Monday, January 07, 2019

The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield

I've been putting off a review of The Gospel Comes With a House Key for awhile because I read it along with ladies from my church who were meeting regularly to discuss it. Due to family colds and conflicts in schedule it never came about that I could join in! Talk about bummed! This is one of my favorite topics to discuss (for real!) and I really wanted to know what the other ladies in my community thought of this one but, alas, I missed the boat. There were a few random snatches of conversation but in large part I missed hearing the in depth thoughts of others. A part of me fears now that my review is going to be a bit lopsided because I didn't get the chance to really, really hash out my own opinions verbally. I want to offer the disclaimer here that I'm writing this without much discussion and if you want to disagree with me I'm okay with you doing so. You have my permission. If you needed it. I can be nice that way.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key is the latest book on the scene from Rosaria Butterfield. I, like so many others, read and very much enjoyed her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (linked to my review). In fact, before proceeding in the writing of my review of this her second book, I re-read my review  of Secret Thoughts to see what I thought of Butterfield then. Her first book had enormous impact on me as a reader. It was riveting, inspiring and convicting. In that book she touches on the topic of the need for Christians to serve the world and she did so in a balanced, fair and genuinely concerned manner. The Gospel Comes with a House Key is an expansion of her thoughts about what hospitality from Christians to non-Christians could look like.

One thing that I feel very passionately about is the calling of all Christians to practice hospitality. I'm a firm believer in the importance of a continued, faithful practice of inviting others into your homes and lives. If you remove the practice of hospitality from a Christian community (or any community really, but for the purposes of this review I'm going to refer strictly to Christians) then you are assigning its members to death. I do not believe that God allows or requires that any one person live their life in some sort of solitary confinement away from a Body of Believers. I think that any person who would like to believe that they do not need others is lying to themselves in a bold and harmful manner. Life is not easy and we are each are constantly surrounded by temptations to sin. If we are not surrounded by faithful people then we are more likely to cave to the pressures of society and life in general and have a greater likelihood of falling into sinful behavior as a result.

Be honest, sinning always feels easier than doing the right and holy thing. At least at first. Sooner or later your sin will eat you alive but for awhile it will feel like the best thing there is. 

A Christian who is surrounded by a faithful cloud of witnesses is much less likely - or even able - to fall into sin. If they do give in to a moment of worldly pleasure and their fellow brother and sister notice, it is highly likely that they will be pulled out of their confusion and set back to rights in quicker fashion. We need people to come alongside us and to encourage us to do right and pursue Christ above all else. In order for one person to be able to do that for another then they must know them, really know them. To be in fellowship and to practice hospitality with one another you really need to know the heart of someone. You need to know their struggles, their aches and their pains because if you know those things then you actually stand a chance at helping them avoid the pitfalls which Satan has surrounded them with! To know those things takes time; it takes a willingness to invite them in to your life.

Butterfield's primary focus in The Gospel Comes With a House Key is to piggy back on her last book and explain how she and her husband, Kent, practice hospitality to non-Christians. She has several reasons for focusing on this particular aspect and angle of hospitality, chief being that she was drawn to the saving grace of Jesus Christ through someone's Christian hospitality which was a witness to her soul. Her's is really a beautiful story and I have no doubt she feels quite passionately that Christians today need to quit "playing safe" with their fellowship but invite the unbelievers in so that they, too, can know Jesus. Admirable? Yes. Do I object? No. Not in the least. It is a good and right thing she suggests and if you need the motivation to do these things, by all means pick up this book. Her passion for the subject is genuine and beautiful. We need Rosaria Butterfields in this world today to encourage us to think outside of our own little boxes!

That all said, it ended up that I did not like this book and it's not for any of the above mentioned topics of conversation. Rather, I disliked it because of the way that Rosaria handled the topic of Christians within her own church body with whom she found herself in conflict with. Now, Butterfield's husband is a pastor and they are leaders of a congregation on the East Coast. They've apparently had some struggles as a church and some of their members (including those in leadership!) did some very, very wrong and sinful things. Things that split the church. She mentions this in The Gospel Comes with a House Key and, to some extent, I could understand why she was including this information. Their sins were public so it wasn't like she was exposing things that she ought to have kept hidden. Her point in raising their church struggles was to bring attention to the fact that even the sinners within their body of believers needed hospitality. True point and well taken! My distaste for the book came in the dragging out of this point.

To build her case about practicing hospitality to the "sinner in the midst", she mentions that certain people within their congregation decided to leave the church "instead of" practicing hospitality to these public sinners. This apparently and very clearly did not sit well with Butterfield and she outs them in this book. (No, she doesn't name them, but she very pointedly discusses her opinion about the attitude which she believes she perceives in them.) Given that Rosaria is a public figure and given that she's put her home church on the map, so to speak, I feel like her talking about this church split was bad form. She's a pastors wife who writes books and speaks publicly. I was left with the distinct impression that if you disagree with her and happen to attend her church, you run a risk of being publicly denounced for your perceived misbehavior, instead of perhaps more privately and graciously dealt with or understood. Do I think her former parishioners are going to be feeling very graciously when they understand what she has published about them? Did she take what was a private matter and make it very public with good purpose, justifying the inclusion of this particular story in her book? I would say no. I would be forced to disagree with her plan of action by taking her argument against her former friends to a publisher and letting us all hear about their church problems which she was very clearly unhappy about. This is very bad form in my opinion and it ultimately left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It's regrettable that she felt the need to wield her pen as if a sword in this manner and it cost her some of my respect.

Back to the point of all of this though. Do I think that practicing hospitality is of great importance? I could not possibly find it more important. To know and to be known by others, to belong and to be loved is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to one another. We recently moved to a new town and there is something tremendous that happens internally when a person that you don't know at all comes to you and says, "Come into my home, I want to know you!" It gives you a warm feeling to the depths of your soul. To be asked to join in is a gift that I cannot quite describe. Asking a Christian into your home is to affirm to them that they have a place among you and that is overwhelming to the recipient. Asking a non-believer into your life is a way to invite them to also know the hope that is in you. That is a far more valuable an act that we are likely to understand in this lifetime unless we've been the unbeliever, which Butterfield has been. She understands the importance and so she has a fiery passion for the topic which is good. I do not object to her passion on this topic, but welcome it. I merely request that her passion be delivered with a dollop of grace towards her fellow believers and this was something which I felt was sadly lacking over the course of this read (particularly in the matter of her home church split).

In the end, I feel like her first book is far more impacting than this second. Obviously there are a lot of people who really loved this book and my opinion is that it's good but there are better books on the topic of hospitality. Here are some I would recommend:


Barbara H. said...

I loved her first book. And I very much agree about the need for hospitality, both to fellow Christians and non-Christians. But I was put off when I saw an article by her on this topic in which she said we should have people in our home at our table *every* night. I don't think that's entirely necessary unless the Lord so leads. There are times it's perfectly fine - even necessary - to have just a family dinner, to minister to those who live under our roof.

I'm sorry to hear about the discussion concerning her own church.

Joy Goheen said...

I knew I had recognized the author of this book, as I had listened to her testimony online and was greatly impacted by it. I have wanted to read this, because *yes* hospitality/fellowship - so important to Christian family. I myself have been craving fellowship since having moved. You must know what this feels like? Anyway, thanks for the detailed review, I may or may not read but will probably read her first book!

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