Rosaria Champagne Butterfield takes readers on a spirit-led roller coaster in The Gospel Comes With a House Key—plunging us to the depths of our lowest hypocrisy, then raising us to the heights of what is possible in Christ.
Butterfield is a follower of Jesus, and ordinary, according to herself. She raises several children, some fostered or adopted at different ages, and makes loving neighbors in practical ways a part of her daily life. She homeschools, bakes communion bread for church, cooks large meals for her neighbors and family, and drops everything to help someone in need.
Her home is the fertile crescent of neighborly community.
While reading the first few chapters, after she’s brought up headship in the household and other conservative theological positions, the reader might have a certain picture of her in their imagination. Then you learn who she was before Jesus: Butterfield was an out lesbian in a relationship with a woman, set on becoming a feminist, academic, “tenured radical,” and heart-deep in the supportive LGBTQ community. So you can forget the stereotypes.
So, how did Jesus slowly, steadily, draw her to a transformative faith? Through ordinary, sustained hospitality and love from Christians (who she began by viewing as her enemies). Jesus used a regular Christian family to pull her close to the truth of himself.
The gentle, raw, knee-deep love of people around Butterfield’s family, full of compassion and unassuming, practical love will deeply challenge you. She talks about letting a graduate student live in her house for a couple of months while writing her dissertation, taking walks with the isolated “creepy” neighbor with her kids, writing letters to their previous neighbor in prison (incarcerated for cooking meth in his basement), taking care of their other neighbor’s sick cat, feeding dozens of needy people in a week, hosting block parties, talking about theology with skeptics, and more.
The gospel acts, and it lives in community. The gospel must come with a house key.
Real Christian love
The tenderness and realism of the moments and stories she relates caused me to tear up many times. She captures the essence of Christian love well. Other places that inspire me include Christ kissing the Grand Inquisitor, Francis of Assissi’s kiss and alms for lepers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s leading hymns in Nazi internment camps, and Jesus taking up the paralyzed man’s hand among others (Luke 5:17). But it can be as ordinary as giving a homeless man a bowl of soup or inviting a hurt friend over for a cup of coffee. (If you want to be challenged beyond belief in a philosophical way, read Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard).
Each of us have our own callings, equipped by Jesus to live out the faith in unique ways. We’re equipped with spiritual gifts, and our lives change from seasons to season. Butterfield talks about radical selflessness, but also the need for rest, alone time, organization, delegating to others, and being a guest ourselves. We each need to push beyond our comfort zones, wherever they are, but remember that we’re limited.
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes into play in each of our lives. Don’t let her challenge discourage or shame you, that’s the last thing she wants. Instead, let it convict you and point you back to God’s grace. Start by loving somewhere, training your love like a muscle over years of time. She doesn’t water things down, not by a long shot, but does remind us of God’s mercy when we fail.
Love is sacrificial, unassuming, personal, meets a real need, and is from a genuine heart (1 Corinthians 13).
Christian love, something I am not good at and will forever be growing in, has to include the nuts and bolts—gritty hutzpah. She does not avoid messiness. Butterfield talks about cooking, taking walks, writing, church discipline, and often speaks about her own failures and sins. All the while, she points back to Jesus.
Our Lord who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors will challenge you through Butterfield’s account.
To those wanting to live like Jesus, to those desiring to live their life with purpose, to those who are sick of pharisaical legalism, and want to dwell in grace and to work hard, read this book and be challenged. Otherwise, read it anyway and let your heart shudder with conviction.
“Practicing radically ordinary hospitality necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill — to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis.” (12)
“We believe that Christians are called to live as the family of God and to draw strangers and neighbors in, with food and a bended knee, beseeching God’s grace to pour out on those who do not yet know the Lord and to encourage and uplift and fuel those who do. We lock arms together because we must. Christians are not lone rangers. And, yes, daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient.” (34)
“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)
“Do Christian people practice Christian hospitality in regular, ordinary, consistent ways? Or do we think our homes too precious for criminals and outcasts? Our homes are not our castles. Indeed, they are not even ours. So where can you start? Start where you are.” (100)
“However, radically ordinary Christian hospitality does not happen in La La Land. It’s gritty and messy, and it forces us to deal with diversity and difference of opinion, with difficult people, with our own unrepented sin and hard hearts. It demands forgiveness before any of us is ready to cough it up.” (121)
“Atheists do far less harm than hypocrites.” (127)
“That is the nuts and bolts of it, yes? Starting with you and me and our open door and our dinner table and our house key poised for the giving. This is not complex. Radically ordinary, daily Christianity is not PhD Christianity. The gospel coming with a house key is ABC Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living. Start anywhere. But do start.” (220)