Welcome and the Kingdom of God

If you had to summarize in single word the message of Jesus, the ethos of his Kingdom, what word would you choose?

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago. I was kindly invited by Travis Stanley to speak to his Christianity and Culture class at ACU. Travis asked me to speak about my spiritual pollution work (see the series in my blog's sidebar). But I also wanted to contrast that work with a positive envisioning of the Kingdom. So I asked the class the question: If you had a single word how would you describe the vision of Jesus' Kingdom?

Here's my choice:


In recent years, more and more Christian theologians are rediscovering the centrality of hospitality to the Christian life and witness. For a start, see Christine D. Pohl's Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Many theologians are speaking of Jesus' vision of radical hospitality, his culture-defying openness and acceptance of the other, of the outcast, of the stranger. More and more, I've been thinking of this notion of radical hospitality, and for Travis' class I summed up the vision in a single word: Welcome.

Note that I claim no originality for this summation. Many others have made this same point. I'm just sharing my excitement over the idea of Christian welcome.

Here's why I love the word Welcome.

First, welcome is tangible and behavioral. Many would summarize the Kingdom vision with the word love. But love, as a word, has been distorted and diluted by overuse and misuse. Generally, love has gotten associated with feelings. But welcome is behavioral. It is an action. To welcome is to do something. In this, I think the vision of welcome is better than the more common, but less concrete, notion of love. (True, the idea of agape love is probably the best descriptor of the Christian ethic, but it takes a lot of words to specify the kind of love you mean when you say "love." Thus, the single word "love" isn't a great one-word summary of the Kingdom vision.)

Second, welcome affects the minutiae of life. It affects how I treat my wife, my children, my co-workers, and the strangers I meet today. Do my words, and face, and actions truly welcome these people? Do they feel acceptance and openness in my presence? As Christine Pohl points out, welcome and hospitality are about recognizing the fundamental humanity of the person. Do I convey this to those who encounter me?

I think about my students who might drop by my office. When they show up at my door, do I welcome them? Do I smile and radiate warmth and joy toward them? How is my office arranged? Have I created a space of welcome and rest? (Yes, I believe there is a theology of furnishings and interior design.)

Finally, although welcome affects the details of life, it also scales up to encompass the larger issues of social justice. Welcome isn't just about my encounter with you in a supermarket. It is also sociological and global. How does my city of Abilene welcome the poor? How does the world welcome the newborn child? Social justice, to me, is about welcome on the global scale.

If you had to capture the best of Jesus' teaching, the parts that captured the essence of his "good news," I think it would reduce to two stories he told: The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. And both stories are about welcome. The father of the Prodigal Son welcomes his wayward son home and thus informs us that the very heart of God is one of welcome. And the Samaritan is the ultimate display of hospitality to the stranger, the exemplar of the radical openness of welcome.

So, when people ask me what it means to be a Christian, what it means to follow Jesus of Nazareth, nowadays I have one answer: Welcome. Welcome to my office, my home, my time, my attention, my life. As a Christian I am called extend the welcome of Jesus. That was his vision.


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2 thoughts on “Welcome and the Kingdom of God”

  1. Beck, I liked your words on Welcome. I would also like to see you write about the topic of boundaries within the arena of welcoming.

  2. You may not be interested, but I wrote a 40 page paper for my Ethics class attempting to create a Christian Social Ethic of Radical Hospitality that may stimulate or resonate with your thinking along these lines. Let me know if you would be interested in reading it. shalom

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