The Gospel Comes with a House Key

Title of Work:

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World

Author of Work:

Rosaria Butterfield


Pastor Noah Willitz

Page Number:


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It is always a delight to interact with the saints of God who did not grow up as saints. (I happen to be married to such a saint, and the daily blessings she brings to myself, my family, and my congregation are innumerable.) Christians who grew up outside of the faith have a way of exposing our blind spots. They help us to better appreciate truths that we have learned to take for granted. This is what Rosaria Butterfield has to offer to us. 

In 1997, Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University. She was living in a lesbian relationship, and she was working on a book about the hatred of the Religious Right toward people like her. As a way of researching the enemy, Rosaria accepted a dinner invitation from a local pastor. One dinner turned into many. Many dinners turned into a deep friendship. And by 1999, Rosaria Butterfield was a believer in Jesus Christ. 

In her new life as a Christian, Butterfield has worked hard to devote herself to one of the most basic of Christian virtues: hospitality. Specifically, she calls the way she lives “radically ordinary hospitality.” Radical, because from the perspective of a self-centered culture, the way Butterfield lives seems ridiculous. Ordinary, because from the perspective of Christian love, nothing that she does for others seems abnormal at all. In her own words, Butterfield defines it this way: “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (31). And later: “The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to take the hand of the stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior” (34). 

Rosaria Butterfield was uniquely prepared for a life of Christian hospitality, curiously enough, by her previous life in the LGBTQ community: 

This idea—that our houses are hospitals and incubators—was something I learned in my lesbian community in New York in the 1990s. We knew that our traditional, so-called Christian neighbors despised and distrusted us and regarded us as abominations. So we set out to be the best neighbors on the block. We gathered in our people close and daily, and we said to each other, “This house, this habitus, is a hospital and an incubator. We help each other heal, and we help ideas take root.” We duplicated many house keys and made sure everyone we loved had one. We meant what the keys implied: you have access anytime. The door is not meant to hurt you or to keep you away. (93–94) 

Having taught herself to respond to the disdain of the world around her with kindness and open doors, when Butterfield found herself living as a Christian in a world that despises Christians, she very naturally responded with similar kindness and open doors. Only this time, her hospitality was motivated by the love of Christ. She writes, 

These lessons—learned as far outside the walls of the church as possible—are instructive for Christians. We live in a post-Christian world that is sick and tired of hearing from Christians. But who could argue with mercy-driven hospitality? What a potential witness Christians have, untapped and right here at our fingertips. (94–95) 

The Gospel Comes with a House Key is Rosaria Butterfield’s encouragement to all Christians to respond to the love of Christ with radically ordinary hospitality toward others. As she digs more deeply into the various aspects of Christian hospitality, chapter by chapter, the book takes the form of a kind of memoir. It traces and reflects on her experiences around Christian hospitality. She takes us all the way back to her troubled childhood, about which she now wonders, “Did I have Christian neighbors?” (68). She shows us her patiently forged friendship with a reclusive neighbor who was later taken to prison for cooking meth in his house. (Through his friendship with Rosaria, Hank came to know his Savior, and the two still write letters.) She invites us to her atheist mother’s deathbed where hospitality was freely given, and psalms were patiently sung. She describes countless Sundays where open invitations to her home were extended to her church and her neighborhood. She talks about stressed-out grad students and recovering surgery patients being invited to move in with her family. 

Butterfield’s personal and anecdotal style makes her writing both enjoyable and compelling. When confronted with the idea of opening one’s home so freely and generously, the twenty-first-century American mind is tempted to conclude, “I can’t live that way! What about the risk? What about the financial burden?” To each objection, Butterfield provides a story that demonstrates the truth that hospitality is not only possible, but also a blessing—to guest and host alike. 

Butterfield’s Reformed Presbyterian theology shows through at times, but this in no way negates the principle of Christian hospitality. Paul’s words could not be clearer: 

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Rom 13:9–13) 

We live in a time when hospitality has become a blind spot for American Christianity. Our culture is one of selfishness and egocentrism where neighbors are ignored and doors are locked with window shades drawn. This culture has an influence on our hearts and lives. To claim otherwise would be arrogant, ignorant, and naive. With her unique background and experience, Rosaria Butterfield gives us a much-needed wake-up call. The very fact that we live in a cold and selfish culture presents a beautiful opportunity: we can be different. Christ himself invites us to love others as he loved us. By God’s grace, when we do that, something miraculous happens: “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” (208). 

This book is a worthwhile read for any pastor, any congregation, or any Christian searching for a way to reach out in love to the neighbors God has put into their lives.