Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. There, her partner rehabilitated abandoned and abused dogs. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department’s curriculum.
And then, in her late 30s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down—the idea that Christianity, a religion that she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was, an idea that flew in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a “train wreck” at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could.
Dr. Butterfield writes:
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.
About the Author
Rosaria and her husband, Kent, live in North Carolina with three of their four children, where Kent serves as a pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian Church.
154 Pages Publisher: Crown and Covenant Publications Publication Date: 2012 ISBN 13: 9781884527388
“This autobiography is the launchpad for numerous sophisticated reflections on the nature of life, faith, sexuality, worship, education and other matters. As one would expect from a lover of nineteenth century literature, the book is also beautifully written with many a well-turned sentence; and as one would expect from someone schooled at the highest levels in critical theory, it eschews simplistic pieties for stimulating analyses of both Christian and non-Christian culture.
“I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I do not agree with everything she says; but I did learn from everything she wrote. It deserves the widest possible readership - Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary
Comments about Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith:
"How our lives bear the fruit of Christ's spilled blood is important" (ix). In her book, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield gives a testimony that truly glorifies our sovereign, loving, living God. I bought this for our church library, and as soon as I finished the last page, hopped on the computer to order five more.
It's quite a different book. While Butterfield's testimony is a page-turner, it is much more than a testimony. The mouthful of a title is really conducive to the style of the book. It isn't really what I would have expected from an English Professor. That's actually one thing that I loved, her writing did not seem overly-edited or cleanly polished. It was like reading someone else's journal. There are some long paragraphs (and sentences), and you aren't going to find those helpful subdivisions within each chapter (think about it, our Bibles even have those now). And it's certainly not your typical testimony. She really does share her secrets thoughts. I found them to be gritty, convicting, and reflective.
At first I was turned off by Butterfield's writing—the introductory sentences all began with "I was." It felt almost like a rough-draft, lacking in personal style. There are also some places that could have been cleaned up a little better. I was thinking (secretly) to myself, "This is all you've got as a scholar, already experienced in writing and publishing, and a previously tenured professor in the English Department at Syracuse University?" But then she turned some phrases, revealing the mind of a writer—not just a woman with a story. By page 10, I realized this was her style and personality—and I liked it!
Butterfield's testimony begins as an established lesbian professor with everything she considered successful. She loved her gay/lesbian community and her job was amalgamated with her radical worldview. Passionately living the life she wanted and loved, Butterfield was not seeking the Lord. After writing a critique of Promise Keepers for the local paper, she began receiving globs of mail. She had two bins to stash it: "hate mail" from the Christians, and "praise mail" from those who shared her worldview. Except there was this one pesky letter from a Reformed Presbyterian pastor that she didn't know how to categorize. It wasn't hateful, or even directly arguing her critique, but rather it lovingly challenged her to really examine her presuppositions. After a week, she called this pastor and he invited her to dinner. Butterfield "left their table needing to know a number of things" (11). Thus began a wonderful relationship, and the "train wreck" that she refers to as her conversion. It wasn't a fast conversion, and in the process there were times where she felt like she was losing her mind. In fact, Butterfield lost everything, everything but the dog, as she puts it.
There are those who highlight deeds over creeds, and there are those who hold so tightly to orthodoxy over service that their knowledge is cold and removed from life. Butterfield is neither of these, nor is she "the proper balance" of the two. She is the extreme of both—but not in the ways I've identified above, of course. She goes all in. Doctrine is very important, because truth is important! Throughout her testimony, she is also a discoverer and teacher of the knowledge of God. The reader will see her passion in doctrines such as election, sexuality, hermeneutics, authority of Scripture, hospitality, worship, adoption, and Christian love to name a few. And speaking of the latter, it's impossible for the reader to be unmoved by Butterfield's intense desire for service, acts of love, and compassion, especially to the "stranger at the gate." (There is so much to consider about "the stranger", but I am holding back!)
I was convicted as I read, underlining powerful reflections that I want to go back and contemplate further. Here are a few:
Sometimes in crisis, we don't really learn lessons. Sometimes the result is simpler and more profound: Sometimes our character is simply transformed (27).
My friends from the gay community were on alert. On Thursday nights, I had a regular tradition: I made a big dinner and opened my home for anyone in the gay and lesbian community to come and eat and talk about issues and needs. This is important for professors and pastors alike to do, since both jobs put you out of reach from the very people you think that you know (16).
Never again will I think of knowing God's will as anything but the most humbling of acts (62).
Even when faced with the blinding sting of someone else's sin, it really is not someone else's sin that can hurt us. It is our own festering sin that takes the guise of innocence that will be the undoing of us all (76).
We in the church tend to be more fearful of the (perceived) sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart (115).
I could go on—and I will be reflecting on some in other articles.
Butterfield shows us a messy conversion, and the stumbling life of a Christian disciple. In it, you will find a God that is working providentially with abounding grace. Sometimes while reading, I felt like the boy reading The Neverending Story, and would have to close the book with a deep breath.
While I don't share all of the author's convictions, I appreciated the conversation she starts. For instance, I may not agree fully with her interpretation of the Regulative Principle in worship, but I respect her position. There were a couple of times where I felt she contradicted herself, but they aren't major problems. Given the genre of the book, I find it to be more of a reflection of how we all do this.
The last third of the book kind of changes in tone, as we see Butterfield's maturity as a Christian. This part of the book gets into her family's experience in foster care and interracial adoption. I appreciated this addition. It may not be the life that God is calling the reader to, but it really shows the implications of her conversion. God brought her into the Christian community as an outsider, and Butterfield brings in covenant children who were orphans.
Every now and then you read something that not only is a good book, but makes you want to have a meal with the author and get to know them better. This was one for me.