gives helpful and rebuking sneak-peeks into how the gaycommunity hears Christians. Butterfield highlights the perceptions of hatred, intolerance and ignorance that Christians often show towards the LGBT community. There is no ammo given for us to wage a cultural war here, but rather a sharp rebuke. Butterfield gives us a former insider’s valuable insights to help us think through our attitudes and actions as we relate to those in the LGBT sphere.

Secondly, it demonstrates how conversion often does not instantly solve all our problems. Butterfield’s describes her conversion by saying, “Conversion put me in a complicated and comprehensive chaos. I sometimes wonder, when I hear other Christians pray for the salvation of the “lost,” if they realize that this comprehensive chaos is the desired end of such prayers. Often, people asked me to describe the “lessons” that I learned from this experience. I can’t. It was too traumatic. Sometimes in crisis, we don’t really learn lessons. Sometimes the result is simpler and more profound: sometimes our character is simply transformed” ‘ It devastated her occupation, her community of friends and her reputation. It left her confused and at times lonely and depressed. The description of her conversion is raw and real, muddled and messy.

Thirdly, the book eloquently demonstrates how the tender openness of a meek RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) pastor and his wife over many months were used by God to bring Butterfield into the Kingdom. So often we are caught sharing aggressive Facebook statuses or touting that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” hoping that somehow everything will just click into place in the culture because we are so witty and opinionated. Or we are so placid and ‘gentle’ that we water down our Christian faith to make it more palatable. A quiet RPCNA pastor did neither! Instead, he acted in a Christlike manner and became a friend of sinners and tax-collectors opening his house to a radical feminist lesbian English professor.

Fourthly, her story highlights and praises Confessional Reformed Christianity. While many are happy to be in mass appeal ‘seeker-type’ churches (I use seeker here in the negative sense but I do think there is a positive sense too), we see the need for the depth that comes from more regulative type churches. Butterfield insightfully understands how world-view communities are formed, how the complex network of ideas, social conventions and narratives combine to form an identity and outlook. It encouraged me as I seek to honour the Regulative Principle of Scripture and as I pastor a church where the confessions and creeds of the church are something to be cherished and used. People need roots; people need stable, biblically based, historically tested and ecclesiastically thoughtful/accountable theology. Only Confessional churches (churches that place an emphasis on the creeds and confessions of the church acknowledging their roots in history) provide this.

Butterfield’s book reminded me that Biblical Christianity and Confessional Christianity are one and the same. And this Christianity does not exist as some set of pious generalities; it is precise, tangible, detailed and definite; it makes its greatest impact not on blogs or at conferences, not on twitter or Facebook. It makes its impact at the local level, where actual people relate with other actual people.

Lastly, she deals with sexual sin and gender politics in an interesting way. She drives for a far more sophisticated approach than the kind of over simplistic rubbish which often becomes our method in evangelical circles. Chapter Two, ‘Repentance and the Sin of Sodom’, along with her accounts in Chapter Three, talking to students at Geneva College about sexuality, make the whole book worth reading.

Two helpful insights:

One insight is that she makes it clear that sexual dysfunction in society is symptomatic of much deeper problems.  This is simple Romans 1, where many of the things that Christians most condemn in society are actually God’s judgment on sin, and not so much provocations to judgment.

Some additional insight is her observation that sexual sin is not solved by a change of context. Butterfield says (p. 83): “What good Christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sin gone overboard.  Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death: nothing more and nothing less.” That has weighty pastoral implications, for example, not seeing heterosexuality as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality.

This autobiography is a springboard for reflections on the nature of life, faith, sexuality, worship, education and other matters. The book is beautifully written with many clever phrases. I would encourage everyone to read this book. The issue of homosexuality is at the fore and it is not something to be ignored, far less silenced out with well rehearsed under thought party lines.

  3 comments for “Book Review: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

  1. July 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve been meaning to review this book for several months, but you beat me to it!

    • tyrellh
      July 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Did you enjoy it?

      • July 3, 2014 at 2:59 pm

        In parts. I’ll try and write about it before too long…

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