Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key

Hospitality, as I think of it, means good coffee, nice dishes, and pleasant conversation. Hospitality, as Rosaria Butterfield thinks of it, means daily guests, rice and beans, Scripture, prayer, and dogs – plenty of dogs. They’re all under the hospitality umbrella, and there is room for more.

Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Crossway, 2018), is a good read and a great tap on the conscience. Brimming with Scripture, personal stories, and good writing, this book is a poetic primer on a concept she names “radically ordinary hospitality.”

As a lesbian feminist, LGBTQ rights activist, and English professor at Syracuse University, Rosaria Butterfield’s life dramatically swerved when she encountered the Gospel – not in a church, not in a revival meeting, but in the calm welcome of Ken and Floy Smith, a Christian couple who invited her into their home. Now a Christian, Butterfield is also an author (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Openness Unhindered), speaker, homeschool mom, and pastor’s wife.

Butterfield was saved by Christ through a dose of hospitality. Now in The Gospel Comes with a House Key, she’s an ambassador for a hospitality that is common yet distinct, overlooked yet vital.

“Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed (31).”

Translated, that means we have some work to do. Real hospitality means we’ll use our houses as incubators. We’ll invite friends and strangers in and pursue ground-level relationships with them. We’ll live the Gospel in a daily, practical way.

Rosaria Butterfield gets up at 4:00 in the morning. Why? (And “how?!” we groggy morning people gasp.) Most days, she and her husband, Kent, will have guests in their home. She prepares by spending time with God, then soaking beans and cooking rice. Between homeschooling and house-cleaning, she takes meals to shut-ins, hosts community prayer night, manages grocery lists, writes to friends in prison, and walks dogs with neighbors. She babysits, cat-sits, and knits. She makes food for whoever happens to be in her house – stranger, friend, or stray kid. Her schedule revolves around neighbors and their needs.

Butterfield does not see their open-door hospitality as unusually heroic: “We believe this is what the Bible calls normal. We believe that Christians are called to live as the family of God and to draw strangers and neighbors in, with food and a bended knee, beseeching God’s grace to pour out on those who do not yet know the Lord and to encourage and uplift and fuel those who do (34).”

That’s hospitality?

Most of us have hosted friends, at one time or another. We may even have hosted people we didn’t know. But we don’t exactly leave our front door hanging open every night. We invite people when our bathroom floor is clean and our pretty candles are burning. Are we missing something?

Butterfield writes rather poetically. Her circles of thought lead us through some passionate theology, many fascinating stories from her life, a few glimpses of the habits that make daily hospitality work, then back around to theology. She chooses her words well (“Radically ordinary hospitality serves ravioli with redemption life (42)” and her injections of wit balance the serious stuff.

If you’re looking for a “how-to” manual on table settings and meatball servings, this book isn’t that. It’s a broad view of what Christian hospitality could (and should) be. It encourages us far beyond our habit of Sunday dinners and popcorn.

What about those of us who don’t have our own households? No house of your own, no problem – hospitality is not just for people with spouses and kids and dogs. Hospitality means “starting where you are and looking around for who needs you (166).”

Amanda.jpg Amanda Wenger is a reader. She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.


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