Review: I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality

A couple months ago I picked up the book I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality by Arthur Sutherland. I had seen it several times online and on bookshelves, but never committed to it. When I  decided  to focus on hospitality as a personal and professional perspective this, I also decided that I was adding this book to my library.

The book is short, 82 pages of text, but it is packed with thoughtful theological reflection and insight. Sutherland offer a passionate diverse presentation hospitality as a theological idea by examining; Christology via Howard Thurman & W.E.B. DuBois, Reconciliation via Dietrich Bonhoeffer and German thought, Ecclesiology via the apostle Luke’s story of Lydia, and Eschatology via activist prisoners such as Kim Dae Jung, Alfred Delp, Martin Luther King, and Bonhoeffer. American Civil Rights, Feminism/Womanism, Political Theory, and others are lenses Sutherland uses to reveal the hospitality’s role for the Christian.

Sutherland defines theological hospitality in this way:

In the light of Jesus’s life, death, resurrect, and return; Christian hospitality is the intentional, responsible, and caring act of welcoming or visiting, in either public or private places, those who are strangers, enemies, or distressed, without regard for reciprocation.

I tend to embrace simpler – mind you not “simplistic” – definitions, but I have no qualms with Sutherland’s approach. In his detail, I believe he is trying to correct the over-simplistic definition of hospitality as offering services, food, niceness, etc.

What I see when I read his definition -and where  to me the rest of the book goes – is that Christ is exemplar and the source of Hospitality.

Christ’s Life/incarnation  – we exhibit by visiting those places and dwelling with those people who take intentionality.

Christ’s Death/sacrifice, – we exhibit by taking up other’s burdens, even those at eminity with God, upon ourselves and attaching our responsibility to their welfare.

Christ’s Resurrection/victory – we exhibit in allowing the power of God to use our selfless presence with others and sacrifice as healing and reconciliatory.

Christ’s Return/homecoming  – we exhibit by truly making those around us family and embracing them and seeking to dwell with them uninhibited.

Over the next couple weeks I will point out what I enjoyed, disliked, agreed with, or resisted in the book. Stay tuned.

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