Book Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Crossway, Wheaton, Ill. 2018. 240 pages.
Raw. Unvarnished. Personal. Real. These are some of the words which scrolled through my head as I put down Butterfield’s book.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish. By chapter two, her story had overwhelmed me, and I was afraid it would discourage other brothers and sisters. Rosaria Butterfield is an extraordinary person with unusual gifts and a granite determination to open up her home to strangers. Most people I know are uncomfortable with this kind of transparency. The hospitality she described seemed, well, more “radical” than “ordinary.” It didn’t help that she said her home looks like a Christian commune (34).
However, I’d read both of her previous books, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered, and I’d heard her speak in person once. I wanted to hear what she had to say now. So I kept reading, and I soon realized The Gospel Comes with a House Key is not a blueprint for how to be hospitable; it’s simply a window into the life of a pastor and his wife trying to make a difference for Christ—not just on Sunday, but every day.
WHAT IS HOSPITALITY?
Butterfield defines hospitality as “using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (31). It requires a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture, covenant membership in a local church, and a willingness to let other people see the dirty laundry on your kitchen floor. Seriously. Regardless of how intimidated we may be to open up our home, budget, and schedule to strangers, we must. “Start somewhere, start today,” she implores (62).
This isn’t a book about Rosaria Butterfield. It’s about the Butterfields, a spirited family led by her husband, pastor Kent. When a reclusive neighbor is sent to jail for turning his home into a meth lab, it’s Kent who gathers Christian and non-Christian friends in his front yard and exhorts them to love their neighbor. And one Sunday, when snow closed local churches, the Butterfields invited their neighbors for a service. Kent preached in his living room. “He is not one man in the pulpit and another man in his home. As I watch him open the Bible,” she remembers, “I am grateful that God allowed me to marry this man” (192). Hospitality is not women’s work. Butterfield makes this clear. It’s a qualification every elder must meet (37).
A BOOK ABOUT EVANGELISM
The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a book about evangelism. In a country where the social benefits of conversion decline each day, our neighbors need a compelling reason to put their faith in Christ. This reason is found in the homes of Christians on cul-de-sacs and in apartment buildings everywhere—if only they’d let people in. “Our post-Christian neighbors need to hear and see and taste and feel authentic Christianity, hospitality spreading from every Christian home that includes neighbors in prayer, food, friendship, childcare, dog walking, and all the daily matters upon which friendships are built” (95).
Long story short, non-Christians unlikely to walk under a steeple may very well walk over your threshold, if only you’d invite them inside.
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
More than anything, Butterfield has written a personal testimony. She has witnessed the presence and the absence of hospitality. She writes of her first encounter with Christians who asked her inside, welcomed her questions and doubts, and purposefully didn’t invite her to church or even share the gospel. They gave her space to learn and inquire. They blessed her with hospitality.
But she records seasons without hospitality, too; dark moments as a child when the horror and wickedness she witnessed made her wonder if God exists, and if he cares. But she knew no neighbors who cared. She asks a past that cannot respond, “Did I have Christian neighbors? . . . Neighbors who know? Neighbors who could have helped my family?” (68)
Butterfield writes with passion because she has known loneliness in the church as well. As a pastor, I feel a sense of relief when the benediction is offered and the service come to an end. But for many, Butterfield reminds us, this is the hardest moment of the day. Far too many members of our churches get a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach when the benediction comes because, in a few minutes, they are going to be alone. It shouldn’t be that way, Butterfield insists, among God’s people. At the benediction the battle begins:
My favorite day of the week is the Lord’s Day, and I want to share that day with others. Kent and I must open our home after worship to anyone who will come. We must. We remember what it is like to be a new Christian, to be single, to have secrets that get you alone and torment you, and to have no place to go after worship, the odd tearing apart of the body of Christ as each retreats to her own corner or clique while the benediction still rings in the air. (111)
Again, when I finished chapter two, I wanted to stop reading. I feared she was going to make me feel guilty for not leading my household and my church to keep up with the daunting schedule of an extraordinary woman committed to opening her home to others. But by the end, after having cried over more than one story of hospitality’s power (which is really the power of the gospel at work in people willing to open their lives), I realized she isn’t demanding we do it the Butterfield way. She’s just pleading with elders to be elders and the church to be the church.
Butterfield asks us to consider simplifying our lives to make room for people who need to talk, even if they don’t know it yet: “There are of course, other ways you can use your days, your time, your money, and your home,” she says. “But opening up your front door and greeting neighbors with soup, bread, and the words of Jesus are the most important” (197).
I’ve been helped by other books on hospitality including The Art of Neighboring and The Simplest Way to Change the World. Both are good, but neither is as gritty as The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Together, these books make a welcome plea for Christians to bring the gospel home.