Monday, February 3, 2014

From One Extreme to Another Without Support

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, is almost an understatement. Butterfield's text tells of some of her journey from an activist lesbian English department chair specializing in LGBT studies and publicly critical of the Religious Right to a Christian in a heterosexual marriage homeschooling her children as part of an ultra-conservative denomination. That alone would catch most people's attention, as it did mine.

Right up front, I have to give Butterfield kudos for being willing to share her experiences and "secret thoughts" honestly. She's had quite a life, and if more people were willing to put themselves out there to be honest about their journeys, our world and ability to be spiritually transformed would probably be improved.

Unfortunately, there are major limitations of this book. It is advertised as exploring her conversion experience and "journey into Christian faith." Very little of the book deals with her change of heart and mind. Most of it focuses on her post-conversion development.

With moving from one extreme to another, Butterfield did not really provide any explanation as to what made the change. She just vaguely says that she was convinced of the Christian faith. I also give major kudos to the pastor who walked with her without judgment or pressure. Butterfield explains that this played a major role. But it doesn't really provide an explanation as to why she made such a quick, radical shift to the polar opposite side of the spectrum. If she were able to explore that process, this text could potentially be much more helpful for many individuals who struggle with the many challenging questions she brings up in the book.

Butterfield clearly has very strong critical thinking skills, yet she seems to regularly drop them when explaining her theological convictions. For instance, she defends her Reformed Presbyterian stance of only a capella versions of Psalms (never using movement or dancing) by saying, "I believe God directed us to sing Psalms during worship to the exclusion of man-made hymns" because that's what Jesus sang. Um, how does she know that's what Jesus sang and without instrumentation? Did she forget about David worshipping through dance (also not allowed in her denomination), instruments, and clearly not singing Psalms in group worship, since he wrote many of them?

Her tendency to make large, absolute statements about theological truth without adequate support made her lose credibility to me. She really lost my support when she quoted Jay Adams (for those unfamiliar, he reads the Bible extremely literally and thinks it provides everything we need to know about humanity to the exclusion of anything else, like psychology) as having strong biblical and intellectual legitimacy. I've read plenty of books by people with whom I disagree theologically (and I differ from her on most points), but I can at least follow their line of reasoning. She has some of the best scholarly credentials, but doesn't apply them and actually provides some of the weakest explanations and support of any book I've read.

However, I would give this book two stars to give her credit for putting herself out there, for maintaining and promoting hospitality, diversity, and openness to people who differ from her, and for advocating for adoption (obviously close to my heart). I do have to say that I was quite impressed and even surprised by the ability of her denomination, which I would classify as ultra-fundamentalist, to accept people as they are. If more of these congregations would approach others like Butterfield and her colleagues do, then we would see more conversions and fewer condemnation of Christianity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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