Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
What if I told you that your home wasn’t meant for you alone, to shut yourself up from the world and retreat from other people? What if your online conversations with people are not a measure of the deep and purposeful relationships that Christ has called us to share? What if part of our participating in the great commission includes opening up our homes and sharing the gospel in word and deed with our guests? What if hosting people didn’t necessarily require us to have perfect homes with complex food recipes, nicely arranged seats, and beautiful, expensive utensils to serve our guests?
The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield was published in April 2008. Before conversion, Mrs. Butterfield was a practicing lesbian and a feminist. She was a professor of English at Syracuse University who, before conversion, loathed and abhorred Christianity and was committed to writing a book to discredit the religion. This book is a result of a life and a home submitted to God and offering up service to God by serving others.
Mrs. Butterfield begins by writing about her personal experience of offering hospitality to neighbors. She writes of a stubborn neighbor, who was hard to love at first, and when they (her family) thought that they had made progress… a big discovery was made: Hank (the neighbor) was operating a meth lab in the basement of his house. Hank was jailed but the Butterfields corresponded with him while in prison. He eventually became a Christian.
The writer defines radically ordinary hospitality as, “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. Living out radically ordinary hospitality means knowing that your relationship with others must be as strong as your words. Having strong words and a weak relationship with your neighbor is violent.
Mrs. Butterfield’s own conversion story, as she tells it, is evidence of the impact of radically ordinary hospitality. While still a professor of English, she was welcomed by a Christian couple, Ken and Floy Smith. Rosaria was prepared to combat any indictment of her sins by her hosts that evening. Contrary to her expectations, the couple did not pick out Rosaria’s sin for their discussion. Instead, more invitations followed. Every Sunday the couple hosted a fellowship and truths of the gospel were sung and proclaimed. Rosaria heard the gospel presented by a patient and a persistent couple and eventually came to Christ. She quotes, “Long before I ever walked through the doors of the church, the Smith home is where I wrestled with the Bible, with the reality that Jesus is who he says he is, and eventually came face-to-face with him on the glittering knife’s edge of my choice sexual sin.“
God never gets the address wrong. Rosaria came from a broken home, with parents given into self-indulgence and practicing as atheists. At the age of 12, one of her older cousins opened a gay club, and together with the family, she went for the launch. Her experience that day served as an introduction to the sin of lesbianism that she later professed. Therefore, her experience with Smith’s was much needed, and God orchestrated things for the eternal benefit of her soul.
Occasionally, the Butterfield’s have taken advantage of situations that throw their neighborhood off-balance to offer the hope of the gospel. At one time they welcomed their neighbors and shared the gospel amidst the chaos of robbery into their home. Kent (Rosaria’s husband) preached the gospel. On the morning of Hank’s arrest, amidst the suspicion and accusations by the neighbors, because of their befriending a drug addict, the Butterfield’s opened up their home for debriefing. The following Sunday they held a lunch and invited all their neighbors and took advantage to offer a gospel perspective into Hank’s case. In the following days, they continued to give their neighbors updates of Hank’s progress while in prison.
There are numerous occasions where Kent and Rosaria, individually and together, see a need and jump in to help, intending to present the gospel. They have hosted stranded families in their basement, offered to purchase groceries for neighbors, made meals for the occasionally needy in their neighborhood, adopted children from foster homes, helped organize a bible study for old and lonely ladies, hosted a med school student with crazy schedules and served her during this time, offered to look after a neighbor’s pets while she traveled, and at her deathbed, Rosaria moved in her mother’s hospital room for more than a week. During this time she continued to share the gospel with her atheist mum, who lived all her life mocking Christians. One day to her death she became a Christian.
Rosaria emphasizes the fact that she does not practice extravagant hospitality. Her meals for the daily fellowships are often rice and beans. She welcomes her guests to help with table setting and other things in the house. She keeps a daily schedule that helps in her being productive and intentional in her daily hospitality endeavors. She is a homeschooling mum and therefore has to be disciplined in her daily use of time. Together with the husband, they acknowledge that they do not possess power to save sinners, and their job is to be faithful and entrust the results of their gospel endeavors to God.
Mrs. Butterfield writes, “Offering radically ordinary hospitality is an everyday thing at our house. It starts early, with minestrone simmering on one burner and a pot of steamed rice warming on another. It ends late, with Kent making beds on the couches and blowing up air mattresses for a traveling, stranded family. A truly hospitable heart anticipates every day, Christ-centered table fellowship, and guests who are genuinely in need. Such a heart seeks opportunities to serve. Radically ordinary hospitality doesn’t keep fussy lists or make a big deal about invitations. Invitations are open.”
This book is highly practical, thanks to Rosaria’s openness and willingness to show how radically ordinary hospitality plays out. It challenges believers to get over their selfishness, all the while showing them the way to do it. I’ve been challenged to get over my convenience and start forming deep relationships centered in the gospel. I have been rebuked to not only host those who look like me, think like me and respond to things the way I do, but also the lost, the needy, and those struggling with sin. My home ought to be a hospital and an incubator.
This is a must-read for every believer. In our small ways, we can contextualize the concept of radically ordinary hospitality and practice it within the borders of our financial means and hosting capacity. The call is not to practice fancy and showy hospitality, but radically ordinary hospitality.
On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this book a nine. The remaining one is because no human is perfect. 😀
PS: You can purchase a copy of this book at ACTS bookshop in Karen while stocks last.