I’ve been reading more books recently on faith and food. The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life, is one of the lighter books on that topic. The back cover of the book describes it as “the simplest way to make disciples.”
The book, whether intended to be or not, is essentially a how to manual for opening your home. This reminds of the old Navigators Lifestyle Evangelism, course. This is not a bad thing. As a priest in a small parish, anything that would convince my parish that what they hear about on Sunday morning has meaning during the rest of the week would be helpful.
The book is divided into two parts, the first part diagnoses our aversion to hospitality and the reasons why we should be hospitable. The second part deals with ideas to make hospitality a workable part of you life.
From that point of view, the book works really well. It starts by asking people to evaluate their lives and look at the excuses they are making for not living out their life of faith. In other words using their homes as a refuge from the rest of the world, rather than a welcoming place for the rest of the world.
In chapter 3 they get into key reason for Christians to be hospitable. That is, we worship and serve a hospitable God. To be hospitable to our neighbours is to live with them, as God lives with us.
Second Section of The Simplest Way
In the second section, I really liked chapter 11. Firstly, they a concerted effort to encourage single people and families to support each other more. Secondly, they also focus on the Biblical mandate to care for the widows and orphans(the reason the church first created deacons). Thirdly, they also talk about sheltering people. Helping out people who are in need of a place to stay. Fourthly, they include welcoming immigrants, but aren’t quite willing to state, legal or otherwise.
The biggest drawback with The Simplest Way is that it doesn’t really address the question posed in Luke 10:29, “Who is My neighbour?” While the authors make the connection between hospitality and hospital, they don’t take the next step and make the connection between hospes(guest), and hostis(enemy), both of which have the same root. It is our treatment and welcome for our enemies that separates Christian Hospitality from other forms.
The book also feels programmatic, which in the long run never really works. They describe hospitality as a “secret weapon,” and I don’t think that using an idea like hospitality as a weapon is a good idea. when we do that we turn everybody into enemies,
The Simplest Way Format
By and large The Simplest Way, is well laid out, with short chapters. The one drawback I found in reading the book is that the orange questions at the end of each chapter are really difficult to read in certain lights. If they reprint it they should choose a better colour.
I’m not a huge fan of study guides, but I think the one included here is pretty good. It generally avoids the “go back and find what we told you,” answers. Thereby encouraging readers to think for themselves on the topics presented.
I suppose covers are meant to draw you in with their clever design, but one thing I notice with this book, and also with Leonard Sweet’s From Tablet to Table, is that it depicts a comfortable, middle class group of individuals. The diversity, and the idea of hospitality as reaching out to those on the margins, doesn’t seem to be reflected in the book covers.
On the whole this is a handy little book to have around. However, if you are really interested in Christian Hospitality, start with Making Room, by Christine Pohl, the first book in their bibliography. There aren’t many better places to start than there.
There is some benefit in The Simplest Way, but I would put many others into the church library before this one.