Last month I had the great blessing of staying in London for a week while my husband was on a business trip. While I was there, I enjoyed two very different, but equally memorable eating experiences.The first was at a fine dining restaurant I had booked the minute I knew a trip to London was in my future. Having done my research and knowing well the kind of food and hospitality my husband and I would experience, on the day of our reservation I made sure to incorporate a lot of walking and eat very lightly in the hours leading up to our meal. With my appetite appropriately primed, the two-hour, five- course feast we enjoyed was its own reward for my earlier restraint. Then, on the final morning of my trip, I visited a tiny hole in the wall of a place to try something called shakshuka. While the main ingredients of poached eggs and braised tomatoes were ones I usually avoided (I’m not a fan of indecisively squishy foods), locals and Yelp reviewers alike insisted it was the breakfast of the gods. So on the strength of a hundred recommendations from strangers, I ordered it.
The surprise and delight I experienced at the taste of my first brioche bread-soaked bite is one of my favorite memories of the entire week’s adventures. I had had the ingredients – eggs, tomatoes, peppers, onions, feta cheese, brioche bread – a thousand times before. But something about the way they melded together, mixed with thoughts of how I had nearly settled for something more familiar, made each bite more wonderful than the last. Casting aside previous plans to save some space for one last London treat later in the day, I ate until I was totally full. That breakfast ended up being my last meal before I flew home, and was perhaps the very best.
Both of those experiences came to mind when I picked up a new book by an unfamiliar author, enticingly titled “Hungry – Learning to Feed Your Soul With Christ”, and read this endorsement by Michael Horton:
“Some meals require an appetite, and others create one. This book is of the latter type. When I finished the book two days later, I understood exactly what Horton meant, and I entirely agreed.
In the introduction, Rondi Lauterbach, a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, describes her high school years as a season of insatiable hunger for achievement, just one of the spiritual hungers that drives so many women to exhausted emptiness. The world prescribes introspection and self-actualization as both the diagnosis and the remedy for this problem. But Lauterbach observes that “self-awareness might help us to diagnose our hunger, but looking inside ourselves for the answer assumes that we can fill our own souls. …When our stomachs are empty, we don’t turn inward. We open the refrigerator. Where do we go to find food for our souls?”
To answer that question, Lauterbach turns to John 6, where Jesus uses His miraculous transformation of 5 loaves and 2 fish into a meal for thousands to prove his words that He is the bread of life. Jesus is the one who can satisfy our deepest hungers.
With the foundation laid, the body of the book builds on what the Bible has to say about both physical and spiritual hunger, and how this unique quality of our humanity was actually created by God, to point us to God, in the person of Jesus Christ. In the first half of the book, titled “Hunger” Lauterbach walks readers through passages that describe the origin of our hungers, how they were corrupted by the Fall, and how God becomes one of us, in the person of Jesus Christ, to rescue and redeem us. “ The God who is never hungry becomes a baby who cries for milk from his mother. He becomes hungry so that he can rescue our hunger.” (pg 41).
Those of us who have experienced that rescue know that life beyond it can still be full of trials and struggles with sin, and the battles against the flesh can be long and exhausting. Having recently felt myself buckle under the weight of some trials, and my sinful responses to them, the chapter titled “Craving” offered some strong words of encouragement about why God permits His children to struggle to kill their hankering for what brings death, instead of life. Our struggle “keep us dependent on God….unites us with one another…reminds us that only God is our Savior….(and)…dignifies us by calling us to participate in the fight.” (pgs. 103-104) To be truly delivered from our unhealthy cravings, Lauterbach argues, we need to recognize them for what they are. “The battle against cravings is always a battle against idolatry. What I choose shows what I worship.” (pg. 106).
The antidote, she proposes, is a new appetite – a hunger for communion with Jesus, which is a hunger that truly can be satisfied when we feast on Him by spending time meditating on His Word. Lauterbach graciously and deftly encourages readers who feel burdened by parenting constraints or other time restrictions that squeeze our days closed from time with God, noting that a mere fifteen minutes a day adds up to the equivalent of two full-time work weeks spent with Him. “We’ve all been through times in our lives when we were too busy to cook, but our hunger drove us to figure out some way to get food into our stomachs. We may have had to change our approach…but we didn’t go hungry.” (pg. 139)
From there, Lauterbach builds on the metaphor of cooking in the second half of the book, titled “Plenty”, using the book of Philemon as an example walk her readers through simple yet thoughtful method of Bible study.She compares Bible study to the process of preparing and enjoying a good meal, with a chapter dedicated each step:
Prep – Observe
Cook – Interpret
Eat – Apply
In “Prep”, Lauterbach characterizes the common elements of a Bible passage (God, people, the relationship between them, what happens) as ingredients. She identifies helpful tools to work with these ingredients – not just the tangible ones, like a pen and a journal, but the intangible ones, such as curiosity, imagination and questions.
In “Cook”, Lauterbach moves to helping readers put a passage’s “ingredients” into the context of the story of the whole Bible (what she calls “the big pot”), along with one other, critical ingredient – the person of Jesus Christ. In the chapter following “Cook”, titled “Shortcut”, she lists eight ways to use the observations discussed in “Prep” to ask questions that reveals Jesus in the text. For example, in thinking about Paul’s words and actions in Philemon she writes:
“…maybe you were convicted by Paul’s heroic example. But instead of making resolutions to be less selfish, you ask ‘How is Jesus the true hero here?’ Then you reason: ‘Jesus forgave Paul and paid all his debts on the cross. Paul was transformed by this grace. That’s why he can act like a hero and can urge Philemon to the same. The same Jesus can work that in me too.’
This is not the typical me-centered, moralistic approach common to so many Bible study methods. This is Christocentric hermeneutics, made simple and delicious.
Lauterbach’s approach is so effective that one terminological choice exposes the risk we take when we use earthly metaphors to teach spiritual truths. In setting up and then expositing the most central and helpful idea of the book, Lauterbach characterizes Jesus as the “missing” ingredient in Bible study. She rightly calls out how seeing the Bible as instructions for a “do-it-yourself project”, only nourishes the legalism and moralism in our hearts. And the “Shortcuts” chapter is a winsome solution to that problem. It argues clearly and compellingly that Jesus is, in fact, never the missing ingredient in our Bible study – He’s the main one. So clearly does Lauterbach make her case that readers will hopefully overlook the metaphorical mixup, and meditate on the crucial spiritual truth underneath it.
“Hungry” concludes with an equally helpful and important chapter titled “Share”, in which Lauterbach examines the contemporary problems of disconnected individualism (symbolized by our ever-present mobile phones), and “just me and my Bible” disdain for corporate worship. She writes “God doesn’t leave us isolated to figure everything out for ourselves. He gathers us. The shared meal is His idea…we don’t just need the personal Word; we need the preached Word.” (pg. 231) Several pages later she doubles down on this argument, saying, “Through the shared meal (of the preached Word), God addresses my autonomy. At home alone with my Bible and my own thoughts, I can become captive to my personal biases…I can hear condemnation in the very verse that was meant to bring me comfort. Or I can use the Bible to justify the craving I’ve already decided to pursue…The weekly gospel preaching of a faithful pastor provides an antidote to these temptations of individualism.” (pg. 234)
Lauterbach’s warm and pithy style of writing reminded me often of Jen Wilkin’s in “Women of the Word.” Indeed, the two books share some admirable similarities. Both of them are well-crafted works on the essential topic of Bible study, written with heaping helpings of orthodox truth and grace. Both rightly identify common weaknesses in many Bible study approaches, and both offer solutions that are similar in their approach (a list of solid hermeneutical concepts, applied to a book of the Bible). I think both books should be in the libraries of any ministry leader (woman or man) interested in better approaches to Bible study for women, not to mention in the libraries of the women to which they minister. But I think that’s especially true of “Hungry”, for one very particular and underserved group of women.
Over the last several years, the influence of the Internet on the individual and collective spiritual lives of Christian women has been a growing topic of conversation. For Reformed evangelical women, the gospel-rich resources and conferences produced by ministries like The Gospel Coalition have been rich feasts for souls made hungry by their settled conviction that Jesus is both the end of, and the means to, a life of peace and purpose. Two years ago, “Women of the Word” was released weeks after the conclusion of the Gospel Coalition’s second conference for women, titled “God’s Word, Our Story”. With their appetites fully stoked by the gospel-rich teaching (not to mention entirely worthy commendations by several of the plenary speakers during their sessions), TGCW attendees and their communities sent Women of the Word to the top of Amazon’s Bible Study bestseller list, where it’s remained ever since.
Christian women outside the Reformed tradition have been going to conferences too. This year, thousands of women packed stadiums in twelve separate cities to attend the Belong Tour (or participate in the livestream). As with TGCW, attendees and followers of the Belong Tour propelled the books of its speakers to the top of bestseller lists in the weeks following the events. One such book was “Present Over Perfect” by popular Christian author, Shauna Niequist. In her insightful review, Tilly Dillehay notes the popularity of the book, a collection of essays on Niequist’s own struggles with spiritual hunger for meaning, peace and fulfillment, as a barometer pointing to the tired and hungry spiritual state of many American women. But she laments the notable lack of gospel, or even Biblically grounded answers offered in Niequist’s book (a feature of the Belong tour as well – lots of motivational talk and self-affirming language, little to no Scripture.) Dillehay concludes her review wishing that Christian publishers would produce books of essays and personal reflections that are more solidly theologically grounded.
“Hungry” is not a book of essays, although it is replete with engaging stories from Lauterbach’s life and adventures with food to which every woman can relate. It’s more than that. It’s a book that can help exhausted American women, currently feeding on shallow sentimentality, develop an appetite for true spiritual food that will nourish their souls for a lifetime.
It deserves to be in the hands of every one of them.
 In the body of the book, the table format which describes each step is a little hard to follow in places, but worksheets included at the end of the book summarize the method well and are very helpful. My edition of the book also included a beautiful, two-sided bookmark that summarizes the main points and shortcuts to Christ-centered application. It’s now a permanent fixture in my Bible.