Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Joshua Jipp) -- A Review
SAVED BY FAITH AND HOSPITALITY. By Joshua W. Jipp. Foreword by Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Xiii + 206 pages.
Sola Fide! The declaration that we are saved by faith alone has been one of the hallmarks of the Protestant tradition. There has long been an aversion to “works righteousness,” but this too often has led to what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Perhaps, in our time, there is a need to reclaim a fuller biblical vision of salvation, one that is not merely individualistic, but that engages all of life, here on this planet. So, perhaps we would be well-served to speak of being saved by faith and “hospitality.” Such is the premise of Joshua Jipp’s profound and prophetic book.
Hospitality is a central theme in the biblical story, for good and for ill. Abraham and Sarah were commended for showing hospitality to the three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, while the peole of Sodom and Gomorrah became known for their violent response to the strangers who came to their own community. Jesus' own ministry was defined by his Table Fellowship. Even when he was a guest, he became host. It was in the breaking of bread at Emmaus that the two disciples recognized him. Paul gave instructions to the church of Corinth so that they might show proper hospitality to all members, no matter their social class or gender. In Saved by Faith and Hospitality, Joshua Jipp, a New Testament scholar who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, speaks to this core theme, shedding light upon it in a powerful way. Thus, he has written an inspiring treatise for the church in our times.
In the introduction to the book Jipp sets out the basic premise of the book: "the God of the Christian Scriptures is a God of hospitality, a God who extends hospitality to his people and who requires that his people embody hospitality to others" (p. 2). When we think of hospitality to the others, we need to understand that this truly means the ones we often consider "the others." To the stranger, to the one we perceive to be different. Hospitality, he writes, "is the act or process whereby the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of guest." At its core, hospitality is creating a "safe and welcoming place where a stranger can be converted onto a friend" (p. 2). This concept of hospitality to the stranger is, he argues, the "core of the church's identity and mission." As one who is part of a faith community that places the Lord's Table at the center of worship, I take to heart his declaration that this hospitality to strangers "is "art and parcel of what we celebrate when we partake in the Eucharist" (p. 3). Thus, to be saved, to be reconciled, is to participate in God's hospitality to the stranger, even as Abraham was saved by showing hospitality to strangers.
The six chapters of the book are divided into two parts, each with three chapters. Part One is titled "Divine Hospitality." This section of the book sets the biblical foundations for Part Two: "Human Hospitality." The first chapter of the book focuses on Luke-Acts, and deals with "food, stigma, and Identity of the church." Jipp notes that Luke-Acts are "filled with the language and elements of hospitality—food, meals, houses, and traveling -- in order to express something significant about Jesus identity, namely, how God's hospitality is extended to his lost, broken, needy, and often stigmatized people" (p. 17). In this chapter he lifts up Jesus' Table Fellowship as a means by which Jesus overcomes stigma. Chapter two explores "ecclesial hospitality amidst difference and division in Paul." He emphasizes the message that unity in the church does not mean uniformity. Differences are part of human identity, and that this is recognized in Scripture. Paul's challenge is helping his congregations live with differences without division. This is ritualized through the Lord's Supper, which "is the foundation for unity, friendship, and voluntary self-abasement that pursues the good of the other within the church" (p. 59). Finally, in chapter three, Jipp turns to the Gospel of John, which is titled "The Meaning of Human Existence and the Church's Mission." He writes that the core question in the Gospel of John concerns how humans who are alienated from the God of life come to know God and thereby have life" (p. 79). He writes that in the Gospel the church's mission is conceptualized "by inviting others into experiencing God's hospitality just as Jesus enters into hospitality scenarios and provides the opportunities for evangelism whereby people may experience life through almost every element of hospitality practices" (p. 93).
On the basis of this biblical foundation, which lays out the premise of divine hospitality, he turns to human hospitality in part two. In these three chapters Jipp addresses tribalism, xenophobia, and greed. At a time of growing infatuation with a narrow nationalism in the United States, resistance to and fear of the immigrant in our midst (nativism), and income inequality, this is a most powerful message. I need to make clear that the author is a self-described evangelical. I need to make this point, because evangelicalism has been tarred/infected by tribalism, xenophobia, and consumerism. This is a word first to Jipp's fellow evangelicals, many of whom have forgotten the biblical premise of hospitality, who have embraced a vision of salvation that is so individualistic that it has forgotten the biblical message of God, the divine host.
In his chapter on tribalism, he makes clear that when speaking of hospitality, we are not the hosts, and others are the guests. He speaks a prophetic word to those of us "whit a sense of power and privilege, we may be tempted to feel as though others are always the beneficiaries of our hospitality, and this can allow us to retain a false sense of superiority" (p. 99). Thus, he writes to remind us of the importance of being "good guests." As for tribalism, he writes "here about friendship and hospitality with the religious others" He does so in relationship to the story of Paul and his journey to Jerusalem, wherein Paul is the recipient of philanthropy, first on the part of the Roman centurion who allows Paul to be cared for by his friends, and then prevents Paul and the prisoners from being killed by his soldiers when shipwrecked. He points out how Luke describes this military officer not as brutish, but as gracious and virtuous. Then there is the welcome given by the "barbarians" of Malta. Though of different religions, they share Table. As a good guest Paul adapts to his host, so that he might win some to the Lord. Jipp speaks to the value of interfaith friendships, and of challenging tribal boundaries. Chapter five is worth the price of the book. Here he addresses hospitality and the immigrant. He addresses the common "concerns" about immigrants—they threaten national security, take jobs, threaten the economy, etc. He writes that "thoughtful Christians who take the Scriptures seriously can and do disagree about what is best public policy, but I want to make the simple suggestion that the Old Testament Scriptures call upon God's people to reject xenophobic exclusion of the immigrant, and rather to demonstrate hospitality to the immigrant-stranger." Indeed, "God roundly condemns societies that oppress the vulnerable stranger, whereas individuals who love the stranger are righteous and loved by God." (pp. 126-127). Finally, in chapter six, he takes up the divine economy, and the call to overcome greed. He recognizes that there is a tension between "God's kingdom economy of abundance and our human economy of scarcity." He doesn't want to leave us with an unrealistic look at economics. He also notes that there isn't a biblical economic plan. But, in contrast to Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street, greed is not good! He suggests that the key is moving from "competitive patronage," the economic vision of Rome, to one of economic solidarity. This starts in the church, where social stratification needs to be rejected. In this case, divine hospitality is the antidote. We can look to Jesus' own Table Fellowship, which embody the divine economy of hospitality by creating a hospitable place of welcome for those on the margins of society to experiencing the life-giving presence of Jesus and the Kingdom of God" (p. 164). By participating in acts of compassion, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the least of these, we enact the divine economy of solidarity.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the book. The title sounded intriguing. Since I have been engaging in my own studies of Jesus’ table fellowship, I hoped to find something of value that spoke to that area of interest. I did find much that both confirmed much of what I had discovered already, and opened up new vistas as well. Yes, this is a book for our times. I found myself challenged, stretched, encouraged, and more. Jipp has a keen understanding of the biblical story, and the role that hospitality plays in it. He also has a keen sense of our current state of existence. He is not afraid to go into places where many evangelicals fear to tread. While he doesn’t offer a full-throated embrace of LGBTQ Christians, that is, he doesn’t reveal his commitment to being open and affirming, he calls on the church to be fully welcoming, naming, for instance, those persons who are transgender. He calls on the church, on fellow-Christians to reject stereotyping and scapegoating. I am sure that not everyone on his faculty is fully comfortable with his positions on inclusion and welcoming the stranger. I know that one of his colleagues on the faculty has been rather outspoken in defense of limiting immigration, for many of the reasons that Jipp rebuts in the chapter on xenophobia. Would some of my friends wish he would be more explicit on inclusion of LGBTQ persons? Yes, but in context, this is rather open.
I highly recommend this book, if for no other reason the chapter on xenophobia. But the biblical work in the first three chapters are also essential reading. This is a book that needs to be read before the year is out, for it could be transformative. Saved by Faith and Hospitality is, clearly, one of the best books I’ve read all year. Indeed, it serves as guide to salvation by faith and divine hospitality. Yes, let us not forget that we are the guests, and God in Christ is the host.