Rosaria Butterfield: No Free Passes

What happens after a widely praised (and sometimes reviled) first book comes out?

You write in this new book that it is not the absence of sin that commends believers but the presence of Christ in the midst of struggle: That’s what sets believers apart. You also say the doctrine of original sin is the most democratizing idea in all of human history. How so? We are all on the same page, struggling with an indwelling sin. Some people see their original sin pattern as a cuddly tiger: “It’s a little tiger. If I buy it a collar and name it Fluffy, it won’t hurt me.” Three months later, it’s destroyed your marriage and your family, and eaten you alive.


I interviewed Rosaria Butterfield 3½ years ago as her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was coming out and heading toward wide readership. Since then she’s spoken widely throughout the United States and sometimes faced LGBTQ demonstrators displeased with her movement from lesbianism (and a tenured Syracuse professorship in women’s studies) to Christian believer and pastor’s wife. Here are edited excerpts of a new interview before Patrick Henry College students.

You’ve previously spoken of your fascinating conversion, so I won’t ask about it today: Folks can read excerpts of our interview in WORLD (March 23, 2013) or watch it on YouTube, as more than 120,000 people have. Let’s talk about what’s happened since: What were you thinking when you first saw demonstrators? Wow: This is the world I helped create through my earlier teaching, and I don’t get a free pass. I know the Lord has forgiven and delivered me, and given me joy in a life that I never could have imagined living before—but I did this. I taught thousands of students to despise the Bible. The blood is on my hands.

What’s a typical campus appearance like? I don’t usually go and just talk to people. I meet individually with everybody who’s upset. That can sometimes take a long time. I make sure the protesters are invited to my lecture, and I try to have what’s called a “talk-back session.” I have at least an hourlong question/answer session that is not ever filtered through anything.

What are the typical questions? They have a wide range, but they are often questions about God’s holiness, God’s goodness, and the authority of Scripture.

Any progress? When I go on campus, people want to tell me what the Bible says, but they haven’t read it. I say, “Look, I’m an old-school professor: You have to read the book to have the conversation. You can ask me anything, but if you haven’t thought about what it means to be an image-bearer of a holy God and have the most precious commodity anyone could possibly have, a soul that will last forever, humor me. Give me six months and work it out for yourself.” Students on secular campuses are often very quick to take me up on that. Christian college campuses are a little different.

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