The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is a book about what it means to become a Christian. But although Butterfield often displays deep theological understanding, this is not a book about the doctrine of Christian conversion. You won’t find any detailed exegesis of biblical passages or systematic theology being done within the pages of Secret Thoughts. Instead, Butterfield has written a book about what happens to a person as they experience conversion. This is a story of a life turned upside-down by the saving power of the Living God. As pages turn, Butterfield guides her readers through the wreckage produced by the collision of two worldviews, and into the peaceful, yet paradoxically hectic life she now lives as a follower of Jesus Christ.
“Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives.” -pg. 24
The quotation above is probably my favorite line from the whole book because it points the reader to Butterfield’s main thesis: God has the power to change a life, any life. And if there was ever a life resistant to change it would have been Butterfield’s. A self-described lesbian, feminist, and radical, Butterfield’s entire worldview was opposed to what she viewed as the “fallacious…imperialist social construct invented to soothe the consciousness of the intellectually infirm.” (pg.39)
Secret Thoughts is not a tame book. Butterfield is honest and raw with her readers. She does not spare us the pain that comes from leaving behind all that one loves and holds dear in order to obey the call of Christ. The biblical terminology of “dying to oneself” is brought to life as Butterfield recounts her struggles.
Nor does she sugar coat the reality of her sin. We aren’t given an unrealistic success story, a soft-sale of the Christian life. Butterfield is quite aware of sin’s insidious struggle to keep its foot in the door of the Christian heart, and often makes the point that her former life had long-lasting repercussions, some she even deals with to this day.
Her understanding of sexual sin is particularly sobering, especially in light of our current cultural obsession with sensual gratification. “Sexual sin is predatory,” she writes. “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.” (pg. 83)
Butterfield’s portrayal of her experience radiates authenticity. She is remarkably transparent with her readers when it comes to her own failings, as well as the failings of others. Her story, told with truthfulness but not condemnation, is a window into the realities of the Christian Church. It serves as a welcome reminder that even in our bumbling, and often wrong-headed efforts, we can be beacons of Christ’s love in a fallen world.
Secret Thoughts is a good book. Scratch that, a great book. It should come as no surprise that it’s well-written; Butterfield was an english professor after all. But it’s also surprisingly effective at communicating to a generation that has grown suspicious of truth claims in general, and Christian truth claims in particular.
Butterfield doesn’t try to offer a philosophical defense of her Christian beliefs. You won’t find the traditional apologetic arguments as you read through the chapters. And yet, this book serves a vital apologetic purpose. It gives form to the theory of Christian conversion. It puts a relatable face on the call of the gospel to our culture and says: “Look here, this is what we’re about. This is what can happen when God moves in a person’s life.”
My only quibble with the book (and it’s a relatively minor one) came in the third chapter. In what seems like an unnecessarily long excursus, Buttefield spends five pages or so explaining and defending her denomination’s use of the Regulative Principle of Worship, and the value of exclusive Psalmody. While this discussion is framed as a response to questions from her students, it seems oddly out of place in a book that largely stays away from discussing specific doctrinal issues. It’s clear that this is an issue of importance to Butterfield, but readers unfamiliar with the Regulative Principle may find the discussion perplexing, and wonder how it fits into the overall narrative that Butterfield has crafted.
I will definitely be placing Secret Thoughts on my list of best books I’ve read this year, and I would gladly recommend this book to anyone in my congregation. But I would also specifically recommend this book as an apologetic tool. It likely won’t convince anyone of the gospel’s trustworthiness (as I said, this book isn’t primarily an argument for faith), but it will show what can happen in a person’s life when they believe the gospel to be trustworthy. After reading this book, you may remain unconvinced that Christians have The Truth (with a capital T), but you won’t be able to deny that what they have has the power to radically alter a person at their very core.read more
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I’m just getting back in from our monthly “Church Under The Bridge” meeting, and I’m finding myself at a complete loss for a blog topic today. So, rather than offer up a half-formed idea, I’ll just point you toward something I read and benefited from earlier today. Over at the Gospel Centered Discipleship blog, Mark Dever points out 5 things that we normally mistake for evangelism. I highly encourage you to take a look.
Got some time on your hands and don’t know how to spend it? Want a break from checking facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc? Then have I got some links for you. Here, once again is a list of things you should be checking out online.
First off, for you Kindle users, Amazon has James Montgomery Boice’s book The Doctrines of Grace marked down to $2.99. Considering this book made my list of the top 5 books I would recommend on the subject of Calvinism, I highly encourage you to take this opportunity and check it out.
Speaking of books, you’d be hard-pressed not to have encountered Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling in some way. One of the more popular Christian bestsellers in recent memory, the interest in Young’s book shows no sign of dying down anytime soon. But not everyone is supportive of Young’s supposed messages from Jesus. Over at Reformation 21, Todd Pruitt gives an excellent summary of the many problems more discerning Christians have been having with the book.
Switching gears, Gloria Furman has written an encouraging post for the Gospel Coalition blog regarding why we go to church.
And while we’re on the subject of church, Stuff Christians Like author Jon Acuff lists 11 signs that you’re burning out your church staff. I’ll add that this list could apply equally as well to elders and deacons.
And finally, there’s been a lot of talk online about the Strange Fire conference put on by Pastor John MacArthur. If, like me, you’ve been following the goings on, then you might find this interview with MacArthur interesting: Part 1 Part 2read more
I’m still churning (in a good way) over Sunday’s worship gathering. Singing? Wow. Voices were raised to God, singing truths about Him and truths about us because of Him. Not only can you not miss a Sunday due to the way we are singing to God, you must invite others to join in. Here’s some notes on the message from this Sunday as we continued our second series in Acts that we are calling “Move.” In this message, entitled “Risk is Not a Game,” we asked this beginning question: How do you and I keep our minds and hearts free from fear and free for faith?
As we looked at Acts 7:54-8:3, we uncovered this:
Key Point: The Reward from God is worth the Risk for God.
-Judges stood to render verdicts; now the judge (Jesus) is standing to support Stephen.
-Son of Man :Only Jesus and Stephen use this phrase in the New Testament.
-We are to realize both the rewards and risks of following Christ.
-Stephen doesn’t remain quiet; he prays for himself and for others.
-Persecution had an unexpected consequence: growth.
Based on the text, we looked at what we could apply from it:
-Ask: Where do I need to be fueled by rewards as I risk?
-Remind: When others suffer, remind them Christ suffers with them.
-Help: Bear burdens through prayer and encouragement (a note, a comment, a gift).read more
This past Sunday, we continued our “Move” series with a look at Stephen’s sermon from Acts 7:1-53. Here’s some highlights from the message:
How can we value what we need to hear more than what we want to hear?
-Stephen’s sermon is the longest recorded speech of any type in Acts.
Section 1. Abraham: Acts 7:1-8
-Aim 1: Stephen is defending himself against the charge of blasphemy.
-Aim 2: Stephen is displaying God’s history with His people.
Section 2. Joseph: Acts 7:9-16
-Aim 3: Stephen is seeking to bring conviction of sin through using Joseph’s story.
-The story of the people was a cycle of rejection, calamity, repentance, restoration, and peace.
Section 3. Moses: Acts 7:17-41
-Stephen focuses on the good parts of Moses and his ministry because he had been accused earlier of speaking against Moses.
-Aim 4: Stephen is presenting Christ through reviewing Moses.
Section 4. Idolatry: Acts 7:42-50
-Characteristic 1: A history of idolatry.
Section 5. Resistance: Acts 7:51-53
-Characteristic 2: Resisting the leading of God.
Key Point: Review history thoroughly, don’t reject history completely.
Next Steps: Based on this, what should our attitude and action be?
Attitude: Humility Humility as defined as: ”Knowing who I am in light of who God is, and aligning my life accordingly.” A growing sense of humility will lead to:
Actions: Confession: Confession is agreeing with God that our actions are wrong. Rather than looking at confession as a chore, we can look at it as a gift, due to the fact that we are reminded of both the standard we didn’t live up to, and the perfection of Christ in our place.
Actions: Submission: Where do we need to submit to God’s desire and design?