The Gospel Comes with a House Keyby Rosaria Butterfield
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (220 pages).
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The Gospel Comes with a House Key combines doctrine, Scripture, and personal testimony to challenge the modern church to evangelize the world around them through “radically ordinary hospitality.”
Who Should read this?
Every Christian needs to read The Gospel Comes with a House Key, from households like the Butterfields’ and church leaders seeking more authentic outreach in the community, to young, single Christians who want to use their time and resources to effectively evangelize those around them. Butterfield’s message has conviction and insight for all believers.
Butterfield writes about Christian hospitality from a unique vantage point. As a pastor’s wife and a homeschool mom, she lives the life that many Christian families do, balancing the needs of the family with church responsibilities and education. Despite the familial cost of sacrificial hospitality, she and her family live this hospitality daily, yielding multiple testimonies of its effect on themselves and their neighbors.
Furthermore, she has also been the object of Christian hospitality, as an unbeliever drawn to the beauty of Christ through the loving, prayerful outreach of His people. Once a vehemently anti-Christian, lesbian English professor, Butterfield has personally experienced the evangelistic influence of gentle Christian hospitality. From both inside and outside, Butterfield is intimately acquainted with the “radically ordinary hospitality” that fills the pages of her book.
Even without the author bio on the dust jacket, Butterfield’s graceful writing style alludes to her background in English higher education. Her text structure exhibits attention to detail and a pleasing ear for language. The tone is clear, direct, and disarmingly honest. At times, the story itself is deeply personal. That level of vulnerability encouraged me, as a reader, to more honestly examine my own heart.
After all, the author herself is willing to share these details, to invite me, figuratively, into her home and express personal thoughts and feelings to a stranger (me). How could I not respond with a similar level of openness as I look into my own heart? The tone, text structure, and subject matter depict a winsome image of Christian hospitality.
This book is written to address a failure in the American church and offer practical steps for its reversal. Although a search for “hospitality” on a popular Christian book selling site yields 324 results, I know very few Christians who are willing to engage in the kind of hospitality that Butterfield describes, even toward fellow believers.
At a cultural moment where many mistrust Christians and label us as “bigots,” “haters,” and “_____phobics,” now is precisely the time to throw open our doors and invite the world to come and see who we really are from day to day. (Unless, of course, we have coddled and ignored the very sins of which we are accused…)
The Gospel Comes with a House Key establishes a doctrinal basis for Christian hospitality, supports that doctrinal basis with personal testimony about hospitality’s spiritual impact, and finishes up with practical pointers for implementing Christian hospitality in your own life. Butterfield’s work offers a practical way to build relationships with unbelievers and show Christ’s love to them daily, rather than exhibiting a gospel like the dead faith in James 2, which says, “ If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (vs. 15-17).
While more impersonal evangelistic tools have a place in the spread of the Gospel, they are not the only ways, or even the most effective ways, to share the Gospel. The “radically ordinary hospitality” that the Butterfield family practices is agreeing to offer people spiritual, physical, and emotional sustenance in any way you can. It is using everything you have in pursuit of the kingdom of God in your own sphere of influence, under the auspices of the local church.
The most prolific support for Butterfield’s exhortation about hospitality is personal experience. Since her book is not an exposition of the biblical teaching on hospitality, I did not find this bothersome. On the contrary, hearing another believer’s personal testimony was both instructive and encouraging.
Not a single story is superfluous; Butterfield’s sense of purpose constantly drives her narrative toward conviction and exhortation about hospitality. In fact, the varicolored patchwork of stories taught me more about hospitality than a simple list of motivations and Bible verses ever could have done. Through Hank’s story, I learned that hospitality is a slow process.
Through Rosaria’s mother’s stay with them, I was reminded that family is not exempt from this hospitality. In all of the stories, I saw that each situation demanded different sacrifices and produced different results. These experiences gave me a more realistic expectation of the use and impact of hospitality in my own community. However, if you are looking for a succinct exposition of the biblical teaching on Christian hospitality, this book is not your best choice.
To support her call to wholehearted hospitality, Butterfield also turns frequently to Scripture, citing both passages and narratives to buttress her argument. Her scriptural interpretation is both contextual and consistent—the applications she draws take the passage’s immediate context into consideration, as well as its place within redemptive history.
I finished The Gospel Comes with a Housekey over two months ago, turning its message over in my mind since then. I wanted to see what points distilled in my mind, what meditations eventually migrated into my daily life. The theme of practical, selfless, and constant hospitality beautifully embodied the love of Christ. I felt unable to participate but convinced that I was under a Biblical command to do so.
However, in meditating on the meaning and application of hospitality in my own life, I have realized that the following instruction from 1 Peter applies to me as well. The Apostle exhorts believers, “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they revile you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” I realized that this passage succinctly summarizes the message of Butterfield’s work. We, as Christians, can live moral lives while circulating in exclusively Christian circles.
We’re leaving the salt of the earth neatly packed into the shaker while society rots around us. Too often, I concentrate on having my conduct “honorable,” studying the word, praying, and going to church, but forget that Peter added “among the Gentiles.” Do I intentionally create hospitality in my life in the name of reaching those who do not yet know my Savior? How do I winsomely display Christ’s love and grace through hospitality?
That conviction led me to find ways to be hospitable, rather than excuses. Now in a new apartment, my mind is already buzzing with ways to make that hospitality a vital part of my Christian life. An unsaved friend was looking for roommates, and I happened to need an apartment. Now we share rent and a roof—a daily opportunity for Christian hospitality.
Armed with a thrift-store crock pot, I’m also preparing for a college ladies’ lunch after church every Sunday, since I have more space to set up portable tables and chairs. If my own life is any proof, Butterfield’s well-crafted manifesto has convinced me to embrace hospitality more fully than I did before.
Convicting – The best Christian books are the ones that sting a little bit (or a lot). Hospitality is not a common topic for Christian books, and I have never heard a sermon or a Bible study about hospitality. This was an area where I did not even know I needed to be convicted. The Gospel Comes with a House Key not only convinced me of the biblical mandate to hospitality, it also showed me how effective it can be in evangelism and church ministry.
Relevant – This book is relevant in both timing and authorship. In our polarized and increasingly secular national climate, Christian hospitality can carry the message of the gospel to people who would never walk into a church, allowing them to see others rejoicing in the word of God and living according to its precepts. The world has no mandate to come to the church; we have a mandate to go into the world. Furthermore, Butterfield’s unique perspective as a former lesbian gave me concrete tips on lovingly reaching out to friends in the LGBTQ community in ways that communicate love and compassion. Other Christians who are unfamiliar with these communities will benefit as well.
Disjointed – The book weaves together multiple chronologies and narratives, using all the stories to illustrate biblical instruction or underscore a point about hospitality. Butterfield provides clear headings to preface sections, but occasionally I found myself needing checking back to these section headers or even paging to previous chapters to refresh my memory about the last installment of the current narrative, which had just cropped up a chapter or two later. Readers who are unused to tracking several different narratives may find it helpful to mark pages or take margin notes to easily pick up a story from where it left off in previous chapters.
A Disclaimer – I hesitate to call this a “weakness,” but readers should be aware that Butterfield embraces a staunchly Reformed theological worldview. For example, some readers may be put off by the idea of “covenanting” with a church, concerned with an allusion to infant baptism, or adhere to a different understanding of the sovereignty of God. Although I found that the covenantal perspective strengthened the message of the book rather than hindering it, I am aware that some may find Reformed doctrine unfamiliar or disagree with its tenets. I encourage you to tackle this read anyway—there are still spiritual riches to be gained.
Although there were hundreds of other book results for the keyword “hospitality” when I searched for Christian materials on the subject, Butterfield’s contribution to the conversation stands out in its commitment to self-sacrifice and its radical rejection of cultural norms in favor of a more biblical model.
Butterfield’s “radically ordinary hospitality” is no Friday night coffee with friends or a get-to-know-the-new-couple dinner, but a deliberate, daily outpouring of love, to the point of arranging your schedule, budget, and home to more readily accommodate Christian hospitality. This hospitality is no “add-on” to the Christian life. It is a reconstruction of the Christian life to more fully reflect Christ Himself.
“Often, Christians ask me, ‘How can I love my neighbor without misleading her into thinking I approve of everything she does?’ First, remember that Christians cannot give good answers to bad questions. No one approves of everything that others do. No one. It is a false question.” (33)
“[Hospitality] is going to come from the people of God acting like the family of God. God intends this blessing to come from you. And real Christian hospitality that creates real Christian community expresses authentic Christianity in deep and abiding ways to a world that thinks we are hypocrites.” (97)
“Esteeming others more highly than ourselves…means starting where you are and looking around for who needs you. It means communicating Christian love in word and deed. It means making yourself trustworthy enough to bear burdens of real life and real problems.” (166)
“Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.” (214)