Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

I try to be fairly judicious with my five-star ratings on GoodReads, but this little autobiographical sketch of one woman’s journey from her place in life as a lesbian, radical-feminist English professor to a stay-at-home-Psalm-singing-homeschooling-foster-mom-pastor’s wife earned every bit of the five stars. While many pop-evangelical conversion stories are written in an often-clunky style that yields a narrative arc that reads something like “bad, bad, bad, bad – JESUS – problems solved”, Dr. Butterfield’s story is honest, glorious, wise, and a punch in the gut. Her story is one that reveals Jesus of Nazareth as no tame lion but also as the perfectly resplendent and irresistible Bright and Morning Star.

But what is, in this reviewer’s opinion, equally important as the spiritual transformation that Dr. Butterfield chronicles is the neighborhood the reader gets to know along the way. For instance, for those of us who have no concept of what life is like inside the gay and lesbian community, we are treated to a respectful description of that community and the virtues that are inherent in it from a person who was leaving it. There is no sense of bitterness or contempt toward the gay community in Dr. Butterfield’s account – no sour grapes – just a visceral recollection of the personal agony caused by leaving it juxtaposed with the irresistibility of the call of Christ on her life.

As a part of her exodus from the gay and lesbian community, Dr. Butterfield is folded into a Reformed Presbyterian church community that walks alongside her through her pain. But it is this same church community that gives her her deepest wound – a wound that she receives just as she seems to be finding her footing in Christ’s church. This reader wondered for a time if the grace of the cross and the empty tomb would be enough to sustain her. Ironically though, it was this deep wound that helped her regain her “safe person status” in the eyes of the gay and lesbian community, thus granting her opportunities to minister Christ to those who felt she had betrayed them. As one lesbian neighbor said to her, “I didn’t give a damn about who God was to you in your happiness. But now that you are suffering, I want to know: who is your God? Where is he in your suffering?” (pg. 60)

The middle and end of this autobiography is a description of her growth in Christian maturity, but she engages the reader quite well so as to prevent the narrative from becoming tedious or difficult. The portion where Dr. Butterfield is the most critical (and appropriately so) is where she helps us see where our spiritual formation is too often superficial and how the church frequently allows us to frolic in our biblical immaturity. She uses her experiences as a visiting professor at Geneva College, her time trying to minister to college students in a small church plant in Virginia, the heart-rending life of a foster-to-adopt family, and the highs and woes of the world of homeschooling to walk her readers through the lessons of life that helped form Christ in her.

There is so much to be learned from Dr. Butterfield’s story that no review could ever highlight all that is valuable in it. There is so much to enjoy in her beautifully written prose that I can’t imagine only reading this once. I found her story a little bit like that Narnian lion: it is good but not safe. Dr. Butterfield will make her readers want to sing and repent, to tear down the vapid and vacuous parts of our lives while showing us the uncommon grace that is obvious in our own experiences if we only have the courage to look for and embrace it by faith.

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