The Practice of Radically Ordinary Hospitality
Reviews of The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
The Bible is woven through with compelling examples of hospitality: Whether extending shelter to the foreigner, sharing a meal with Gentiles or drawing water for an outcast, the gospel calls us to profound, life-altering openness toward our neighbors. The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Crossway 2018), by Rosaria Butterfield, unpacks the biblical challenge to hospitality. Three reviewers from within the EFCA share their thoughts.
Bearing burdens of real life and real problems
Review by Sherri Stauffer
One of the dangers of my busy life is that activities can become more important than people. Rosaria Butterfield’s new book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, challenges this way of living by offering biblical and personal examples that urge us to assess our priorities.
The Butterfields live in a neighborhood with 300 homes and that neighborhood, combined with their church, is the focus of their hospitality. They expect people to come to their house and are prepared to feed a crowd most nights of the week. Butterfield takes a little time to explain how she does this, but most of the book is dedicated to telling us why she does it. The goal is always to “meet people as strangers, make them neighbors, then family, then family of God” (p. 62). That is why they forged a relationship with a reclusive man who turned out to be making meth in his basement. It is why their lives intertwine with people of all ages and worldviews. Conversation and food, followed by Bibles and prayer, mark their evenings.
There is no doubt that Butterfield meddles. She exposes our idols of setting our affections on this world, of making excuses because of our personality type or lack of space, of caring more about ourselves than others. She exposes our fear of not knowing what to say or do, our fear that someone will take advantage of us. She relentlessly reminds us of the promises of God and our Lord’s example of eating with sinners. She forthrightly says that it will cost us much but also guarantees that the rewards are great.
She openly shares her own struggles as a sinner in need of repentance and of some of the times she failed to offer hospitality because of selfishness, but she also frees us to see that each of us will have a unique experience as we open our homes and our lives to the hurting around us.
Butterfield sums up her ideas this way: “Christian hospitality cares for the things that our neighbors care about. Esteeming others more highly than ourselves means nothing less. It means starting where you are and looking around for who needs you. It means making yourself trustworthy enough to bear burdens of real life and real problems” (p. 166). She is not saying we have to do it her way; she wants us to welcome others into our homes and lives with prayer and a listening ear and then watch to see what God will do.
Reading this book convicted me of the lack of diversity at my table and also of my inability to be flexible for the people in my congregation and neighborhood who need me. With God’s help, I plan to try to adjust my schedule to allow more time to be spontaneous. I will need to stock up on food to pull out of the freezer when this happens. I must respond to her call to live out my relationship with God and others in the intimacy of my home, to be shaken out of my frantic lifestyle so that I can sacrificially offer the peace and healing that can only be found in Jesus.
Sherri Stauffer and her husband, Farrel Stauffer, serve at Ashton Bible Church (EFCA) in Ashton, Illinois, where Farrel serves as the lead pastor. Sherri enjoys opening her home to others and writes a weekly book review for her local paper.
Seeking to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God
Review by Todd Hessel
The Gospel Comes With a House Key shares the art of radically ordinary hospitality through stories. More biographical than practical, Butterfield’s book combines a theological framework for hospitality with stories and insights on what it means (and what it costs) to love our neighbors with the love of Christ.
Instead of advocating individualism, Butterfield places hospitality in the context of church life, growth in Christ and spiritual warfare. “God calls us to make sacrifices that hurt so that others can be served and maybe even saved,” she writes. “We are called to die. Nothing less” (p. 42).
Many books on hospitality seem to be written exclusively for a female audience. But Butterfield demonstrates that hospitality is important for every believer, not merely confined to upper-middle-class dinner parties with dedicated dining rooms. True Christian hospitality is using our homes “in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (p. 31). It is a requirement for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2), at the heart of body life (1 Peter 4:9), and a believer’s response to strangers (Hebrews 13:2).
Butterfield raises two challenging questions for her readers:
1. Is your house a refuge from the world or a platform for the gospel?
Our Christian subculture is often obsessed with creating walls around ourselves from the outside world. We are more concerned with our own protection and “restful” entertainment than we are about living as ambassadors where the Lord has placed us. Hospitality welcomes those that others reject. I bet the guys who are continually smoking weed at the end of your street would love a meal at your house. Will you invite them over?
2. Do you have a lifestyle that sacrifices money, time and space for others?
Hospitality has costs. It costs time. Butterfield recounts a costly Sunday: “Twenty-four-hour cat crisis management, and neighbor-worldview-clash-grief ministry on top, well, this was simply not on my list of things to do” (p. 164). It costs money. Having people over for dinner, hosting overnight guests and giving to the needs of others requires cash. It costs reputation. Loving the “sinner” in your neighborhood will garner the scorn of your “good” neighbors. Butterfield confronts her readers with what it takes to be a true neighbor: “Faith in Jesus foregrounds the trust that says, ‘I love my neighbor because she is mine, and not because she loves me back’” (p. 46).
Butterfield’s writing is captivating and her stories are deeply moving. As you might expect from her other books, she gives great insight to fellow believers on loving the LGBTQ community. There are times in the book when it is not always intuitive where Butterfield is heading, and I didn’t finish the book feeling that I had received a refined framework for hospitality. This book has theological depth, but it is a theology that is lived out in her life. There is some extra work required to translate this book to your own experience.
As a busy father with little margin and lots of great, unread books, I say without reservation: Read this! You will be challenged. If you want to grow deeper in your theology of hospitality, I would also recommend Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp (raised in the EFCA, New Testament faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).
Todd Hessel is lead pastor of Ankeny Free Church (EFCA) in Ankeny, Iowa. His family of five wants to be a light for Jesus in their neighborhood, and this book has inspired him to be more intentional in opening his door to his neighbors.
Hospitality gets a much-needed makeover
Review by Kerry S. Doyal
As a son of the South, allegedly known for its legendary hospitality, I was glad to encounter a biblical exploration of hospitality in The Gospel Comes With a House Key. Calling for “radical ordinary hospitality,” author Rosaria Butterfield gives hospitality a massive and overdue makeover, illustrating it with powerful gospel stories.
Butterfield reminds us that far beyond pleasant, safe fellowship meals, hospitality is the biblical mandate to love strangers. “Christian hospitality aims to meet strangers and make them neighbors, and meet neighbors and, by God’s power, welcome them into the family of God through belief, repentance, conversion, and church membership,” she writes. What a high, holy vision—and needed re-definition of the term!
I found this narrative-driven book encouraging with its reminders of the gospel’s power to save any and all, highlighted by Butterfield’s story and others she shares. She brings us into her home and invites us to watch, listen and learn from her remarkable, open approach toward sharing the love of God. Hospitality is not just a potent gospel tool: It is the gospel lived out.
Butterfield is a bold soul. Convictions are no trifling matter to her. Her commitment to truth is especially powerful in light of her previous career as a professor in English and women’s studies, two disciplines that are often hotbeds of postmodernism. As a redeemed lesbian, which she discusses throughout the book, Butterfield is now a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom and proponent of biblical patriarchy. And God uses all of this to shape her ministry of hospitality.
As a pastor, how could I not love her high view of the Church? Far from any consumer mindset, she speaks of vital membership, covenant commitment and life-giving engagement. We are challenged to use our homes and our lives to express and develop discipleship. Her explanation and illustrations of church discipline are loving, hope-filled and uncompromising. I believe that these various threads would lead to fruitful small group discussions.
When recommending this book, I do so with pastoral sensitivity. Her “gospel house key” of radical ordinary hospitality may feel to some like an insurmountable threshold. Most of us will not be able to open our homes as often or as freely as the Butterfield family. The model set forth may require a two-parent household with a stay-at-home mom and extra room in the family budget. Few will be able to practically achieve the Butterfields’ intense level of hospitality.
If you are looking for clear “how-to” book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key may leave you wanting. Granted, some specific examples of hospitality are given in the conclusion and many are inherent in the narratives. But the examples seem most tailored to a reader who is in Butterfield’s demographic, with her giftedness, and support system. I fear some readers may finish the book feeling frustrated or deficient, not seeing clear, validated ways to be radical in their more ordinary setting.
I kept hoping for gracious guidance to single parents, single people, the resource-challenged or even tiny apartment dwellers on how they too can carry out hospitality. While few will be able to live like the Butterfields, everyone can extend the hospitality of Christ at some level, in some way. Readers are largely left to shape what that looks like on their own.
This book was timely in reinforcing my need to personally recover more of a hospitality ministry personally, as well as at my church. It would make for vigorous, unsettling discussion for a home group that wants to grow past a safe, holy huddle. The Church, and not just those below the Mason–Dixon Line, needs to pursue radical, ordinary hospitality to have lives and homes fully committed to serving God and strangers.
Kerry S. Doyal serves as the pastor of Christ Community Fellowship (EFCA) in Sarver, Pennsylvania.
How do you think our churches and communities can exemplify gospel-centered hospitality? What have you learned about Jesus’ call for His body to be welcoming to all people? Share your thoughts in the comments.