Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – A Review by Chuck Huckaby
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant, 2012
ISBN: 978 1 88452 738 8 (paperback)
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina, where her husband pastors the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham. HerSecret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith demands serious attention by all evangelicals interested in the areas of Christian lifestyle, worship, worldview and evangelism. Her narrative describes her self-described ‘trainwreck’ conversion. It documents how Christ confronted and captured someone who never considered herself a ‘seeker’ until Christ first came calling.
The unlikely human agent in Christ’s pursuit of Mrs. Butterfield was the pastor of a small reformed church from what some might call an obscure denomination. A friendly letter asking simple questions about the process by which she arrived at her conclusions prompted a conversation. Subsequently a friendship formed with the the pastor and his wife. Then she found herself obsessed with reading the Bible, and the changes in her life became obvious. A conversion which cost her everything ensued. The chink in her armour turned out to be the presuppositional and spiritual questions postmodern thought refused to ask because they were considered silly.
While Butterfield’s conversion is a triumph for Christ and testimony to the faithfulness of his servants, it is thankfully not a triumphalist puff piece on Christians in general. The conversion that deconstructed her life and worldview taught her a thing or two about how Christians fail homosexuals and postmoderns. One such failure is an unbelief in Christ’s power to transform people and the Bible’s power to captivate people. She likewise warns against an overzealous quest to supplicate and ‘identify’ that denies Christ by boldly saying that people may embrace both Christ and their sin.
Notably, the church Butterfield today embraces will never be considered ‘seeker sensitive’. Instead it embraces a clear theology in the Westminster Standards, observes a strict Sunday Sabbatarianism, and practices exclusive psalm singing. Evidently the profound conversions evangelicals claim to seek have little to do with worship style and everything to do with a willingness to step outside the safety of the church building to engage the real world.
While this reviewer does not embrace Butterfield’s exclusive psalmody, it’s much preferable to both the sappy sentimental hymns of the past and the loss of congregational singing in the present. Strange to some, Butterfield’s Sabbatarianism and the attendant hospitality it entailed as a church planter’s wife was not too different from the hospitality she practiced as a lesbian. That odd coincidence calls us to ponder how lacking Christian hospitality has become and how much that has reduced evangelistic proclamation to presenting one-liners.
It was two years before Butterfield darkened the door of a church. Insights into her thinking as a lesbian during this time are illuminating. Her reflections on Pastor Ken Smith and his patient dialogue with her also make for a thought-provoking case study in personal evangelism. Other Christians and Christian institutions portrayed in the remainder of the book are not so flattering. Life near one evangelical institution of higher learning is compared to ‘Disneyland’. A homeschooler’s hurtful words to one outside of Christ are offered to remind of common failures. In the end, while Butterfield’s conversion story is stupendous, evangelical readers are left reflecting a corporate inability to move beyond the ‘Jesus Ghetto’ to have a genuine impact.
Butterfield’s story echoes the distress of others who convert from ‘majority’ religions to Christianity, and who suddenly are asked to adopt and adapt to a new, completely foreign, social group (i.e. the church). While missiology teaches us that some of this sense of displacement, suffering and loss is mitigated when there are ‘people group’ conversions, the loss of most familiar things remains. Sadly most representations of the Christian life in America do not admit the possibility of total loss in the conversion process or the real prospect of suffering for Christ.
Stylistically, the book grabs and holds one’s attention. Upon further reflection though, the work comes across as a bit ‘choppy’ for lack of a better description. This slight criticism can likely be attributed to the nature of the work as a personal memoir laden with emotion. Likewise the author’s ‘day job’ as full-time pastor’s wife and mother may have been behind it. Certainly domestic chores prove a sure cure for the perfectionism that sometimes afflicts writers!
Butterfield’s work reminds this reviewer of Edith Schaeffer in some ways in both her writing and practice of hospitality. The work also reminds of a time in the not too distant past when – unlike today – reformed authors like the Schaeffers offered evangelicalism at large a compelling combination of sound theology, spiritual leadership and profound cultural insights in an irenic fashion. Perhaps this book that shares those attributes will help give reformed theology such a voice once again soon.
Rev. Chuck Huckaby is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, Texas. The above was originally published at WorldViewChurch.org and is reprinted with permission.
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