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May 6, 2019
January 18, 2024

Book Review: Rosaria Butterfield’s "The Gospel Comes with a House Key"

“The gospel comes with a house key,” (11) begins Rosaria Butterfield in her book by the same name. She says the phrase is more of a process. By viewing one’s home as a key to sharing the gospel, strangers can become friends, and friends can become family members of God.

Butterfield explores that idea throughout The Gospel Comes with a House Key, using her life as an illustration. At the same time, she weaves in the gospel that undergirds and informs her family’s daily rhythms of hospitality. She intertwines the two on purpose, for Christian hospitality must always point to Jesus. Without that upward direction, hospitality becomes counterfeit and incapable of welcoming diverse worldviews, suffering with the brokenhearted, and inviting people to experience the healing found only in Christ.

Butterfield’s exploration of hospitality happens organically, meaning people glean principles and insights as they read the book. Some of those principles receive mention here. Butterfield’s book, however, contains many more.

Hospitality Loves People as God’s Image Bearers

Butterfield says hospitality arises from a genuine love for the stranger and neighbor. But loving people is hard, particularly when personalities, political preferences, etc. collide. Love, though, is critical. Without it, one either offers counterfeit hospitality or decides hospitality must be for more “extraordinary” Christians than they.

To prevent either outcome, Butterfield begins each day in prayer. She asks God to remind her that “each life is a gift, each life is a mystery, each life reflects God’s image, each life holds treasures indescribable” (21). Butterfield’s conviction in a person’s intrinsic value and beauty pervades the book, much like the aroma of the bread she regularly bakes and serves to guests. It wafts toward the reader, gently nudging them toward seeing people as “not primarily instrumentally useful but rather inherently valuable” (96).

Hospitality Views Host and Guest as Interchangeable Roles

Besides spending regular time in prayer, Butterfield invests in community. She understands Christian hospitality requires a group effort. In this dynamic, “hosts are not embarrassed to receive help, and guests know that their help is needed” (12).

Hosts and guests instead operate in an easy humility and vulnerability. They recognize no one can persevere with Christian hospitality on their own. They need to share the load, emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually, with one another. Butterfield says:

We are either hosts, or we are guests. The Christian life makes no room for independent agents, onlookers, renters. … We must be willing to practice hospitality as both host and guest, and we must see how the principle of both giving and receiving builds a community and glorifies God (36-37).

Hospitality Shares What There Is

Butterfield also stresses that genuine hospitality comes from believing everything she owns is a gift from God. That is, hospitality is a form of stewardship. And everyone, says Butterfield, is to be a good steward of what they have been given. She remarks, “We practice radically ordinary hospitality by bearing sacrifices of obedience that God’s people are called to offer” (12).

Butterfield knows those sacrifices may be steep for some people; however, she says a lack of hospitality rarely comes from the cost, but from a conflation of hospitality and entertainment. But the two aren’t the same thing. Butterfield says, “[Some Christians] fear that they do not have enough to give. This is a false fear that no one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that’s all. It’s not entertainment. It’s not supposed to be” (216-217).

Hospitality Makes the Home a Hospital and Incubator

Butterfield calls her home a “hospital and incubator” several times throughout The Gospel Comes with a House Key. By that she means, “Sometimes people need homes to nest in, and sometimes people need homes to launch from. Both are crucial. Both are God’s work” (97). She welcomes everyone, knowing they are “spiritually poor, crippled, blind, and broken because we have been there—and not so long ago” (209).

When she finds someone in need of care, she transforms her home and days into the treatments and incubations they need. For some people, that means feeding a cat for a couple of days. Other people need a dogsitter or a place to stay while they recover from eye surgery. Whatever the need is, if she and her community can meet it, they do. Butterfield explains:

Christian hospitality cares for the things that our neighbors care about. Esteeming others more highly than ourselves means nothing less. It means starting where you are and looking around for who needs you. It means communicating Christian love in word and deed. It means making yourself trustworthy enough to bear burdens of real life and real problems (166).

Hospitality Helps Us Share the Gospel

Ultimately, hospitality is a way for people to declare the gospel confidently, authentically, and transparently. Butterfield calls hospitality the Christian’s “street credibility with post-Christian neighbors” (40), remarking that “in post-Christian communities, your words can be only as strong as your relationships. Your best weapon is an open door, a set table, a fresh pot of coffee, and a box of Kleenex for the tears that spill” (40).

Such “weapons” embrace strangers and neighbors. They welcome people into the home and tell them they are safe, they are loved. The open door and warm meal creates a space where people can ask hard questions and share struggles. As they do, they begin to meet Jesus, the One who binds wounds, heals diseases, and forgives sin. Says Butterfield:

The Bible offers good and realistic and powerful answers, but answers fall short without the pierced hands and feet of Jesus. Ordinary hospitality is the hands and feet of Jesus, and it holds people together with letters to prison or hugs. Hospitality reaches across worldview to be the bridge of gospel grace. Jesus did not come with self-defense. He came with bread. He came with fish. So too must we (208).

Hospitality doesn’t have to be complicated or extraordinary. It only needs to be radically ordinary, fish and bread, crackers and soup. Such hospitality surrenders the food and home, trusting Jesus to bless and multiply them so that people will come to know, love, and learn from Him.

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Erin Feldman
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Austin Stone Institute
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