Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Reviewed by: Rebecca Sodergren
The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Crossway, 2018. Hardcover, 240 pages, $16.84 (Amazon). Reviewed by OPC member Rebecca Sodergren.
This book challenges Christians to practice “radically ordinary hospitality.” What is that?
It’s “using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (40). It’s making “sacrifices that hurt so that others can be served and maybe even saved. We are called to die. Nothing less” (42).
Mingling theology and practical teaching with stories from her family’s daily life, Butterfield shows how her home has become a place where neighbors with diverse viewpoints can meet together, where those who are struggling can find refuge, where needs are met so that others may see the love of Jesus. But it’s not always pretty.
The central narrative is the story of Hank, the reclusive neighbor who bit by bit opens up to Butterfield and her children as they walk their dogs together. When Hank and his girlfriend, Aimee, are arrested and imprisoned for running a meth lab, neighbors begin looking askance at the Butterfields: How could they be friends with such unsavory characters?
The Butterfields do what they always do: call a potluck. Neighbors come to vent their anger, share their fear, process the distress together. The Butterfields also write to Hank and Aimee, who come to Jesus in desperation and neediness.
There’s a lot of desperation in this book. “Radically ordinary hospitality” isn’t just inviting people over for dinner. It’s making time for people at their neediest: when their cat is dying, when grad school stresses them almost to collapse, when they’re temporarily blind after eye surgery, and even when they’re on their deathbeds.
Butterfield’s mother’s mental health issues had wracked their relationship, yet Butterfield saw her mother come to faith during her final days. But even this required a sort of “hospitality”: Butterfield had to make the time to move into the hospice center 24/7 to live with her mother, sing psalms to her, and make herself available as her mother processed her own dying.
“Radically ordinary hospitality” comes at a cost. One must make time for people, and that means not having as much time for other things, like moneymaking and solitude. It means loving people who criticize you even while they drink up the last of your coffee. It means not regarding your home as your fortress. It means denying yourself and taking up your cross.
This book is beautiful because Butterfield knows how to tell a story. She knits us to Hank, and to the troubled teens her family adopts, and to Butterfield’s stepfather, who also comes to know Jesus in his final days. She depicts the striking contrast between the chaos of her upbringing amid alcohol and mental illness, when no Christian neighbors helped, and the loveliness of her own home, where Christ meets the needs of many.
But I suspect the author would agree: No amount of beautiful writing will be worthwhile unless it makes us change. This book is a plea to the church. We must make radically ordinary hospitality a way of life, one daily decision at a time.
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