Saved by Faith and Hospitality
Saved By Faith and Hospitality is a book for our times. Xenophobia, tribalism, and consumerism contribute to the current cultural context the US church inhabits. Therefore, expressions of biblical hospitality to "the other" provide a strategic way forward missionally in a society that increasingly views the Christian church through lenses of suspicion, distaste, and ignorance. Though Joshua Jipp’s work addresses specific US cultural issues, the themes and principles of Scripture that he surveys may be applied broadly in how the global church views and interacts with strangers, particularly cross-culturally. Jipp's provocative title stresses the necessity of hospitality, which is often overlooked or misunderstood in the US church context, as a crucial expression of saving faith for all of God’s people.
Jipp, an associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, first became interested in the role of hospitality to strangers during his dissertation work after noticing that this type of hospitality permeated Luke–Acts and played a role in several other New Testament texts as well (xi). Jipp suggests that Christian hospitality to strangers in both roles (that of "host" and that of "guest") is at the heart of the Christian faith, as evidenced in God's movement toward his people when they were strangers, outcasts, and immigrants. The key role that hospitality to those outside the church plays is not tangential but central in the church's expression of faith: “Hospitality to strangers is at the core of the church's identity and mission; it is part and parcel of what we celebrate when we partake in the Eucharist; it is foundational for how members of the church relate to one another; and it provides direction for the church's mission in and to the world” (3).
Jipp defines biblical hospitality as “the act or process whereby the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of guest” (2). He states that “the primary impulse of hospitality is to create a safe and welcoming place where a stranger can be converted into a friend” (2). This definition radically re-orients the idea that biblical hospitality is something we offer only to those like us, or those who can reciprocate. Rather, Christians are to imitate Jesus, who offers indiscriminate hospitality to people of different social statuses and ethnicities. Jesus does not limit the divine welcome to specific groups of people; instead, he embraces stigmas and subverts stereotypes by offering a broad welcome to those around him.
The book’s title correctly suggests that there is a close link between hospitality and saving faith throughout Scripture. For example, “hospitality to Jesus appears to function in the Gospel [of Luke] as a sign that one has embraced the message and person of Jesus” (7). However, Jipp explicitly clarifies that the close link is not one that forms the basis for our justification. Loving the stranger is not a form of “‘works-righteousness’, as though we could accumulate merit with God by loving the stranger” (7). Rather, expressions of hospitality to strangers and “the other” serve as evidence that God’s people have been welcomed and converted from strangers into friends on the basis of God’s hospitable work of sending Christ to atone for our sin. People who have received such mercy long to extend it to others.
The book focuses on divine hospitality in the first three chapters and human hospitality in the last three. After briefly presenting God as the divine host to his people in the Old Testament, Jipp establishes the unique hospitality of Jesus, which is indiscriminate, non-reciprocal, and socially equitable, by exploring table-fellowship in Luke–Acts. God's welcome is solely dependent on his hospitable disposition toward us as expressed through his gift of saving faith, and regardless of social worth (36). Christian fellowship is the celebration of God's hospitality toward us in Christ. The church, as a stigmatized community of sinners, is called to offer welcome to the stigmatized as we have been offered divine welcome. Jipp could have expanded this chapter by listing more examples of the stigmatized to whom the church might extend a gracious welcome. “The stigmatized" could include former or current prisoners, the unemployed, single parents, individuals who have experienced divorce, those who struggle with addiction, those in low economic brackets, those struggling with same-sex attraction, racial or ethnic groups outside a local church’s majority culture, and many others.
Jipp raises the very relevant question that has been asked publicly among US evangelicals in the past two years but is fundamental in every culture: “Can churches embrace the Bible’s unity (not uniformity) of God’s people as those marked as recipients of God’s hospitality without simultaneously forcing ethnic, cultural, and/or religious minorities to assimilate into majority culture definitions of Christianity?” (50). Using examples from Paul’s New Testament writings—particularly in relation to the communion table—Jipp demonstrates that in spite of continued cultural, ethnic, status, and lesser theological differences, the fundamental identity of the church is their “shared experience of divine hospitality, namely, God’s gracious extension of welcome and friendship into his family” (53). Finally, Jipp examines the hospitality of Jesus in the Gospel of John as a model for the way the church can view its own mission: inviting others into experiencing God’s hospitality through the various practices of human hospitality. This re-frame is particularly helpful for those ministering in post-Christian cultures where the gathered church’s worship service is no longer strategic as the focal point of welcome for those outside its doors. Parallels between the nascent ancient church, which met often in homes, and current opportunities for engaging in evangelistic witness through hospitality in homes might encourage many readers.
Jipp then shifts his focus to three common barriers to biblical hospitality: tribalism, xenophobia, and greed. He demonstrates that Luke in particular seems to “make a point invoking cultural stereotypes … only in order to overturn them specifically to show the church that these are the people to whom God’s salvation has been and will be extended, and that they are not only worthy of receiving but are supremely capable of practicing and initiating friendship, hospitality, and philanthropy” (113). Regarding tribalism, Jipp notes that some of us entertain a false sense of superiority, as if we are always the benefactors, while those outside our circles are always the beneficiaries of our hospitality. He argues that the Bible indicates God’s people often extend hospitality through the role of guest. This emphasis provides a significant backdrop for the current discussion of how Christians should relate to those of other religious faiths or backgrounds. Paul’s role as guest of the pagan sailors in Acts 27 illustrates how a guest can work even within his host’s religious framework and mental logic to move his host toward Christ. Jipp does not engage in a thorough assessment of current contextualization issues, so readers should remember that careful contextualization is important when following this paradigm. Those who engage long term in “guest” style ministries among those of opposing religious belief systems will need to be thoughtful regarding how to work within those systems without compromising or confusing the gospel message.
Again, this model can encourage those of us in post-Christian cultures to take our witness and hospitality further than our own home by receiving friendship and hospitality initiatives of those around us who do not share our beliefs. Wisely, disciples of Jesus often engaged in the “guest” role in teams of two or three to provide support, fellowship, and accountability for one another as they formed new relationships in new places. Considering where there could be opportunities for natural inroads in a community for friendship, conversation, and mutual hospitality can strengthen the church’s witness in cultures where distrust of the church prevails apart from personal connections to its members. Jipp reminds us that seeking to serve marginalized, outcast, and suspect groups such as prisoners, the sick and diseased, and the economically disadvantaged has historically been the church’s practice. Churches willing to engage these groups in our society will find no lack of opportunities for Christian service and witness.
In his timely chapter on xenophobia, Jipp reminds readers that “Israel’s perpetual immigrant identity before God is a constant reminder that God’s people are dependent upon God’s hospitable welcome of them as his people” (127), and that God’s law provided safeguards and protections for vulnerable immigrants living in Israel. He examines God’s love for the stranger as expressed in his commendation of the hospitality of Abraham and Lot and his condemnation of the inhospitality of Sodom and the Israelite city of Jebus. His discussion of Ruth notes that she, as an immigrant who received haven under Israel’s immigration law, subverted the stereotype Israel would have had of a pagan Moabitess. Jipp’s exhortation to consider the immigrant from a spiritual perspective rather than merely a “political issues” lens is timely and provides impetus for the church to seek ways to serve and connect with refugees and immigrants. This is not to say that issues of illegal immigration and the volume of legal immigrants shouldn’t be considered from a political standpoint, but that the church is called to provide help and protection for vulnerable people who tend to be easily exploited.
Finally, Jipp addresses greed. Although this chapter has the most relevance for Christians living in individualistic societies, Jipp’s thought-provoking principles, again, can be applied to Christians in any culture. “Much of the seemingly sound economic advice we receive (and act on) does not operate according to divine abundance but scarcity” (147). “Our economy, in fact, is dependent upon us not ever being satisfied with what we have” (149). He states that consumer societies tend to blind us to the needs of those who are lonely, hungry, and alienated as we continue to make decisions that will ultimately benefit our own desires. Some will disagree with Jipp’s framing of our economy, perhaps, but he cuts through economic theories and jargon to reveal the human impulse at the heart of greed that prevents us from sharing what we have, and keeps others and their needs invisible to us. Jipp’s antidote applies to us all: replacing greed with acts of mercy will come when we trust God to provide for our needs out of his abundance, rather than trusting our own accumulation for our security. Where giving in ancient cultures was founded upon reciprocity and competition, Jipp argues, both Jesus and Paul advocate for a model of giving that is non-reciprocal, “where gifts are given freely and acts of mercy are performed in compassionate solidarity in the expectation of reciprocity and reward from God” (160, emphasis original).
Saved By Faith and Hospitality is a helpful retrieval of hospitality that is truly biblical. In addition, it is well worth reading for its relevance to current issues in US culture as well as its exposure of barriers in the human heart that exist in many cross-cultural scenarios.