Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Unique Calling

Last week I read a book that I enjoyed.  I began reading the book cautiously, but with curiosity.  The author's unique life experience intrigued me and I wanted to hear what God had taught her and what conclusions she arrived at along the way.

The book is a surprisingly popular book.  It has unexpectedly gained national recognition because of three interviews with the author on Family Life Today in September and there are over three hundred reviews of the book on Amazon with only five reviews giving the book under 3 stars (and one of them isn't a real review because the review doesn't agree with the rating).  That says something about the book.

The book is The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.  The book has been talked about by John Piper, Family Life Today, World Magazine, and many other Christian media sources.  I'm sure it's all over the blog rolls, actually.

I have to be honest, I didn't know that there was so much attention being given to this book before I read it.  But, after I finished, I went looking around.  I started with Amazon and the reviews posted for the book.  There were over 340 reviews with only 5 under 3 stars. That's actually far better than I expected it to be.  There is a particular issue that the Ms. Butterfield touches on that I knew could really incite people to comment negatively on her book--whether they'd read it or not.  One of the reviews was actually misrated, so I considered there only to be 4 real, negative reviews.  The negative reviews, though, didn't surprise me.

Ms. Butterfield's book is the story of how she came to believe in Christ and the story of her reformed faith.  Her story begins when she was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University in New York.  She was a lesbian women's studies professor.  This book is her story--her testimony.  I began reading the book knowing these basic facts about her.  I was curious to see how she would address homosexuality and Christianity.

In her interview with Family Life Today, she explains that she doesn't see her homosexuality as the crux of her conversion.  But, I understand why many people are reading it simply because she addresses this issue.  She addresses many more issues of faith than homosexuality, though.  She tells the story of how it was the relationships she had with people that God used to bring her to Him.  She shares her thoughts about faith, life, and church.  I don't want to share too many details about what she writes, because it was how her book unfolded for me that drew me in.  

She tells her story well.  She was an English professor.  Her book is very well organized, thought out, and clearly conveyed.  There are lots of big, descriptive words--in all the right places.  What I mean is that the reading level of this book is appropriate for a high school or college student, rather than a middle school student.  In reading so many books over the past few years, I've noticed that many authors use simple sentence structures and common descriptive words to convey their ideas.  Ms. Butterfield stays true to her literature professor roots and writes as one would expect of her.  

Before I finish this review, I want to address the four negative reviews on Amazon.  They were all written by individuals that had been given this book by well meaning Christians.  The intention and hope behind these gifts (I presume) was that this book would open the eyes of the receivers to Christ's love for them.  But, the giving of this book to someone who is homosexual is the opposite of the example that this author's story is for believers.  Ms. Butterfield's testimony is about the relationships in her life and how they shaped her and her faith.  It is about how God used people in her life--not to preach at her, but to first listen to her with respect, and then discuss faith with her when she was ready.  No one handed her a gospel tract or the four spiritual laws.  A local pastor asked her a question and invited her over to dinner at his home.  He built relationships with her and the people in her life.

One of the questions that students consider when analyzing literature is who the intended audience of a book is and what is the author's purpose.  I believe the author's intended audience is other Christians and that her purpose is to inform.  I don't believe the author's purpose is to persuade.  She is very strong in her opinions and states clearly why she believes what she does.  But, these are her convictions.  For example, I can imagine that some readers may feel put off by her exposition about why she feels only psalms should be sung in church.  This is a worship practice specific to the RPCNA, the denomination of which she is a member.  I see this book as Rosaria Butterfield's memoir, testimony, and philosophy about life all rolled into one.  We each could give one.  We all have our own convictions, too.  We are not identical to one another.  It's even scriptural.  I am okay knowing that she feels strong convictions about foster care and adoption.  I am okay that she feels strongly about psalm singing.  I am okay that she has certain convictions about the way the world works that I don't share with her.  When I read this book, I felt like I was getting to know someone--learning who she is, what has shaped her, and how God is working in her life.  This book isn't meant to be a Christian "How to" about anything.  It's a testimony, a collection of thoughts, written with the desire to give the reader something to chew on.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  Unequivocally yes.  I hope you will enjoy it.  I'd love to discuss it with you if you read it!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher Crown and Covenant Publications.

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