Rosaria Butterfield Book Review
Rosaria Butterfield is an ordinary—but in many ways highly unusual—Christian woman, wife, mother, homemaker, author, thinker, community builder, neighbor, lover of people. The life she led—and who she was before she became “a new creation”—was a kind of boot camp created by God to train her for the life ministry He had in store for her as a disciple of and believer in Jesus Christ. Christians in the early years of God’s building His church would probably have thought, “Of course this is the way believers live.” This book attempts in many ways to reclaim that vision. In these pages, Rosaria calls all believers to begin thinking about hospitality and relationships—both within and outside of the church family—in a new (but old), biblically centered way. The Gospel includes hospitality and involvement—detachment and an “easy life” are not part of it!
This is not an exhaustive book review. In fact, I have not yet completed the book, as it will take some time to read, meditate, and understand what God is saying to our household in these pages. But I know that the Holy Spirit is using what I have read to this point to stir things up and open my eyes to a new way of seeing things. Here are my thoughts and observations thus far.
In the preface, the author defines what “radically ordinary hospitality” is, which sets the framework for what follows. I confess that as I began to read through this section, I found myself becoming more and more exhausted as I considered what she was saying, proposing, calling the family of God to do.
- "Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom."
- "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. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share, because we intentionally live below our means."
- "Radically ordinary hospitality gives evidence of faith in Jesus’s power to save. It doesn’t get dug in over politics or culture or where someone stands on current events."
Closely held feelings of my right to privacy, to time off, to other interests, to determining the scope of my “cross-bearing,” to introverted-ness, to church-mainly-on-Sunday, all came under threat. Surely not something like this, Lord.
Toward the end of the preface, Rosaria states, “In the pages that follow, you are invited into my home, into my childhood, into my Bible reading, into my repentance, and into my homeschool schedules, shopping lists, simple meals, and daily, messy table fellowship. You will meet my family, my parents, my children, my neighbors, my enemies, and my friends.”
Ten individual chapters, a conclusion, acknowledgements, notes, recommended reading, and index follow afterward to deliver on that promise. While all that I have read so far is very worthwhile, I was really impacted by portions of Chapter 5, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key.” For instance, when their home was burglarized, the following truth became meaningful as their family worked through loss, fear, pain, and hope:
- "In my world, the fine china and the crocheted doilies are in boxes in the attic, swapped for sensible cotton and Corelle on most days, and sturdy Wedgwood plates and bowls paired with mismatched and flashy Fiesta-knockoff, ceramic glasses on others. My hospitality is practical, un-fussy, and constant. Sometimes I play the posture of host, obeying God’s commands, and sometimes I am in the role of guest, receiving nourishment and care. But we are always one or the other—we are either hosts, or we are guests. The Christian life makes no room for independent agents, onlookers, renters. We who are washed in the blood of Christ are stake holders."
I have also been impacted by Chapter 6, “Judas in the Church,” because it discusses the topics of sexual sin, church discipline, and the resulting impact on their church: brokenness, loss, and heartache for those who stray and are lost.
As we read this book, however, we have to remember that God has called and equipped the Butterfields to a special ministry within their church and to the community around them. Not all of us have the same assignment from God to do what they do—although some could and should. The devil would like for us to read this and feel guilty and inadequate, or to write it off as something unattainable or “for someone else to do; it’s not my calling.” I would say that we should read this book and be encouraged to allow God to stretch us and to multiply our resources to go beyond what we envision as the Christian life. I finish this brief review with a portion of the author’s last paragraph in the preface:
- “My prayer is that this book will help you let God use your home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family. Because this is the point—building the church and living like a family, the family of God. My prayer is that you would stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous. My prayer is that you will grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality and that the Lord will bless you richly for it, adding to his kingdom, creating a new culture and a new reputation for what it means to be a Christian to the watching world."
Were that to happen, surely that would be a really good thing and bring glory to Christ.
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-2 ESV).