Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

This book is a testimony to the grace of God, the power of His word, and the hope of the Gospel. Dr. Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University teaching Literature and Women’s Studies. Her research focus was a form of post-structuralist criticism known as Queer Theory. She was in a committed lesbian relationship, was an outspoken supporter of the LGBT agenda, and served as an advisor and mentor to homosexual students. As part of her research on the “Christian Right” she began reading the Bible and conversing with a local pastor who lovingly challenged her presuppositions and stereotypes. By the grace of God, she became a believer in Christ and began the difficult process of having her life transformed. She describes her conversion as a train wreck and the book records the long and ongoing process of her being transformed by the renewing of her mind.

The first part of this book, particularly the first chapter, is one of the most compelling things I have read recently. She highlights how the failure of the Christian community to think carefully about the ideas we proclaim and to demonstrate love marginalize those whom we proclaim a desire to reach. Many of Dr. Butterfield’s observations are an indictment against our lack of commitment to open our doors to those who are broken and in need of the Gospel. The implication is perhaps we are content to settle for sloganeering and public positioning because we are content to engage in a discussion about theoretical people rather than in discussions with real people.

Homosexuality is obviously a major issue facing the church in our time and Christians are grappling with the appropriate way to engage the culture. Dr. Butterfield, however, reminds us that homosexuality is only a symptom of a more significant issue that Christ calls us to address; namely sin. The good news, as she reminds us, is that God has equipped the Church through His word and the message of the gospel to do precisely that. She emphasizes that most of the helpful progress be at the individual level as local Churches reach out in truth and love, engaging those in the homosexual community as real people rather than projects, and patiently sharing the gospel.

Her story is also a powerful reminder that we often do not realize what the people sitting next to us in Church are struggling with or who is not there because they felt too uncomfortable to come. It is a reminder that the first word of the great commission is “go”. It is often not enough just to put an invitation card in a mailbox. We need to be willing to take the message of the Gospel outside of the walls of our meetinghouses.

The latter part of the book is a recounting of how significantly her life has changed since her conversion. It covers a number of different topics and includes mild apologetics for adoption, homeschooling, exclusive psalmody, and hospitality. At times, the latter part of the book is a bit like a proud mother rifling through her purse to show you photos of her children. The tone, however, is always sincere and highlights the fact that Dr. Butterfield and her family are real people who are prayerfully continuing on their journey of faith and confidence in Christ.

This book really challenged me to ask if my Church and I are really committed to engaging with those that are different and may make us uncomfortable. Are we confident enough in the Gospel to share it with the outcasts and those on the margins of society? I recommend this book, particularly the first chapter, to anyone who may be asking these questions, and especially to those who are not.

 * I received a free copy of this book from as part of their Reviewers Program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book Review: Peace, Classic Readings for Christmas- by Stephen J. Nichols

693010: Peace: Classic Readings for Christmas
By Stephen Nichols / Reformation Trust Publishing

Each of us is on a search for peace. During this season, we bake cookies and play music, but such comforts only hint at a much greater peace in the distance. The good news of Christmas is that we can stop searching, because we already know the One who is peace. This new book reminds us of the real meaning of Christmas, a world-changing event that reaches beyond December 25th and affects every life, every day, for all of time. Jesus is our peace (Eph. 2:14a). Meditations, Bible passages, and hymns unite with beautiful illustrations inviting you and your family to enter into the true peace of Christmas.
Dr. Stephen Nichols has collected a series of meditations and reflections on Christmas gathered from throughout the history of the Church. This collection does a wonderful job of placing Christmas into its proper place within the context of God’s plan of redemption that He is working out in history. Christmas, Nichols highlights, does not begin in Bethlehem. It begins at creation. It does not end with the wise men; it ends in heaven. Dr. Nichols has organized all of the writings around the central theme of “peace” but the book is anything but redundant. He has done a wonderful job of selecting writings that reflect on various different aspects of the incarnation and work of redemption so that the reader’s attention is continually directed to a different aspect of the Christmas message. The book includes an impressive array of perspectives from Leo I to Bonhoeffer, from Ambrose to Wesley, from Augustine to Wesley, from Luther to Piper, and many others.

The result is a book that has an almost devotional quality. Rather than a systematic presentation of doctrine beginning with A and working through to Z, the great and deep truths of Christmas are examined like a precious stone that is turned all different directions so that the light might glimmer and refract off of each surface and angle. It more closely represents a classic liturgy than a modern study. In fact, the book ends with an adaptation of portions of historical liturgical readings and songs for use in either church or home.

Although the book will no doubt be beneficial to any Christian who wishes to gain deeper insight into the Christmas story, I think its main benefit may be as a resource to preachers looking to expand the scope and depth of their Christmas or Advent sermons. The meditations in the book are so rich that I found myself repeatedly wanting to preach on the underlying scriptural passages so I could share the themes and truths highlighted in the book. I think many preachers will similarly be encouraged to dig a bit deeper into a number of scriptural passages with their congregations.

While I have always celebrated Christmas, I have never been a fan of how it is usually done. I recall teaching my children when they were younger that there were two distinctly different holidays that were celebrated at the end of the year and that unfortunately sometimes people (even in church) get them a bit mixed up. What Dr. Nichols has done in this book, however, is to call our attention to the true wonder of Christmas that should characterize the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. That wonder should be with us every single day of the year.

* I received a free copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing as part of their book review program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.