Joshua W. Jipp
Eerdmans, 220 pages
Reviewed by Sharon K. Youngs
The title is enough to catch one’s attention after commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To those who have John Calvin’s sola fide emblazoned on their Reformed beings comes Joshua Jipp’s engaging work that adds et hospitium to the formula. And it works.
Jipp, assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, maintains that while faith alone by God’s grace is foundational, “both faith and acts of mercy are ultimately necessary for salvation.” Such acts are not to justify works-righteousness, but to give visible evidence of having incorporated the message of the Messiah. His argument is this: The God of the Christian Scriptures is a God of hospitality (defined as the process where stranger is transformed into guest) who extends hospitality to all of God’s people. Having become God’s guests and friends, we are then expected to embody hospitality to others, especially those on the margins of society. Our model is Jesus, God’s host who extends welcome to all people, particularly outcasts and strangers.
In short, Jipp says that divine hospitality elicits human hospitality. Both are foundational to our faith. Extending hospitality is at the heart of the biblical story and the church’s identity and is a necessary practice for all who claim to follow Jesus.
Jipp’s work is inspired by the writer of 1 Clement, who noted that Abraham, Lot and Rahab were each saved by faith and hospitality. Abraham provided tangible testimony to his faith by offering hospitality to the three visitors who came to his tent. Lot and his family were saved because he extended hospitality to divine visitors, while Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their inhospitality. (It takes effort to stay with Jipp in his approach to Lot. While he acknowledges the horrendous sexual violence that resulted from Lot’s actions, he purports that Lot was fulfilling “hospitality protocols no matter the personal cost.”) Rahab showed hospitality by hiding the Israelite spies whom Joshua had sent ahead to scout out the Promised Land and were on the verge of capture.
A self-described exegete, Jipp shows how the biblical texts themselves, rather than an application of them, support his case. Additionally, he draws on other disciplines – sociology, political/economic theory and systematic theology, among others – to “bring the texts to bear upon real human lives and communities.” The extensive footnotes and expansive bibliography are remarkable.
Jipp leaves no biblical stone unturned in his meticulous interpretation of the span of the Old and New Testaments. Of particular note is his emphasis on the importance of seeing hospitality as a two-way process, namely, extending it as host and receiving it as guest. That bidirectional perspective is a vital component to our relationships with those of different faiths and those who purport no faith.
Jipp’s is an invitational approach that encourages readers to connect a theology of hospitality to the daily practice of embodying it. He does so, first, by providing thought-provoking questions for further reflection after each chapter, and, second, by offering practical suggestions for confronting three increasingly critical issues of our time: immigration, incarceration and racism.
This book is a must for group study, but only after the leader has digested its rich content and begun to live out Jipp’s first act of hospitality: to see the stranger in need of hospitality.
Sharon K. Youngs is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.