The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of LifeWritten by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements Reviewed By Jessica Udall
It is a slippery slope. When we are tired from work or school, we want to recharge. So, we start looking forward to getting home for some me-time, shutting the door tightly behind us. Gradually, solitude (or perhaps spending time only with our immediate family or housemates) becomes our default. Me-time becomes our habit. And this lone-ranger routine robs us of taking part in the mission of God.
Pastors Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements are concerned that “the way a typical Christian thinks about their home isn’t all that different from how a typical non-Christian thinks: It’s the place I eat, sleep, relax, and entertain myself—by myself” (p. 18, emphasis original). They lament that a “divorce” between what we do for the purposes of missions and what we do in our own homes causes us to miss a tremendous opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. To combat this false dichotomy, they boldly and biblically assert that “joining God’s mission can be as straight-forward as opening your door and inviting others inside” (p. 20). The authors strike a positive tone that makes these critical evaluations read like a heart-to-heart conversation, full of encouraging stories and practical can-do applications, not a finger-wagging diatribe. The resounding theme of the book is also the title of chapter 1: “small things can change the world” (p. 17).
Chapter 2 incisively identifies the “invisible cultural currents” that “shape our view of home in ways we don’t even realize” (p. 30). The authors unpack isolation, relaxation, entertainment, and busyness as things that hinder American Christians from engaging in hospitality. They pull no punches when they conclude: “You’ll have to learn to think of your home primarily from a Christian perspective and let that mindset uproot the ways your culture has taught you to view your home” (p. 35). Chapters 3–4 look at hospitality from a biblical perspective, bookending the discussion with “God making a home” in Eden and then in heaven for his people (p. 40). God’s actions are consistent with his character throughout Scripture as “a gracious host, constantly welcoming in wayward sinners” (p. 41). Hospitality is nothing less, they contend, than “putting human flesh on this gospel story” (p. 41).
Chapter 5 powerfully argues that hospitality is crucial in mission efforts today because of the loneliness in our society that leaves people “longing for a depth of relationship” (p. 55). Furthermore, the post-Christian nature of our society makes it necessary for Christians to “exhibit the gospel” even to those who would not darken the door of a church but would be happy to walk through our doors (p. 55). Chapter 6 provides bracing perspective and clarity on why hospitality is urgently necessary: by “opening your door,” you are “turning your home into a wartime hospital where the spiritually hurting can get the hope and care they need” (p. 67).
Chapter 7 and the following chapters dive into helpful practicalities, like putting common excuses to rest, budgeting and planning for success, and teaming up with others in order to meet new people and deepen friendships. The authors include many ideas for get-togethers to spark the reader’s imagination. They urge Christians to consider how hospitality could play a role in obeying biblical commands to care for widows and orphans, to love and welcome immigrants, and to provide for those who are in need. Things to do and not to do when seeking to share the gospel are also helpfully shared, such as asking good questions and sharing stories of hope and good news. The final chapter is a clarion call to “use our homes to be micro representations of that final banquet table,” becoming “relentlessly warm and welcoming because we’ve been relentlessly welcomed in Christ” (p. 145). End-of-chapter personal application questions and a robust six-week group at the back of the book guide willing readers in putting the principles they read about into practice.
This book shines in its authenticity. Willis and Clements openly share both their successes and their blunders to illustrate the messy beauty of learning to be hospitable in a culture where it is not the norm. They are candid about their own struggles with introversion and busyness. The authors do not shy away from recounting times where they got in over their heads, were overwhelmed, and then often amazed at what God orchestrated next. Through their raw honesty, they invite others not into a rosy fantasy of picture-perfect entertaining, but into the rugged yet beautiful often-unexplored terrain of Spirit-led openness of heart and home.
One aspect of the authors’ authenticity that unintentionally detracted from their message was their use of military language to speak of hospitality. The idea of believers’ homes being used as “weapons of the gospel” came up several times as one of the reverberating themes of the book. While using martial imagery is not unheard of in Scripture, it is not used in the context of interactions with other people but rather in the context of loyalty to God as a commanding officer (2 Tim 2:3–4) or standing against Satan’s works (Eph 6:10–18). Since an Ancient Near Eastern understanding of hospitality quite literally extended to one’s enemies, this would imply the putting aside of weapons. Accordingly, the book would be stronger if it had employed more hospitable language when discussing hospitality.
Nevertheless, this book is a solid contribution in a growing body of work addressing the need for Americans Christians to reclaim hospitality as part of the practice of their faith. Timely, contextual, and practical, it belongs on the shelves of all who wish to open their doors wider in faith that “thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2).
Columbia International University
Columbia, South Carolina, USA
Other Articles in this Issue
Trinity, Creation, and Re-creation: A Comparison of Karl Barth and Herman Bavinck’s Trinitarian Doctrines of Creationby Jarred Jung
Karl Barth’s doctrine of creation, while rooted in his doctrine of the Trinity, errs in the way that creation is conflated into re-creation, resulting in a diminished doctrine of creation at the expense of his christological Trinitarianism...