March 17th, 2010

Live blog by Chipper Flaniken

To view the live-stream for Christine Pohl’s lecture on hospitality, visit here:

The Henry Center for Theological Understanding welcomes Dr. Christine Pohl, Professor of Church in Society at Asbury Theological Seminary

At 1:00 PM in the ATO Chapel of TEDS, Dr. Pohl will be delivering a lecture entitled:

“Practicing Hospitality in Troubled Times: Promise and Peril for the Church”

See below for a summary:

    Offering hospitality to strangers was a distinctive feature of ancient Christian life. The biblical texts and tradition, Jesus’ practice and explicit teachings, and the needs of the ancient church and world combined to make hospitality a central aspect of Christian discipleship. In the last 500 years, transformative understandings of hospitality have been mostly lost, and with them, some crucial insights into Christian witness, social ministry and congregational life. Giving fresh attention to an ancient practice allows us to see the close connection between theology and everyday life, and offers promise and challenge to the contemporary church.

Begin Live Blog:



–  In the church today, our hospitality tends to be fairly tame and “safe”

–  It doesn’t really cost us.

Hospitality in Scripture

1. True hospitality is present from the the very beginning of Scripture until the very end, in fact, true hospitality is a condensing of the gospel

2. It wasn’t easy, but the NT finds leaders challenging each other to be welcoming

– Hebrews 13 – we may even be entertaining angels!

– 1 Peter 4 – hospitality is vital yet costly

3. Hospitality was practiced in the church and in the home

4. Hospitality was often practiced around meals

5. Hospitality was connected to the divine

– Jesus makes a close link to this in Matthew 25

– Jesus presents a hospitality parable in Luke 14:12-14

A History of Hospitality:

In the early church, hospitality was a vital apologetic

– as expressed by many writers, including Justin Martyr

The church reformers valued hospitality

The reformers, including Martin Luther, spoke very favorably of hospitality

John Calvin commended Christians engaged in the welcoming of refugees.

However, in their efforts to reform the church, Luther and Calvin did not recover the importance of hospitality in congregational life.

This is a critical issue, because vibrant hospitality occurs when there is overlap between society and the church.

If there is too much emphasis on the social/civic side, hospitality becomes disconnected and scattered.

18th Century – John Wesley recovered many of the practices of hospitality – such as eating meals together and visiting. But he did not call it hospitality since the term “hospitality” lacked a moral significance in England.

The argument is not that hospitality was damaged intentionally, but hospitality has been altered into something shallower in the Christian church over the past several centuries.

Wesley’s understanding of hospitality was much closer to the practices of the early church, so his views certainly deserve a closer look.

The Resurgence of Hospitality in the Modern Church

Why is this important?

1. Hospitality provides us a fresh lens that we can use to think about our faith

– we gain fresh perspective on discipleship

2. Hospitality is critical to the credibility of the gospel

– without hospitality, it is easy to dismiss truth.

– Robert Webber: the most significant apologetic for the Christian faith will be the hospitality found in the local church. This will become the new apologetic. People will come to faith not through arguments, but through fellowship.

Illustration: Christian community in rural Georgia. It is a rural Christian community that attracts 3,000 visitors per year simply because strangers are attracted to see how this Christian body loves and serves refugees.

3. New Christians hear about the gospel through intimate relationship!

– This is what allows for discipleship

4. People are much more alone than they used to be.

– People in lots of churches have no family close by. Thus, the church can help reconstruct families out of people who have come to be parts of these congregations.

– Churches have generally embraced a social service model. We serve meals, but we don’t sit down and have conversations with them, or invite them into our church. This is artificial and destructive! We are not just providing a social service

5.  People today are open to mystery!

– People understand that life has to consist in more than how much money they make. This is a dangerous search unless the church longs to meet these yearnings!

The Perils of Hospitality

What is in danger when we practice hospitality?

1. When we practice hospitality, our lives and our lifestyles are in danger!

– our lives are more exposed when we practice hospitality – especially when we become friends with people unlike ourselves. Hospitality forces us to live closer to our limits. Our frailties are exposed!

– hospitality stretches us! It involves a dieing to self. It is costly!

– we worry about embracing hospitality because we think that strangers might take advantage of us

– we must become willing to live with a certain amount of risk while still protecting the vulnerable people in our families.

– hospitality is safer in the context of community, so since we have smaller families today,

2. Since it is so potent, hospitality can be misused!

– many in the Christian tradition have used hospitality as a means of being idle

– but the churches founds ways to deal with this!

– Calvin wrote that people in need should be helped, but their circumstances should be inquired about. But remember, don’t cover your stinginess under the shadow of prudence!

– We have to start with God’s gracious character and generosity. This gives us a better set of resources to deal with the hard cases.

3. Hospitality can endanger our reputations and our experience of privilege

– transformative hospitality assumes that true hospitality moves in both directions! Other people need to be enabled to used their gifts of service!

4. We hesitate to do significant hospitality because we are worried about losing time and money.

– protecting family time and rest are important things to do, and there are times when we have to limit our hospitality!

– Francis Schaeffer: It is not sinful to be finite!

5. Hospitality endangers our plans

– hospitality interferes with our idea of efficiency and measureable results

6. Hospitality can interfere with our cherished way of life

– a shared way of life in good and compelling, and when we welcome people that are different than us, it can change our own identities.

– we have to be wise about what values we change, and which aspects of our community we are willing to adapt.

Discourse on hospitality as resistance

– our acts of welcome and respect toward people different than ourselves are particularly important when the world says they aren’t worth our time

– when we welcome these types of people, their self-assessment changes. Our opinions are influenced by what people think about us! There is nothing more dangerous than being invisible or having a place to contribute.

– in this way, hospitality is an important means of pursuing justice.

– the most vulnerable people in the world are those without vibrant relationships. These people need places to share their gifts! They need a home!

7. When in ministry, we must separate dignity from need! Otherwise we can easily humiliate the people that we help.

– hospitality reminds us that respect does not need to be drained from relationships when someone has significant needs.

8. there is peril in hospitality because it is effective in forging relationships, so it can be exploited by ambition. Don’t turn hospitality into a form of commercial exchange! We are goal oriented, which can be a dangerous thing.

– Hospitality cannot just be a strategy for church growth or evangelism! There are few contexts that are better for sharing the gospel.

9.  Hospitality is dangerous because it draws us so close to God’s mystery. It’s full of surprise and mystery!

– it can be crazy and unpredictable!

– when you talk with practicioners of hospitality, you often find that you get more than you give! God moves through these circumstances to effect the givers.

– however, we cannot carve our days into mundane things and the things that we think will effect the kingdom! We cannot build this distinction into our days!