The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert might be one of the most unusual Christian memoirs I’ve ever read, precisely because it’s written by such an unlikely convert. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was a lesbian college professor at a liberal university. Her specialty was queer theory. If there’s such a thing as a stereotypical radical, she was it.
Then she befriended a pastor. He challenged her views but mainly became her friend. Rosaria had always dismissed Christians as self-righteous and ignorant, but she slowly began to wonder if there was something more to it. After months of questioning, she surrendered her life to Christ. Today Rosaria is the wife of a pastor and the mother of several children.
The main thrust of the book is the chronicle of Rosaria’s conversion. This is both fascinating and helpful. While we shouldn’t be surprised that non-Christians believe that they have nothing to gain from following Christ, they often manage convince us of that, too. Rosaria’s account reminded me that Christ’s death and resurrection really is the best news there is, and we keep that news to ourselves only to our shame. It was interesting, though, after everything Rosaria had given up to follow Christ, she still wrestled with the same thing:
The world’s eyes register what a life in Christ takes away, but how do I communicate all that it gives? Do I really believe, in Charles Bridges’ words, “The very chains of Christ are glorious” (Prov. 33). Peter, after being beaten for preaching the gospel, rejoiced that he was “Counted worthy to suffer shame for [Christ's] name” (Acts 5:41). I pondered this. To the world, this is masochism. To the Christian, this is freedom. Did I really believe this? Do I really believe this today?
I wondered: If my life was the only evidence that Christ was alive, would anyone be convinced? (Location 607, Kindle edition)
The book also spends much time exploring the idea of hospitality. Christians are commanded in Scripture to be hospitable, and Rosaria’s conversion only occurred because a pastor named Ken Smith befriended her and opened his home to her. I think most Christians admit that we don’t open our homes and lives to others enough. This book shows us the blessings we are missing when we don’t do that.
The one weakness of the book was that she sometimes got bogged down in the secondary issues unique to her particular denomination. She obviously feels these distinctions are important, but any non-Christians reading may find these arguments confusing. A Christian is going to be able to sort through the primary and secondary issues, but this section makes me wary of handing to a nonbeliever.
That aside, this is a good book. Any Christian reading it will be encouraged in their faith and spurred to reach out to people in their communities.