The Gospel Comes with a House Keyby Rosaria Butterfield
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (240 pages).
Buy on Amazon
In our “post-truth” society, living out the Gospel virtually requires Christians to form a sort of new “counter-culture.” Rosaria Butterfield shows how realizing that kind of culture looks not like street protests, but more like a pot of soup simmering in your kitchen.
Who should read this?
Judging by the full title of the book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, one might think that this book is targeted at a narrow segment of the church. What Rosaria Butterfield shows, however, is that the kind of radical hospitality that her book describes is the calling of every Christian: men and women, young or old, married or single. This is not a book exclusively for stay-at-home moms, nor is it a book meant only for women (although it has much to say to Christian women). This book is for the church - the family to which all Christians belong.
Lists of spiritual gifts often include “hospitality” as a gift or category of gifts. Undoubtedly there are those whose personalities are more inclined toward a certain kind of hospitality; we can even say with confidence that God made them that way. This book shows, however, that hospitality is not merely a gift for some Christians, but an essential part of life for all Christians.
Butterfield’s former work as a university professor is evident in her style of writing, but even for all the skill with which she can turn a phrase, this book always seems to remain on the level of a heartfelt conversation in a friend’s living room. Each of the book’s ten chapters focuses on a different aspect of hospitality. Like turning a diamond to catch light from a different angle, Butterfield’s stories from her own life and the lives of her neighbors show the reader just how multi-faceted the topic of hospitality is.
The preface makes clear the author’s motivation for writing the book. Her prayer is that the book will help the reader see how God can use his or her “home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family.” The kind of regular, intentional fellowship urged by this book will, she hopes, grow the reader in union with Christ so that he or she “would no longer be that Christian with a pit of empty dreams competing madly with other reigning idols, wondering if this is all there is to the Christian life.” (p.14)
For those who are already familiar with Rosaria Butterfield it probably comes as no surprise that she has written a book like this one. Table fellowship in a Christian home played an integral role in her conversion, the chronicles of which she documents more fully in her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Parts of that story reappear here, and the book is full of stories of her life, family, friends, and neighbors.
The theme that drives the book – the main idea connecting what otherwise would seem like unrelated anecdotes – radically ordinary hospitality “brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.” (p. 32) Butterfield goes on to show just some of the many different ways that the daily discipline of hospitality does those things.
Perhaps American Christians are especially prone to diminishing (unconsciously or otherwise) the importance of the kind of hospitality described in this book. Fewer and fewer people seem to know their neighbors, let alone have meaningful conversations with them or invite them into their homes.
The idea of a standing invitation to most of the neighborhood, for that reason, will strike many as among the most radical ideas in this book. Yet, as Butterfield points out, despite our inclination toward an isolating kind of individualism “we are either hosts or guests. The Christian life makes no room for independent agents, onlookers, renters.” (p. 36)
What Butterfield proposes is not to set out a regimen for some kind of home-based social gospel. On the contrary, for the Christian, hospitality “is image-bearer driven, because Christ’s blood pumps [us] whole. It is not time, convenience, or calendar driven. If it were, none of it would happen.” (p. 64) Christian hospitality, then, is not a program to be run, but a life that overflows with grace, spilling into the lives of others.
Beyond being familiar with the author and being reasonably confident that I would enjoy almost anything she has written, I was not sure what to expect from this book. Hospitality is not a topic that has appeared on my reading list before. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the moment I started reading.
Most Christians probably don’t need convincing that hospitality ought to be an important part of their lives. Fewer (among whom I include myself) could have given as detailed and as Biblical an explanation for just why hospitality is important as the explanation given in this book.
Perhaps the most obvious strength of the book is the fact that Rosaria Butterfield is such a skilled storyteller. One hardly needs to read more than a few pages of this book for at least that much to be clear. Where God has given her a gift in crafting a story, she puts that talent to effective use here.
Anecdotes can often be enjoyable merely for their own sake. In this book, however, the stories work seamlessly to enhance the points Butterfield makes. Writing about the difficulty of living with her elderly mother could not have been easy, even if Butterfield hadn’t done so with the knowledge that what she wrote would be published for anyone in the world to read. The way that she cared for her mother in her last days demonstrated in moving detail just one of the many ways that Christians are called to show hospitality.
Those who expect a step-by-step guide to hospitality probably will be disappointed. Although Butterfield describes what her family does in some detail, readers will find no list of activities or detailed planning tips. This book makes a compelling case, I think, that that is not a good way to think about the kind of hospitality that Butterfield desires to see growing in the church.
It’s clear that there is a schedule in the Butterfield household (no homeschooling family could survive without one!), but the sometimes messy, often unexpected opportunities to practice and show hospitality require adaptability. If there’s anything that we should be willing to be flexible for or make sacrifices for it should be the kind of hospitality that God often chooses as His means for bringing our neighbors into His family.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key is by no means the first book written on the topic of Christian hospitality. Indeed, the author gives a substantial list of books for recommended reading, many of which cover the same topic as hers. With her unique life story and superlative storytelling, however, Rosaria Butterfield’s book deserves its place among the best books on how to live the Christian life from day to day.
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. (p.32)
Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. (p.61)
Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup. (p. 111)