Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key

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The Gospel Comes With A House Key

I’ve said before in different places that I will read anything that Rosaria Butterfield rights. This book was no exception, and even though I read it in a time and a year when the basic practice of hospitality was effectively impossible, it did me good and I’m glad I read it.

This is a book about hospitality. Hospitality is not just having people round for a meal after church on a Sunday, but instead argues Rosaria, a way of life that helps us orientate ourselves to the way of Jesus. This book is part memoir end of a large family filling a house, and loving a neighbourhood well – and part theological reflection. This blend is occasionally slightly difficult to stomach, particularly when what I would describe as an unbiblical patriarchy slips in. Whilst I can see past that (I don’t think it is central to her argument, personally) some readers may not be able to, so should be aware of it. 

In a year in which we have had less people over for dinner, or to stay, then in the average month, you might ask why I bothered reading a book about hospitality. It turns out that reading this book actually provided encouragement and impetus for many other parts of my life, and walk with Jesus. Rosaria powerfully reminded me through her words of the importance of the truth that we are made in the image of God. Further, in a year where we have seen many Christian leaders fall from grace, I was struck by one of the things she identifies about community: “sin demands isolation. Well community does not inoculate us against sin godly community is a sweet balm of safety it gives us a place and a season where we are safe with ourselves and safe with others”. As she goes on to say, “atheists do far less harm than hypocrites“. This echoes Chris Green’s observation of one thing that he’s seen repeatedly in pastoral self-destructions.

Probably my favourite feature of this book is how far ago in the ordinary it is – and yet this ordinary is actually extraordinary. What Rosario calls “radically ordinary hospitality” is unusual in this day and age. Indeed, it is a marker of the age to come: “we must be willing to practice hospitality as both host and guest, and we must see how the principle of both giving and receiving build a community and advance the gospel. There are no renters or onlookers or gawkers in the kingdom of God. We are hosts and guests together and both generous giving and open receiving bless God“. This book is not all homely recollection and deep biblical theology however. The conclusion – and it is scattered throughout the book, to be fair – is deeply practical. As well as a sense of what to cook and how to involve everyone in that cooking, Rosaria offers a list of recommended reading. This recommended reading is not recipe books, but rather invitations into the Christian tradition, with John Calvin, Henry Nouwen, Parker Palmer, and Francis Schaeffer among the various people that she suggests we read.

This was an idiosyncratic, infuriating, and thoroughly enjoyable read. I was reminded throughout of the long Sunday lunches my parents used to have after church when I was growing up. We never quite knew who would turn up, and I usually hoped certain people wouldn’t. As an awkward teenager, I simultaneously dreaded and loved these lunches. But it wasn’t just his lunches. My parents had people in and out of the house all the time, and as we grew up and left home that included people fleeing from domestic situations, students needing short-term accommodation, and various other folk. This, I think, is the practice of radically ordinary hospitality. And openness to the stranger – both within and without the church – is at the heart of this practice. When Covid restrictions lift, I’m looking forward to exploring with my wife and our daughter how we can practice hospitality in the way of Jesus. I would recommend this book, with the caveat about the patriarchal sidebars, to all those who are blessed with a home and want to use it for gods glory and the renewal of all things.

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