The words “radical” and “hospitality” don’t seem to belong with one another. At least not on the surface. The idea that we might change the world, point people to the Kingdom of God, and fulfill the Great Commission through opening our home hardly seems realistic, and yet Rosaria Butterfield makes a compelling case for the potential of ordinary hospitality. The Gospel Comes with a House Key presents readers with one of the most captivating pictures of gospel ministry that I have ever read. The book serves as a model for effective missions in a post-Christian America.
Rosaria Butterfield is, herself, a great example of a radically ordinary Christian. Her own story is one that testifies uniquely to the power of God’s grace to transform lives. In this book, she does not retell that story, but it is in the background. Instead, The Gospel Comes with a House Key invites readers into her home to see the ways in which her family uses their house for God’s purposes. Rosaria states:
In the pages that follow, you are invited into my home, into my childhood, into my Bible reading, into my repentance, and into my homeschool schedules, shopping lists, simple meals, and daily messy table fellowship. (14)
My prayer is that this book will help you let God use your home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family. (14)
The book is more an illustration of this point than a particular map, but there are plenty of principles from which to draw.
The book centers around one difficult relationship which Rosaria and her family develop with their neighbor across the street: Hank. Hank is a recluse. He suffers from PTSD, and social phobia. He is also a meth addict. The book unpacks the nature of their friendship, the risks of being good neighbors, and the impact of that one friendship on the rest of their neighborhood. Other stories weave themselves in and out of Rosaria’s chapters, stories of her childhood, of taking care of a friend’s dying cat, of church discipline cases, and more. Yet this story about Hank reappears throughout. It becomes a particularly focused lens for highlighting the significant principles of radically ordinary hospitality.
It is those three words which capture the heart of the book. Rosaria believes in and practices genuine hospitality. She is an inspiring model of compassionate care and consideration of others. She draws from her own experience in the LGBT community, a place where hospitality was life, but she emphasizes the Biblical commands as the incentive and motivation for all of us. Yet, despite examples like Hank, in many ways what she advocates is rather ordinary. She demonstrates hospitality through an open door, a shopping list, and weekend BBQs. Changing the world is not about starting non-profits, ending hunger, or dismantling nuclear weapons – all of which are important and valuable endeavors in and of themselves. Rosaria can speak earnestly about the world-wide refugee crisis, and yet her focus is on something far more mundane and accessible to all of us: open your front door to your neighbors. The whole approach is rather radical, however, in that no one seems interested in doing this anymore. Our interests are far too tied to comfort, material possession, and privacy. She exposes many of our idols in this work and writes with grit and conviction about them. We are implicated in the post-Christian culture that America now lives in, she says. We are not the victims we often play.
The book as a whole is inspiring and convicting. Rosaria’s writing is absolutely breathtaking. She has the impeccable ability to weave together a beautiful story, captivating this reader at every page. She is also provocative, challenging Christians in particular to see their sin, confess it, and repent. She is inspiring in her example and willingness. She models self-sacrifice and considering the interests of others well. Yet, she does so without setting herself up as perfect, as the example. She writes with humility, admits her sins and failures, and urges us to see Christ more than Rosaria. As I read I couldn’t help but both love her example and feel ashamed of my own. The book was powerful in its challenging me to look beyond my selfish desires and to open my home and heart more than I do.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a captivating work. It already stands as the best book I’ve read this year and I can’t imagine another displacing it. I highly recommend this book to all Christians. I believe that the vision it shares has the potential to reshape the Christian community, and with it the various communities in which we live. This powerful vision of radical hospitality is worthy of your time.