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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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Review of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

  1. Rosaria Butterfield

    I am the author of this little book and I am so honored and moved by your kind words about it. I pray that the Lord would use it–and me and you–as we seek to let Christ be known through us. I am happy to dialog about any of this, or think together about ministry ideas. In Christ,
    Rosaria

    • Anne

      Rosaria,
      I am intrigued. I live in Oregon and am mentoring those in the gay community – I’m just the “mom” type that young people can talk to. I am overwhelmed and can use the encouragement!

    • Cara

      Rosaria,
      I have been searching for a way to contact you about your book, which I was blessed to stumble upon a few weeks ago . I was tremendously moved by your writing, and humbled by the balanced kindness you afforded the diverse people, ideas, and situations throughout your life. Thank you for sharing your journey with the world.
      Cara

      • Rosaria

        Thank you, Cara. I am honored that the Lord has been using Secret Thoughts to encourage and edify His people. I can think of no greater privilege than to be used in this way!

    • Dear Rosaria;

      I just now finished your book and began looking for you on line – thank you so much. You’ve been kicking my butt for several days now. Thanks for your wonderful testimony, how you have used your gifts and insights to reach out to so many broken and reach me too. More than a few times I was moved to tears by the way the Lord’s grace has worked through your circumstances. Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to buy a case of books and hand them to everyone I know. As an elder in a PCA church plant, so much of your narrative rang true – (even/especially the blistering parts), and was challenging and encouraging. Again, thank you so much for sharing your life in this way. I am so grateful to God for his Gospel and it’s wonderful work in your life (and mine!) BTW, you’ve got some really great kids too, (“…it’s the Magna Carta…”) So great. I will be praying that S and J continue to thrive too. Blessings dear friend that I don’t know.

      • Rosaria

        Dear Pastor Hart,
        Thank you so much for your response to Secret Thoughts! I am truly blessed to know that you found it to be butt-kicking edifying. (I feel that way every time my husband preaches and every time I open the word, so I’m in the same boat). If you would like to correspond, and perhaps send to me prayer requests, which I will honor in prayer, please write to me on our church’s website. My husband is the pastor, and he doesn’t mind sending to me correspondence. My husband is Kent Butterfield, and the church he pastors is the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, in Durham, NC: http://www.firstrpcdurham.org
        Peace in Christ,
        Rosaria

        ps–Kirk, thank you for letting me use your blog in this way!

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  3. Rosaria, Are you Michael Butterfield’s wife??? Living up in the frozen hinter lands? Or is that another Butterfield?

    • Rosaria Butterfield

      Dear Anne,
      I will pray for you in your ministry. It is vital that Christians allow themselves to be safe listeners. Peace in Christ,
      Rosaria

    • Rosaria Butterfield

      Dear Pastor Timothy,
      I am Kent Butterfield’s wife. We live in Durham, NC, where my husband serves as the pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham. I did spend 10 years in Syracuse, and have had my fill of gothic winter!
      Rosaria

      • Hi Rosaria,
        I think the Butterfields I know are farther north, in Novia Scotia. But Syracuse is cold enough! 🙂

        Thanks for the prayers, we needed them this past week since it was tough ministry week. Fortunately, His Spirit was with us in all things. Many blessings
        Timothy

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  5. Donna

    Rosaria,
    I just read your book and so has my assistant Pastor at my church, a reformed church as well. I have only been to one Psalmody singing church before and was in awe of it. There are not many, right? I so agree with your position on so many areas of observation in regards to how we as Christians ‘do church’ and yet have a hard time ‘being Christ like’ (my words not yours). I so long for the fellowship of the body as you presented it with the Elders coming to visit and holding their sheep accountable in love and with great oversight. You did convict me of one thing in particular, and that is ‘being critical of the pastor’s presentation of the word on Sunday to point of not receiving the message preached!’ Thanks, I have been struggling in this area and look forward on this Sabbath to hearing my Lord. Oh how subtle the devil’s ploy to keep me distracted and not being fed, and of course my own sin rising up to keep me a ‘self righteous prig!’ I have repented and asked the Lord to open my ears that I might hear HIM!!
    Thank you and may the Lord continue to bless you and your husband in the ministry work He has given your hands to do. I may come to Durham sometime to visit. I live in SC.
    Donna

    • Thanks, Donna!
      We would love to have you visit our church in Durham. Our church website is wwwfirstrpcdurham.org and my website is rosariabutterfield.com
      Your friend in Christ,
      Rosaria

  6. Nick Cullincini

    Last week at my men’s prayer group I heard my pastor recommend this book to an elder. Later that week I found the book in our church book room and couldn’t put it down. I bought the book. The book is chock full of insights and truths that gave me much clarity into my own on going train-wreck conversion. After reading Rosaria’s book, the way I relate to my own children, friends (sinners or saints) and, the gay community has changed for the better. Christs commands us all to look, not through our own eyes but, through the eyes of Christ. This book is a true blessing and I will be sending copies to to friends, family and possibly even strangers.
    Nick C.
    Grace Community Church
    Minden, NV

  7. Margaret Twombley

    Thank you for being so vulnerable. Isn’t the grace of Christ wonderful? I am glad that my thoughts are not put up on a bulletin board for all to read. I haven’t read your book but a friend sent me the link to your podcasts because we are doing a series at our church on hospitality. Your insights were both challenging and convicting.
    Blessings,
    Margaret

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  9. Patty Milstead

    Wow! I just finished your book and am stunned at the transformational power of God. I should not be because I am most grateful for the changes in my own life. I just get overwhelmed with excitement with all that the Lord does in our lives. . A theme weaved within the book is the often neglected vessel of prayer. I am grateful for this powerful reminder and humbled by the story of God’s love and transforming. power.

    Thank you for taking the time to write your story!!
    Patty