Review of “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

Do I “…see strangers as neighbors and neighbors as family of God“?

Do I “…recoil at reducing a person to a category or a label“?

Do I “…see God’s image reflected in the eyes of every human being on earth“?

Do I know that I am “…like meth addicts and sex-trade workers…,” …taking my “…own sin seriously – including the sin of selfishness and pride“?

Once I’m done asking myself these jack-hammer questions, I can move on to the second paragraph in the preface to Rosaria Butterfield’s most recent book The Gospel Comes with a a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.  Whew.  But for a person that’s being honest with their heart’s default mode and their daily practices, that’s about the pace of the book from launch to landing.

In a sense, Dr. Butterfield’s book is a little like Aslan, good but not safe.  But that’s kind of her point.  If a life motivated by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is safe and comfortable, then it is a life unfamiliar, in some very practical ways, with the God who entered the un-safe-ness of life under the sun in order to love and rescue the unwashed and the unworthy.  So in her very narratival fashion, Dr. Butterfield walks her readers along the smooth and jagged edges of what it looks like to regularly open one’s home to neighbors, dogs (hers and the neighbors’), strangers, church members, grad students, at least one black snake, and a seemingly constant stream of children (the source of the aforementioned reptile).  She draws the reader along with story after story of how regularly having people in the home opens up an expectation that no topic is off-limits.  As she says, “We were – as we almost always are around here – a politically mixed group.  Unbelieving neighbors and church members all together (p.120).”  But this is all what we might expect if the people seated around our dinner tables reflected our neighborhood as often as it it did our hand-picked group of friends.  As she says a little earlier, “The gospel creates community that welcomes others in… It isn’t always easy.  It begins with recognizing people as your kin (p.86).”

Dr. Butterfield’s book excels in amazing ways at setting a vision for radically, ordinary hospitality and its transformative power for our post-Christian culture.  Her closing list of “Imagine a world where…” is pure gold and worth typing up and putting on the refrigerator or bathroom mirrorWhile she does get down to the practical and the nitty-gritty of what it looks like to practice radically ordinary hospitality (see her “The Nuts and Bolts and Beans and Rice” in the concluding chapter), this reviewer’s fear is that this vision of hospitality is so far from where most people live right now that folks won’t know where to start and, in turn, fail to do so.  We all know that feeling well.  You get up on Saturday morning determined to clean out the cluttered garage only to raise the door, see the mountain of undifferentiated stuff that has to be tackled, and then close the door in favor doing some other task your familiar with.  So if I had to recommend a starting place, I would simply offer Dr. Butterfield’s wise words from her conclusion:

In married households it is vital that both husband and wife share a calling for hospitality and work together to establish a budget for time and food and people.  Wives, let your husbands lead. Husbands, be sensitive to your wife’s energy level… the pace is set by the one who feels the most frail… [Hospitality] should make us stronger in Christ.  If hospitality becomes a point of contention, something is wrong.  Stop and reevaluate.  Pray.  Map out goals and values.  Be a team.

Of course the ministry of hospitality isn’t simply practiced by married couples (something Dr. Butterfield says as well), nor will it look the same for all households.  For instance, I have a single friend whose hospitality ministry looks like foster-parenting two children taken from a home due to the current opiate epidemic.  I have another set of friends who are hosting an international exchange student; another set of friends who gave a lady a home during a period of time when her marriage was crumbling; and another set of friends who are slowly working their way through the church membership rolls and inviting a different family over each Lord’s Day.  At the end of the day, Dr. Butterfield’s vision for practicing radically ordinary hospitality is as bold and bracing as it is alluring and refreshing.  If Christ’s redeemed people began practicing and coordinating this kind of hospitality, then walls would crumble as our doors opened, and we would be able to “…put the hand of the hurting into the hand of the Savior (p.207).”

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Mass Shootings and Bad Disciples

In the wake the recent mass shooting, I find myself silently judging all the jeremiads hammered out on keyboards and then slung out into the middle of the information superhighway.  This silent judgment is then swiftly followed by my own internal chastisement, “Oh yeah, Mr. Judgy-Judge McJudge-Pants?  And how are you contributing to a solution, sitting there sipping your re-heated coffee in the comforts of your first-world surroundings?”  And I think of all the suggestions people of both high and low positions have made and they all seem somewhat reasonable but ultimately not satisfying for a variety of reasons.

No more AR-15’sPeriod.

Better mental health screenings for gun-purchasers.”

Get the right judges on SCOTUS.”

Since all mass shooters are male, no more guns for male civilians.”

Ok… I made up that last one.  But a couple days have gone by and I think I have an action item we could all implement.  Pray for God to put bad disciples in your life.  Like one of my seminary profs said, “We all want good disciples.  We all want someone who hangs on all of our words and immediately puts our advice into practice.  We all love someone who thinks we are right about almost everything and tries to convince others that we are right.  But no one wants someone who listens to our advice and pretty much does the opposite.”  Boy oh boy, he was right.  I don’t want a disciple who bores me with inane babble about stuff that only three people in the world care about.  I don’t want someone as a disciple who ignores my advice, is lazy, is stubbornly foolish, who chews with their mouth open, or has bad body odor.outcast-katelynn-johnston

But if I only pursue the good disciples, it’s more about my comfort and my satisfaction, not love for my fellow human.  But if we learn to love bad disciples, then we might have to sacrifice something that we would get no return on.  Learning to love bad disciples might require us to change.  Learning to love bad disciples might help us know the mind of Christ better.

Maybe learning to love a bad disciple is how we get upstream with the next mass-shooter and save the next 17 victims.  Maybe it isn’t.  But getting credit for changing a life and preventing a future mass shooting isn’t the point either.  There will be no metrics attached to this action-item that some statistician somewhere can track.  No political body could ever point to something on the books and take credit for it.  This kind of action won’t make it into your newsfeed on Facebook.  But it’s what’s best for the outcast who feels alone.  It’s what’s best for the family who doesn’t know what to do with their brooding child.  It’s what is best for our communities where all sorts of people feel alienated with no real friends.

So let’s learn to pursue that awkward high-schooler we notice at church.  Ask them to lunch on a regular basis.  Ask that 18 year-old sitting by themselves on their phone if they could come over to help you change the oil in your car or help you rake your leaves.  Ask them questions and listen.  Wade through the awkward silences.  Endure the extensive talk about the latest thing they’re into.  Resist the urge to correct them right out of the gate.  Our first job is to listen and know them.  Pray for them (and their parent(s)!).  At the end of the day, we might not make a long-term friend or get much gratitude for our time and effort, but we will become an embodiment of our Lord who “…sets the lonely in families…” (Ps. 68.6).

 

Princeton, why am I not surprised?

In another blaring case of an institution speaking out of both sides of the mouth, Princeton Theological Seminary declared that it would rescind its offer to Rev. Tim Keller of the Kuyper award for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness as well as affirmed its commitment to “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.”  Evidently, Rev. Keller’s good status as a minister in a denomination  that doesn’t permit the ordination of women or LGBT individuals is a step too far for the “diversity” of their community.  Or, if Orwell’s animals were describing the situation here, they might say that, though everyone in the Reformed community is equal, Keller’s views make him not quite as equal as those at PTS.  Thankfully, Keller is evidently a classy enough guy to accept their invitation to come and speak regardless of the snub.

But the irony here just keeps right on coming.

kuyper-keller

The award that PTS has rescinded for Keller is named after Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch statesman and theologian from the late 19th-early 20th century, known as one of the earlier voices that began speaking into a North American context about the concept of a worldview (from the German Weltanschauung).  In other words, Kuyper helped American Christians begin to think of biblical truth as applicable to all areas of life (e.g. industry, art, science, etc.) and not just as it relates to the church, salvation, and the hereafter.  Here’s the ironic part.  Kuyper delivered a series of lectures at PTS in 1898 in which he issued some warnings to the American theological community about what he called “Modernism”, a distinctive of which Kuyper said “denies and abolishes every difference, [and] cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.” (Lectures on Calvinism (1943), 27)  So Kuyper, for whom the award is named, would have decried the demolition of distinctions that is today’s zeit geist, and Keller, in apparent agreement with Kuyper, is denied the award by the institution for reasons that Kuyper warned it about 120 years ago.

If that wasn’t rich enough, I discovered through my highly sophisticated research on the interwebs that Keller wouldn’t have been the first “holy man” to receive the Kuyper award who belonged to a religious order that doesn’t ordain women.  In 2010, PTS awarded it to Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, an Orthodox Jewish movement that “…has yet to officially accept women in its rabbinate…” (see context here).   But we Americans have short memories, tender toes, and institutions like PTS apparently determine their standards by licking a finger and holding aloft to see the direction the winds of cultural change are blowing.  So I guess the moral of this story for all who seek honor in the hoary halls of PTS is, you better not be a conservative Protestant.

Sorry Keller.  I hope your speech is at least well-received.

 

C.S. Lewis on Fake News

You’re probably thinking, “C.S Lewis on fake news?!  Uhhh… wasn’t he dead long before this whole fake news trend started?”  Well… yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that it wasn’t called fake news in his day.  But, no, in the sense that misrepresentations of current events in order to shape or alter public discourse/opinion (e.g. yellow journalism, etc.) has been going on for a good long while.  Only our chronological snobbery (also a CS Lewis-ism) would allow us to think that fake news is a postmodern American problem.  So I commend this reading (and illustration!) of Lewis’s take on how we can be done with wicked journalists.  An added bonus in this video is this: Lewis shares some very clear-headed thinking on a subject that many in our knee-jerk culture struggle to grasp, namely that it is possible to make a moral judgment on someone’s actions or words without necessarily falling prey to the charge of “self-righteous”.