In The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield shows through part autobiography, part Bible teaching why hospitality isn’t an optional extra in the Christian life, but an essential part, and what living it looks like in her family life.
I don’t think that the theory behind hospitality is hard to get your head around in a church context. It’s very easy open to your Bible to verses like Titus 1v8 when Paul teaches that elders “must be hospitable”, or to Hebrews 13v2 where the instruction is “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers…” The commands are clear. But what does this look like? How does that work out in practice for me living in London?
When I picked the book up I was expecting to have to work my way through some fairly dense theology of hospitality. I was completely off-base. One of the joys of this book is that most of it feels like an autobiography; you’re invited into Rosaria’s life, the book is her showing you what her life looks like as she seeks to practice ‘radically ordinary hospitality’.
At no point is this sugar coated. Her story-telling opens up the hard things that hospitality means facing into; from the mistrust of neighbours, caring for people at the end of their life, through to working out how to respond when one of the people you have been showing hospitality to is arrested for setting up a meth-lab in their basement. She talks about the practicalities of feeding lots of people regularly (lots of dhal), and how she manages all the people coming in and out of her home as an introvert (INTJ). This book is immensely practical.
While completely practical, The Gospel Comes with a House Key is always grounded in scripture. In explaining the title of the book Butterfield takes us to Mark 10 where Jesus says ‘[there is] no one who has left home or [family] or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age… and in the age to come.’ Her take on this passage is striking with the lens of hospitality. When someone comes to Jesus they may lose partners, family, or homes in the process;
“God’s people need to wake up to something, if you want to share the gospel with the LGBTQ community or anyone who will lose family and homes, the gospel must come with a house key. This hundredfold blessing promised here in these verses is not going to fall out of the sky. It is going to come from the people of God acting like the family of God”.
The Bible is allowed to speak for itself, while Rosaria pulls in examples of what this looks like in her life and in her neighbourhood. This book is challenging!
At points it can be hard to work out the direct links from what sounds like suburby America to the estate that I live on in London, where I rent a room in a tiny flat. But the last few pages leave a challenge even for that excuse:
This is a false fear that no-one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that’s all. It’s not entertainment. It’s not supposed to be."
I’m leaving this book with not just a lot to think and pray about, but a lot of practical suggestions to test and explore. I’d recommend it for anyone who is just thinking about what Christian hospitality looks like or someone who has been practicing it for a long time.