I read Rosaria Butterfield’s book Openness Unhindered not long ago, and Greg interviewed her on the podcast. I was quite taken by her book because it’s a book about the astonishing and life-upending nature of the Gospel that any believer can benefit from. And there are lessons from Butterfield’s life and conversion experience that are helpful guides in engaging others who are not open to God about the Gospel.
Butterfield was a lesbian for many years, deeply involved in the LGBTQ community advancing that agenda, until she met a local pastor and his wife who befriended her over time, loved her, and lived out their Christianity in front of her. She was engaged by their love that reflected God’s love for her. Through that crack in the door, the Holy Spirit worked in her. She describes her conversion as a train wreck because it upended literally every aspect of her life and career. And once the Holy Spirit began His good work in her, He continued it. And it’s that work in every believer that is also instructive in this book.
We forget sometimes, long after we’ve begun walking with Jesus, how revolutionary His work in us is. Butterfield draws from Paul’s ministry described in Acts 28:30-31 to illustrate the amazing work of grace. Paul was changed when He met Jesus and he proclaimed the Gospel boldly and unhindered. That grace is the work of the Spirit in believers that affects every nook and cranny of our being to make us like Jesus. It’s simply the transforming work of the Spirit.
Butterfield points out the often-missing link between sin and grace—repentance. She goes on to describe repentance in a way that often is given short shrift in modern evangelicalism. She points out that there’s a significant difference between admitting and confessing. Confession isn’t practiced much in church anymore. But confession is what digs down deep into the manifold ways sin harbors in our hearts and brings grace and transformation as we follow Jesus. And it’s transformed lives of Christians that will attract skeptics and critics who are normally resistant to thinking about Christianity because Christians will reflect the beauty of God and His goodness.
The pastor and his wife who befriended Butterfield for two years before her conversion became friends with her. They welcomed her into their home, shared meals, never compromising or hiding their Christian convictions, but also not making that the only topic. They didn’t make being a lesbian an issue in their friendship with her, though they never compromised. This kind of friendship and community is what lent credibility to Christianity and helped her be open, despite herself, to considering the truth they placed their trust in.
Alan Shelmon on STR’s speaking staff encourages us as Christians to befriend people and let that friendship be the context of loving and sharing God’s grace. Alan points out, and Butterfield makes this point, that being gay isn’t the issue, so it’s not the issue we should focus on. All of us are rebels against God. Our pride and sin of all types in every one of us is what keeps us from peace with God. So in the context of friendship and love we share the Gospel for all people. We don’t treat gay people any differently than any other friend because they all need the same thing we do—grace and mercy through Jesus. Butterfield notes that she was converted out of unbelief, not homosexuality. She no longer is a lesbian, and she in no way compromises on the biblical model of human sexuality, but her point is that sin is the common human problem, whatever the details are for each person.
She also writes about the importance of community for LGBTQ people. She describes the strength of that community and the safety she found there. And she points out that the Bible describes the body of believers as being this kind of community, but this practice has become weak among Christians and congregations. She encourages congregations to practice hospitality, welcoming people, taking time with them, opening our lives to them. This is another way Christians can be more attractive to the world. Community is something many people are lacking in our fractured world. But look at the books of Acts and the strong community among those early Christians. This is something Christians can do to stand out in the world and welcome people, to build relationships that give us trust and context to share the Gospel in a compelling way.
I really loved Openness Unhindered because it’s a book about sin and transforming grace in a believer’s life. It’s a challenging book because it encourages believers to go deep into grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That work is never done in the life of a believer. There’s real depth of thought that deserves to be read and considered by Christians so that grace transforms us and our communities in a way that reflects God’s beauty and goodness, which will make us ambassadors and salt and light in this dark world.