“The Gospel Comes with a House Key” (A Semi-Critical Review)

 Scripture calls disciples of Jesus to be hospitable and to show hospitality (Rom. 12:13, Titus 1:8, Heb. 13:2, etc.).  It has to do with loving others and being kind to them in the name of Christ.  Quite a few books have been written about this.  One of the newer ones is called The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.  Here are a few of my thoughts on it.

First, this is not a book that digs into detailed biblical teaching about hospitality.  It is a Christian book and there is Scripture woven into the book, but it doesn’t give a survey and explanation of what the Bible teaches about hospitality.  This isn’t a critique, it’s just an observation.  If you’re looking for a biblical-theological survey of hospitality, this book is not that.

Second, this book is a collection of stories about a Christian woman who showed hospitality to many people over the years.  You’ll read about drug addicted neighbors, sexual sin, home cooked meals, pets, parents, homeschooling, and much psalm-singing.  Some of the stories are quite fascinating! If you like amazing Christian stories about hospitality, you’ll like this book.

Third, it’s worth noting that Butterfield is a very unique woman with a very unique story, unique gifts, and a unique situation in life.  Therefore the hospitality in this book is very unique as well.  Some might read this book and think, “I’ll never be able to do that because I don’t cook/bake, I don’t home school, and I’m a total introvert who doesn’t like 27 people in my house!!”  The book could be a downer for some since the stories in it are incredible and in some ways unrepeatable. But it is worth remembering that every Christian has different gifts, different callings, different situations in life and can show hospitality in much different ways than this book shows.

Hospitality doesn’t necessarily mean a home cooked meal, nor does it mean we must invite all sorts of people into our homes.  The hospitality in this book is good and biblical, but there are quite a few others ways to be hospitable in a good and biblical manner.  Butterfield’s way is one among many!  Few of us will be able to show hospitality exactly like this book describes, but all of God’s people can show it in the way that fits their callings, gifts, and circumstances.

Fourth, I have to admit some of the jargon in this book was annoying to me.  “Radically ordinary hospitality” was a buzzword in this book.  For one thing, the hospitality in this book was not ordinary! Furthermore, what’s the difference between “hospitality” and “radically ordinary hospitality”?  Why not just say “hospitality” or “Christian hospitality”? There are also some ambiguous phrases: “God calls Christians to practice radically ordinary hospitality to renew their resolve in Christ [?] …radically ordinary hospitality paves a way for deep union with Christ.”  “Jesus bleeds real blood for all the letters of the Bible, not just the red ones.”  The writing style sometimes rubbed me the wrong way.

All in all, this is a decent book on Christian hospitality.  It’s very unique, as I said, so it might not be a good model for all of us.  There were things in the book that I didn’t agree with and things I had questions about; therefore I don’t heartily recommend the book.  But if you want to have your Christian view of hospitality stretched, get it!  Just remember,  even if the stories in this book are unique in many ways, it is true that we should be “practicing hospitality” (Rom. 12:13 NASB).

Here’s the full info for the book: Rosaria Butterfield: The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Wheaton: Crossway 2018).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015