Interview: Rosaria Butterfield: Christian Hospitality Is Radically Different from ‘Southern Hospitality’

It has nothing to do with entertainment—and everything to do with addressing the crisis of unbelief.

Before Rosaria Butterfield became a popular Christian author, she was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, a lesbian feminist fighting to advance the cause of LGBTQ equality, and an unlikely convert. In 1999, her life intersected with the gospel of Jesus Christ through a friend’s radically ordinary hospitality. From hating Christians to becoming one, the transformation took place slowly and outside a church pew when the church came to her. In Butterfield’s newest book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World, she articulates a gospel-minded hospitality that’s focused not on teacups and doilies, but on missional evangelism. Writer Lindsey Carlson spoke with Butterfield about opening hearts and front doors to our neighbors.

You advocate a kind of hospitality that steers clear of teacups and doilies. How does radically ordinary hospitality differ from what most people think of as “Southern hospitality?”

First of all, it is not entertainment. Hospitality is about meeting the stranger and welcoming that stranger to become a neighbor—and then knowing that neighbor well enough that, if by God’s power he allows for this, that neighbor becomes part of the family of God through repentance and belief. It has absolutely nothing to do with entertainment.

Entertainment is about impressing people and keeping them at arm’s length. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and your home, just as you are, and being willing to invite Jesus into the conversation, not to stop the conversation but to deepen it.

Hospitality is fundamentally an act of missional evangelism. And I wouldn’t know what to do with a doily if you gave …

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5,000 Pastors Rally to Defend Housing Tax Break Ruled Unconstitutional

Appeal: Exemptions do more than just save pastors $800 million a year.

When a pastor responds to late-night prayer request or invites congregants to his home for Bible study, is he just doing his job or going beyond the call of duty?

That’s not a question for the federal government to decide, according to the Chicago-area pastors and churches appealing a 2017 ruling that declared tax breaks for clergy housing costs to be unconstitutional.

The lawsuit over the longstanding benefit, launched by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) seven years ago, has entered another round of appeals. The Christian defendants, represented by Becket, filed their written appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals late last week.

Last October, the lower court judge sided (for the second time) with the atheist group’s claim that the tax-exemption for housing allowances violates the First Amendment. The pastors’ appeal makes the opposite case: that the special provisions for ministers actually keep the government from unnecessarily meddling in religious affairs.

More than 5,000 pastors from across the country have already signed on to an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) campaign defending the exemption. The legal team expects several Christian groups, including ADF, to file supporting documentation—amicus briefs—this week, the next step before the case goes to court later this year. (Pastors have until the end of the day on Monday to sign on to the ADF brief at ministerhousing.org.)

“The district court’s decision would … have devastating practical effects on ministers and communities across the country,” reads the opening brief from Becket, a legal team defending religious freedom cases. “For over a century, churches and ministers have relied on these …

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The Moral of Moral Failings of Christian Leaders

The character of Christian leaders is in question. We need to ask why and work for change.

The past few months (and if we are honest, the past few years) have been hard for Christians, and evangelicals in particular. I’ve felt it myself as I’ve had to deal with some good friends confess to failures, and the aftermath that has occurred in their wake.

It’s certainly been much harder on those directly hurt, but it’s impacted many of us.

My love for Christ and his church, and the calling he has given all of us—not just leaders—to represent him well and live lives of integrity has pushed me into places of grief as of late.

When Donna and I were in California in March, we had lunch with Rick and Kay Warren after church. We talked about a Saddleback conference from 2010 where Rick, Kay, and I spoke. Since that conference, about half of the speakers have stepped down from the churches they were serving due to some personal issue.

Half—in eight years.

That’s not right, but it is real.

And, it requires some self-reflection.

Secrets Come Out

One of my best friends recently resigned due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” He’s still my friend, but before we were friends in ministry, and now we are friends in lament.

One is too many, but there have been far too many moral failures in a world where Christians often claim to be guardians of morality.

Sometimes it’s been more than a moral failure. Sometimes it is an abusive situation, as I’ve written about often. And, it is there where the church needs to stand with the victims—and we have seen that all too often they do not.

Yet, Luke 8:17 of the New Living Translation says this: “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought …

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Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels

“We are sorry,” elder board says as more women claim misconduct.

Last night, Willow Creek Community Church made a promise to its members following the early departure of its founder and senior pastor, Bill Hybels.

“Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of [Willow] is not done,” the church’s board of elders told members in a Friday evening letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning.”

Last week, Hybels retired six months early after 40 years as leader of Willow Creek, calling recent allegations against him a distraction for the megachurch and its ministries. Hybels denied any wrongdoing. He did admit regretting that he first responded to the allegations with anger.

Yesterday, the elders similarly expressed regret in the way the church handled the allegations.

“We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding,” they wrote. “We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”

Likewise, the elders said they would work on “strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders.”

“Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid,” the elders wrote. “We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”

The elders also said they wished they had worked harder “to collaborate with all parties,” and promised to “methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices …

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Why God Still Works Through Fools Like Samson

The deeply flawed Old Testament “hero” was set apart for a very specific purpose.

Growing up in church as a scrawny kid, I was captured by stories of David slaying Goliath, Gideon defeating the Midianites, and especially Samson taking out 1,000 Philistines practically barehanded. While I loved the daring of those figures, I was also taught to be careful about the temptations of great champions: David’s moral failure and desperate attempts to cover it up, Gideon’s late-in-life slip into creating an idol and snare for his family, and the dramatic and colorful life of Samson and his sensational self-destruction.

All of these stories served as lessons to us that great strength demands responsibility, and there is danger of misusing those gifts. The consecrated life demands constant self-examination and moral integrity.

When I re-read the account of Samson recently, in Judges 13–16, I was looking for that lesson I had been taught as a young man. But it wasn’t there. Instead, what I discovered was a new way of looking at what it might mean to live a consecrated—but empty—life.

Can a fool with no redeeming qualities still be consecrated? The conclusion I came to after re-reading the tale of Samson surprised me.

The hero Israel deserved

Samson was a miracle child announced by the angel to his mother and father—like Samuel, John the Baptist, or Jesus—so it’s easy to expect great things from the beginning. Why else would there be so much preparation for his arrival? Fully a quarter of his entire story is spent on the buildup to his birth, so it makes sense to assume after his miraculous birth announcement that he will have a life and calling to match. Anxious to believe he will be the one to deliver the people from their oppression and rebellion against God, we soon …

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‘Little Girls Need Their Daddy’

Billy Graham’s children are thankful for their father; they just wish he’d been around more.

When Franklin Graham was five, his famous father was in Australia for six months preaching at a Billy Graham Crusade. Like many youngsters, “I’d wake up in the morning, go down the hall and crawl into bed with Mama,” Franklin says. “Well, one day I went in and Daddy had come home. So here he was, this man in her bed. I asked Mama, ‘Who’s that?’”

Billy’s children say that his frequent extended absences marked them, but so did his unconditional love. While he sometimes chose ministry over family, they also knew that he loved them deeply and unconditionally.

The Graham children have both struggled and triumphed. Three out of the five have been divorced; both boys openly rebelled. All of them wrestled with simply being the offspring of the 20th century’s most famous evangelist.

Today, the Graham children are all engaged in full-time ministry, but more importantly, they respect and honor their parents. As adults, they look back on their peculiar childhood through the lens of grace.

The eldest, Gigi Graham Foreman, has written seven books and is a sought-after speaker. Anne Graham Lotz runs AnGeL Ministries, which hosts Bible teaching revivals and conferences both here and abroad, and has authored numerous books. Ruth “Bunny” Graham leads Ruth Graham and Friends, a ministry to help hurting people within the church, and also writes and speaks extensively. Franklin Graham is CEO and president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, a compassion and relief organization. Ned Graham, the youngest, has been a pastor and now runs East Gates, an organization that works to print and distribute Bibles in China (where their mother, Ruth Bell …

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In the Face of Moral Crisis, Churches Can’t Choose ‘Neutrality’

How Civil War–era churches that avoided taking sides on slavery ended up siding with its supporters.

In antebellum and Civil War–era America, churches and denominations along the border between North and South voiced what would have been considered “moderate” opinions on slavery. But as April Holm shows in A Kingdom Divided, neutrality was attractive but never really neutral. It was a political choice like any other. Border-region evangelicals were not proslavery ideologues; neither were they abolitionists. Mostly, they believed churches should focus on “spiritual” matters and avoid weighing in on controversial political debates.

Slavery, however, was an all-encompassing system—the central fact of politics, economics, and culture, especially for white Southerners. As Holm puts it, the idea that the church “had no place promoting equality and freedom, or opposing racism and slavery,” was “neutrality” in theory only. “In practice, it was proslavery.”

Holm, director of the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi, studies the behavior of churches and denominational organizations in the border area—defined here as Delaware, Maryland, western Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and some part of each of their adjoining states. People living in this region initially thought of themselves as being part of “the West.” In the first third of the 19th century, migrants populated the region, thanks to Indian removal as well as forced slave migrations. By the mid-20th century, border residents thought of themselves as peaceful moderates. In practice, however, they were more anti-abolitionist than they were anti-slavery. As one editorialist in Louisville put it in 1846, “ABOLITIONISM IS A SIN.” Interestingly, in this regard, …

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10 Bible Translations You’ve Never Heard Of

Why we should read lesser-known versions of the Bible.

English readers have access to more translations of the Bible than readers of any other language. The American Bible Society estimates that there have been around 900 full and partial biblical translations into English. Naturally, that staggering number isn’t readily available, but you can easily order more than 50 different translations in your favorite bookstore, and many more can be found in used bookstores and libraries.

These numbers bear witness to the remarkable treasure available to English readers, a uniquely rich and multilayered resource for gaining fresh insights into the Word of God.

Translations are produced with different methods and goals. Some versions—particularly the “mainstream” ones such as the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the Christian Standard Version, or the New American Bible—were carried out by large committees. And while they each have specific reading levels in mind, they generally try to be acceptable to all potential readers.

Other translations have specific readers in mind—Native Americans, British youth, literature enthusiasts, and so on. And still others have “celebrity” names attached to them, such as recent translations by scholars N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart. These tend to be lesser known, but because of their unique audiences (and authors), they can bring new perspectives into particular passages.

Let me introduce ten of these by showcasing the riches of John 1:1–5 and Luke 22:14–19 in each translation. My hope is to pique your sense of adventure to seek out these or other translations and immerse yourself in them.

All but one of these versions were translated by …

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Beth Moore: My 5 Keys to Accountability

In this celebrity culture, it’s easy for a servant to lose her way. These few habits keep our eyes on Jesus.

Recent conversations on social media and elsewhere have been sounding alarms on the toxicity of celebrity culture within the body of Christ. I was asked to chime in on the subject by sharing several ways that I practice personal accountability and attempt to protect myself from getting sucked into the celebrity quicksand.

Most of what I’ve learned in this area (and every other) I’ve learned the hard way, and I don’t pretend to have this one mastered. I so badly want to walk the remainder of my journey without detouring into a deep ditch but, if I’m able to do so, it will be by God’s grace.

These are the particular graces he’s given me that help me along my way:

1. I don’t trust myself.

The upside of a downward spiral into despair and defeat in young adulthood is that pretty early on, I was forced to face not only the foolish things I had done but also the stark realization that there was likely no end to what I was capable of doing. The parts of my past that I loathe most are those God most uses for my present protection. God forgives our sins and casts them into the depths of the sea—a comfort and relief beyond words—but nonetheless, he does not mind me remembering those sins well. I never walk in front of a group without recalling the pit from which I was rescued and the rock from which I was hewn.

As a safeguard to my listeners, I also practice personal transparency in my teaching by being open about my present flaws and past failures. I spare them the graphics but try to make sure every audience knows the truth: that God has delivered me from serious strongholds of sin and, if I stand, I stand by grace alone.

2. I don’t particularly trust other people.

I don’t …

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Tyndale Sued by Boy Who Didn’t Come Back from Heaven

Subject of retracted afterlife account demands damages for using his name.

After growing up and retracting his controversial account of “coming back from heaven,” 20-year-old Alex Malarkey is now suing the Christian publisher who made his story famous, then infamous.

Malarkey, who was left paralyzed and spent two weeks in a coma after a 2004 car accident, filed a lawsuit this month against Christian publisher Tyndale House for associating his name with the controversial book coauthored with his father, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and not paying him for the story.

Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015, after Malarkey admitted he made up the story of dying and going to heaven after the accident.

“Now that he is an adult, Alex desires to have his name completely disassociated from the book and seeks a permanent injunction against Tyndale House requiring it to do everything within reason to disassociate his name from the book,” according to the complaint, which was covered in The Washington Post.

Malarkey has sued on the grounds of defamation, financial exploitation, and publicity placing a person in a false light, saying that Tyndale went forward with initially publishing and promoting the book knowing his opposition. He states that he did not write any part of the book or consent to the use of his name as a coauthor and story subject.

The suit states that he has “never been permitted to read the contract, nor to review any accountings provided under the contract, he refuses to acknowledge that the contract ‘is in effect and binding,’ now that he has reached the age of majority.”

A New York Times bestseller, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven sold over a million copies and launched several spinoff products based on Malarkey’s story.

Tyndale …

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