The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what the Big Box is all about.
Okay, so I said here that I would review Hospitality: The Biblical Commands around Halloween of last year. It’s now March, so obviously my posting schedule got a little thrown off. But hey, better late than never, right? So let’s get going and take a good, long, belated look the topic of hospitality, as explained by Alexander Strauch.
Before we start, however, we must ask, who exactly is Alexander Strauch? Since his name didn’t sound familiar to me, I did a little Googling and came up with more questions than I did answers. In fact the only solid information came from his own website:
Alexander Strauch was raised in New Jersey and converted to Christ at a Bible camp in New York State. He received his undergraduate degree from Colorado Christian University and went on to earn his Master’s in Divinity degree from Denver Seminary.
For over forty years he has served as an elder at Littleton Bible Chapel near Denver, Colorado. He has taught philosophy and New Testament literature at Colorado Christian University and is a keynote speaker each year at Emmaus Bible College’s Iron Sharpens Iron conference. A gifted Bible teacher and speaker, Mr. Strauch has taught in more than 25 countries and has helped thousands of churches worldwide through his expository writing ministry.
With more than 200,000 copies print, Alexander is best known as the author of Biblical Eldership, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. His books are available through Lewis and Roth Publishers.
Mr. Strauch and his wife, Marilyn, reside in Littleton, Colorado, near their four adult daughters and eight grandchildren.
Well, that doesn’t tell us much. The website of Littleton Bible Chapel gives us a little more: the congregation is obviously Baptist and complementarian, and Strauch’s biography above appears to be out of date, as he’s no longer listed on LBC’s leadership page. Most interesting, however, is the fact that LBC has standard age-segregated ministries, including an AWANA program, and thus is clearly not Family-Integrated. How Strauch’s lectures (and there’s more than one) ever came to be sold by Vision Forum, therefore remains a mystery to me.
Good things come to those who wait
Strauch’s nebulous background aside, however, I am pleased to report that, 31 lectures into the Big Box, Hospitality is the only talk so far which I would give an overall positive rating (with a few qualifications; see below). Strauch was not only funny and upbeat, but also managed to go an entire hour without once mentioning headship and submission or other gender roles (!!!). The core teaching on hospitality seemed to be sound and relatively basic, and the verses cited were actually related to the subject matter (Romans 12:9-13, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). I was especially pleased to hear Strauch talk about Christians inviting non-Christians and those from less-than-perfect families into their homes, as I was afraid that Vision Forum’s tendency toward extreme levels of separation from those who do not meet their legalistically high standards, would rear its ugly head again.
Here is a sampling of the many good things Strauch said:
In fact, one of the complaints you hear and I hear, over and over again, that churches profess one thing but they’re cold and unfriendly. They have what I called churchy love. You know what churchy love is? That’s the love that ends at the back door or the parking lot. When you’re in the four walls of the church building, people are very loving and caring, but it stops there and it doesn’t want to see you the rest of the week. And don’t think people don’t pick up on that.
Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, our home, our finances, our food, our privacy, and our time… Indeed, we share our very lives. Hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort and love in the richest and deepest way possible.
You know, the Lord talks about a banquet someday, with Him. Going to eat with us, dine with us. Even in that Revelation passage, however you take it or apply it, He wants to have communion, wants to be invited so He can be intimate with us. He loves intimacy, closeness, relationship. He doesn’t want to be held outside. Hospitality is opening your privacy and your time and your money and the things that you most prize to other people, and you share it.
I will admit that this topic may have resonated with me for a couple reasons. I love big group meals, especially on holidays, and I enjoy having people over and cooking for them. This was also one of the things I liked about my former (PCA) church. On the second Sunday of every month they had a large potluck fellowship meal after church, and since the congregation was so small, on Thanksgiving everyone got together at one particular family’s house to eat and play games. So despite the congregation’s failure on other points – unfortunately including the “churchy love” one above, to a degree – I really did enjoy the “hospitality” element.
All that being said, because I couldn’t find enough information about Strauch’s background to ascertain the nature of his connection to Vision Forum, I have to stop short of an outright recommendation of Hospitality. There were also a few things in the lecture I would like clarified first, which I’ll explore in the next section.
One of the main risks I see in Hospitality is that Strauch, while sounding good on the surface, could create legalistic rules around his many positive points. As an example, he told a story about an elderly woman who visited his church on Easter Sunday. After church, the woman was about to leave to go to a restaurant, but Strauch stopped her and invited her to his house for dinner instead, so she did not have to eat alone. Now that’s a great story and I applaud Strauch’s action. A legalist, however, could easily spin this into a law that says Christians should never take people out to eat, because that would be shirking God’s command to be hospitable. Another possible construction is that Christians should never stay at hotels but should instead find local families to take them in, or else they are enabling other Christians to not practice hospitality. Strauch didn’t take the story in this direction, at least not in this lecture. He may have elsewhere, but I have no way of knowing that. If he did take it in a legalistic direction, then Hospitality becomes much less helpful and much more problematic.
I think it far more likely that Strauch could fall into the trap of focusing only on a single issue:
So when we say let love be be without hypocrisy, or let love be genuine, depending on your translation, we mean actively pursuing hospitality. That’s how love is fleshed out.
Strauch was commenting here on Romans 12:9-13:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Now certainly we can conclude from this passage that hospitality is one way to express “love without hypocrisy.” However, since it’s just one item on a long list, which also includes things prayer, charity and patience, it’s most definitely not the only way. Strauch may in fact recognize this, but in the quote above he comes dangerously close to claiming that hospitality is THE one true way to show love to your neighbor. And sad to say, if that is what he meant, then he is wrong.
Strauch also showed some potentially harmful unawareness of social anxiety issues:
It’s the Lord’s command, it’s the Lord’s word. And again, I acknowledge, I do realize for some people this is very frightening, and they’re afraid of failing, they’re afraid of possibly people thinking little of them because of their home, or maybe the way they cook food, or maybe you have some certain traditions in your home that you might be frightened of [sic] and people wouldn’t understand. In faith, step forward and start performing the Lord’s work. Just do it, and put the rest in the Lord’s hands. Don’t try to be in competition with Sister So-and-So, who can do a twelve-course meal and has the best-looking plates in town, and has a beautiful mansion home. Do not look around and do that. It’s not entertainment in that sense and competition. God has given you your home, He’s given you your plates, He’s given you what you have. Use it. The Lord doesn’t look down from heaven and say, you don’t have nice plates.
Obviously Strauch is correct to say that competition should not be a factor in hospitality, and that sometimes there are certain insecurities we should perhaps work at overcoming. However, like the story about the elderly woman above, if this observation is made into a club with which to beat Christians with genuine psychological disorders that hinder (or maybe even prevent) normal social interaction, then we have a problem. I’d also like to make sure that Strauch is aware of and sensitive to food allergies and other diet issues.
The only thing in the lecture that sent up a true red flag for me was the following:
When we have people to our table, we have a couple traditions. After we get the food going, I tell everyone, we go around the table and we get to meet one another, and I tell them, we ask them questions. … And there’s two fundamental questions asked. You ask them, how did you become a believer in Jesus Christ, and that will open a whole new world. And then I ask them, how did you meet in marriage, and just asking those very, very basic simple questions, all of a sudden a believer’s life is unfolded in front of you, who you may have fellowshipped with for years and you don’t know.
First of all, I’m certain Strauch means well here. I’m also not sure how much of my reaction to this quote was actual concern, and how much was my personal issues. I will be honest, however, and say that the notion of asking a house guest to “spill” their testimony on demand, not just to the host but to an entire table full of people, was offensive to me and sounded potentially dangerous. I, for one, would not necessarily feel comfortable sharing that information with just anybody (and Strauch did not qualify whether the guest was previously known to him to a complete stranger), because I’ve known too many people who would judge my salvation based on their opinion of whether my testimony was “good” or “dramatic” enough. In fact, the main determiner here, for me, would be Strauch’s reaction to a guest who did not want to share their testimony for whatever reason. If he were to let it go without comment and move on, great. If, however, he dwelt on it and began to question their motives for not sharing, then I would consider my suspicions confirmed, and not in a good way.
More importantly, however, Strauch’s advice on this point reminded me of “love bombing,” which Cindy Kunsman has discussed here:
“Love bombing” refers to the show of (genuine or feigned) love and affection that a motivated individual or group bestows upon their “mark” in order to endear themselves. The “mark” (the person that a manipulator “marks” or targets as an object to be exploited) in a very subjective response to the overwhelming, pleasant experience of the great show of affection, becomes highly unlikely to recognize or even consider any negative information about the manipulator. The “mark” does not realize the subtle and powerful influence that the manipulator has initiated because their experience has been so pleasant. The “mark” does not realize that their reasoning shifts from an objective perspective into a very subjective, emotional and experiential one. The situation exploits deeply personal, very human needs, wants and desires so that the “mark” will likely not notice any hint of manipulation until they are deeply invested, entrenched or dependent upon the manipulator in some way so as to make leaving the relationship very difficult.
Now it doesn’t qualify as “love bombing” merely to ask someone to share their testimony. It could, however, easily be made into a manipulation tactic to get someone to reveal personal information that could be used against them later, especially if others at the table had already told their stories first. In fact the social pressure to conform and “spill” could be enormous, depending on the atmosphere of the room. And if “love bombing” had already been used – and actually most of Hospitality, while fine on its own, could be a tactics goldmine for a group wishing to “love bomb” new members – then it would likely be much easier to get the guest in question to “spill,” since they would already be inclined to trust the “love bomber” and awash in positive feelings about their experience thus far.
As a final reminder before we close, let’s review some previous statements made about hospitality in the Big Box. We learned in A Home School Vision of Victory that Doug Phillips sees hospitality as a private alternative to government welfare programs, and in The Wise Woman’s Guide to Blessing Her Husband’s Vision (also by Phillips), we encountered this:
Do you open up your home, and when people come in and they say, “Thank you, thank you,” do you immediately defer to your husband and say, “Oh, this is the generosity of my husband. He’s the lord of the home. He’s opened it up to you. I’m doing this to serve my husband, and representing my husband, I welcome you into this home.”
Phillips, then, sees hospitality as a means to an end – specifically, that of dismantling social safety nets and reinforcing patriarchy within the home. To be fair, Strauch didn’t mention either of these things. But without solid information about his involvement with Vision Forum (or lack thereof), I can’t assess whether he agrees with Phillips or not.
Now, perhaps, you can see why I passed on a recommendation. Hospitality is wonderful, but not if it enables patriarchy and love bombing. I did not necessarily hear either of those things in Strauch’s message, and without my extensive background knowledge of patriarchy, I probably wouldn’t have thought of them at all. Nevertheless, both could be used, without much effort at all, to take the many good things Strauch said and turn them into instruments of control, legalism and abuse – and that would be a crying shame. I can only hope that Strauch himself would be appalled at the idea.