A Pastor’s Reflections on Rosaria Butterfield’s “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”
We live in a day and age when activism of all kinds is on display on the internet, cable news broadcasts, and print media. The world’s mentality is, if you want to get something done, you have to protest, march, boycott, or do something to wield power and influence to promote your agenda, whether you’re pro-abortion, pro-life, pro-gun control, pro-second amendment, against racism, or for a political candidate. And the list goes on. While the success rates of protesting are debatable, I think that protest activism looks appealing because of several successful high-profile protests in recent years. Mass protests played a huge role in ending the war in Vietnam—it shaped public opinion. Repeated non-violent marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. also have been permanently etched in American history. Christians, therefore, hear the siren call of protests and marches and think these are effective ways of gaining back lost cultural ground.
Rosaria Butterfield has reminded Christians of a different option in her most recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. In the simplest of terms, Butterfield encourages Christians to open their homes to everyone and anyone as a means by which to share the love of Christ and the gospel. It seems simple—almost too simple—but the harsh reality is that exercising hospitality is at an all-time low. Relatively few Christians regularly open their homes to their fellow Christians, let alone to their unconverted neighbors, but Butterfield makes a compelling biblical and practical case for what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.”
One of the things Butterfield addresses is the temerity that many Christians have in opening their homes to unbelievers. They believe that to accept someone into their home and show them love is tantamount to approving of their conduct. How can a Christian open her home to someone who is regularly engaged in sexual immorality? To show someone kindness, love, and hospitality would mislead them and further encourage them in their sin, right? Wrong. Butterfield helpfully points out that to accept someone in no way means that you approve of everything they believe or do. This is true regarding anyone—just because I open my home and feed my brother or sister in Christ does not mean I approve of all of their beliefs or convictions. Butterfield points to Christ’s willingness to eat with sinners and tax collectors (Matt. 9:10-11) as an example of Christ accepting them, loving them, engaging with them, talking with them, but not, of course, approving of their sinful ways. Butterfield also points to her own personal experience when she was mired in unbelief and a lesbian relationship, and a pastor regularly opened his home to her, was welcoming, and fed her as part of larger church fellowship. This warm and loving treatment was a significant part in her repentance and conversion. Butterfield has an excellent chapter on how to deal with those who have been excommunicated. It’s one thing to show kindness and love to an unbeliever; that same kindness and love, however, takes a different form when aimed at an unrepentant professing Christian.
The underlying message of The Gospel Comes with a House Key is simple but profound: hospitality to fellow Christians and your neighbors is a powerful and underused gift. It does not have the visual power of a loud raucous protest, and the news that you’ve invited your unbelieving neighbor over for a meal won’t go viral on the internet. Yet, this simple act can produce profound results. Never underestimate the power of a seemingly mundane act of Christian love, even in something as ordinary as inviting an unbelieving co-worker over for a modest meal. In my estimation, every Christian should read this book. My hope is that it would spark a renewed interest in Christians exercising their atrophied hospitality muscles until they are filled with strength and the love of Christ.
J. V. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He has written numerous books on the Christian faith, including Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, and The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights.