The Prima Facie Credibility
of Covenantal Agrarianism
of Covenantal Agrarianism
By David E. Rockett (January, 1999)
David Rockett's e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Rockett's e-mail is: email@example.com
Rarely am I asked, 'What's Christian about Agrarianism?' There are likely many reasons. Perhaps it’s because they’ve simply never heard of Agrarianism, or they fear it’s a romantic 'back-to-the-land' ruse to re-make them dirt-farmers. Or, horrors of all, they fear Agrarianism might call them to strip their houses of indoor plumbing and electricity! None of these are true of Covenantal Agrariansim. Another reason I’m not asked could be a natural avoidance of questions whose answers might unsettle us. We are reluctant to challenge our worldview, or agitate our personal peace and affluence. So, we don't ask.
Such silence mustn't rest contented. Though Covenantal Agrarianism can’t be explained on a bumper sticker and demands thought, it does advance a fresh and sharpened focus to our theology for Kingdom living. It is largely the old vision of 'the good life' – a refined medieval vision for a bountiful life, joyfully relished within Creation, community and this body of flesh. Though not hastily addressed, this does not mean we remain silent. Budding Agrarians mustn't resign themselves to despondent sighs and resignation like, 'let them alone, let'm go to Wal Mart.'
What follows is by no means an exhaustive theological argument. That must wait for providence and more able theologians. Christian Agrarians are still finding their voice and learning to integrate Agrarianism within a Christian world view. Here, I simply hope to lay some foundational pilings, or pillars which establish a prima facie credibility of Covenantal, or distinctively Christian, Agrarianism.
First allow me an appeal to theological integration. The agrarian mind ('neo-medieval' if you prefer) grieves that unity, wholeness and harmony is often lost in Modernism’s obsession with particulars. The fragmenting processes of modern science often obscures more than it enlightens. Below I merge some neglected tenants of four Christian Doctrines: 1) Creational Anthropology, 2) The Physicality of the Resurrection and Eternal State, 3) Creation in the full scope of Redemption, and 4) Covenant unto Community & Social Antithesis. Though separated for clarity, they should not be isolated. Indeed, their integration is critical. It just might alter how you read your bible.
Creation & Anthropology
That God chose to create a physical universe and physical man as His crown of Creation, has grand and diverse implications. In so doing God consigns value upon far more than the spirit world. Indeed, in Genesis 1:9,12,19,20,24 (His commentary on Creation-Week), God redundantly calls what He has made 'good' and finally, 'Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good' (Gen. 1:31). Christian Agrarianism grows out of the doctrines of Creation, Anthropology, Redemption, and the Covenant. Covenantal Agrarianism seeks to rightly understand the proper context for man to live as a body/soul unity within physical Creation and God's eternal purposes – and thus live more fully to God's glory. Otherwise, man remains confused and fragmented both collectively and individually. He does not really know who he is in either body or soul.
Certain aspects of Platonism in Greek philosophy exalted the soul, spirit and intellect over man's body. Eventually, Manichean dualism would regard the body and physical creation as inherently evil. Only pure spirit, supposedly, can exist uncorrupted. This, of course, led to early assaults upon the physicality of Christ's body -- His bodily incarnation and resurrection. Ultimately, these errors were answered in the early Christian councils, namely, Nicene and Chalcedon.
Yet the modern Church retains unbiblical elements of Platonism. Concurrently, the Church rightly reacts against naturalistic Darwinian Materialism. These two strains have led the modern Church to champion a decidedly anti-material Pietism. Regarding Creation and anthropology, the Church has been other worldly and has focused upon man's spiritual and rational facilities (that is, those that distinguish him from the animal kingdom), as superior to his bodily life on a material earth. This emphasis has fallen under headings like 'The Primacy of the Intellect' and 'The Primacy of the Soul'. In so doing, God's physical Creation has been denigrated, and Christianity Gnosticized. Perhaps unintentionally, sincere men of neo-Platonist or anti-Darwinian bent, have belittled man's material and physical attributes. This has had telling consequences for Christian social theory and worldviews.
God is un-apologetic, however, in forming man of the dust of the earth. And man's connection to the soil hardly ends there. Throughout his life man is nourished by the soil (animal, fruit, veggies), and will return to the soil -- to dust thou shalt return. Even the most antiseptic of Moderns (assuming they eat), can’t completely divorce themselves from soil, plants and animals. God has ordained an inextricable connection to the soil of the earth for all men. After death man returns to the earth and awaits his bodily resurrection from the dust. The theology of soil, dust, land, and earth is more vital than we have noticed. Dust is often used to emphasis our humbling as creatures with finite and physical limitation, thus checking the hubris of modern science. See ‘dust’ in any exhaustive concordance for an instructive word study. The Lord, '...knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust' (Psalms 103:14).
Consider also Revelation four verse 11: 'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: For thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure, they are and were Created’. How did God assure His pleasure and glory? He created the heavens and earth -- matter -- all that physical stuff detailed in Gen. 1 (mountains, birds, rivers, plants, fish, oceans, mammals, trees, and heavenly places) -- an incomprehensible diversity. It is noteworthy that God awarded Himself the leisure of six days to create all things. He could have taken only a mili-second. It’s as though God contemplated, fashioned His handiwork, and then loved His daily labors. There is a deliberateness, patience and composure here we should not hasten past and miss. Notice also that the spirit and the material worlds exist in union and harmony. Adam and Eve were physical-spiritual creatures dwelling in a garden of dirt, trees and animals where God walked in the cool of the day. This unity evinces an Agrarian sense of Place.
What we learn is that flesh and bone, the whole material creation is good. It is neither inherently evil or sinful. The physical and spiritual are to exist in unity. This is contrary to modern theology where the spirit world is brutally partitioned off from the material world. The division is so sharp between matter and spirit, that ultimately, the spirit world becomes mystically holy, while the physical world is viewed as defiled. This notion is comically depicted a quote from an old but very prominent Christian Pastor, who was usually a more perceptive theologian.
'I was once emptying the Cistern of Nature, and making Water at the wall. At the same Time, there came a Dog, who did so too, before me. Thought I, "What mean and vile Things are the Children of Men, in mortal State! How much do our natural Necessities abase us and place us in some regard, on the Level with the very Dogs!" ...Accordingly, I resolved, that it should be my ordinary Practice, whenever I step to answer the one or the other Necessity of Nature, to make it an Opportunity of shaping in my Mind, some holy, noble, divine Thought.' (Greven, Protestant Temperament, p. 73, quoted in Philip J. Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, p. 131.)
I hope you see the tragedy in this. Mr. Lee says it is a very extreme example of mind over matter! What you have here is a leading Pastor-Theologian who, rather than confessing his sinfulness, is lamenting his humanity. This is folly. God never made such a judgment of matter, humanity or even our bodily processes!
But this is not all. God has prepared a earthy setting for our body-souls to dwell. God has established a context or Place in which we are to live, labor, love, and worship. And that place is here on physical earth. This is where we belong, on earth – fallen to yet be redeemed. The material earth is God's ordained setting for man. Yes, I hear you say, 'But we are mere Pilgrims, passing through this land.' Yes, we are Pilgrims in one sense passing through. But where are we going? The redemption of the earth and the resurrection of the body, as we shall see, imply that the heavenly city we seek is material and physical. The place Christ goes to prepare for us is not some puff-cloud, drifting aimlessly through the universe. (Covenantal Agrarianism does not deny, as some have imagined, the legitimacy of cities -- assuming they are Biblical cities – rather than modern slums of urban and suburban dependency.)
God placed man in a paradise-garden, on a physical earth. This is one reason man naturally loves his earthly setting, and does not want to leave. It is innate for men to love the land God made for them. Dwelling in the land is a duty of man's calling. Here is the first pillar for a prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism. It is unnatural for men to become disembodied, theological trifling ghost-Gnostics -- divorced from physical and earthly settings. Indeed, man becomes distorted and increasingly cerebral if he is cut-off from land and animals and growing things.
This explains why modern city-dwelling scientists and abstract theologians (those pastoral capons Andrew Lytle so colorfully disdained) become so obtuse and recondite. Their theological lint-picking is a natural by-product of their unhappy divorce from Creation. Thinking themselves progressive, they detach themselves from the material world God made. In this they have lost all sense of Place and context for living. As James Howard Kunstler would say, they are Home From NoWhere, and have The Geography of NoWhere. (These are excellent non-theological books on the re-structuring and reformation of modern cities and suburban areas. Much Covenantal work remains on defining just how a Biblical city should be structured and function.)
Within the Doctrine of Creation we find our first theological pillar for the prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism. Man, formed from the dust of the ground, is part of and connected to God's material Creation. As the crown of Creation man bears God's image and likeness within a physical body endowed with both sensual and spiritual attributes. The physical materiality of man's anthropology in Creation is the first pillar of Covenantal Agrarianism.
Secondly, and closely connected, is the significance of man's bodily Resurrection to the Eternal state. (Christ's physical incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary, or course, should be included here). We must not pretend to know too much. Indeed, we know little by revelation or deduction about the eternal state, and we readily concede our ignorance. God has left far more mystery than revelation in this area.
Yet, God has not left us absolutely ignorant. We do know man's body, reconstituted after death in resurrection, is destined to endure for eternity. Christ too was incarnate in a physical body -- and becomes the firstfruit of all Creation in His resurrected body. These are no trifling matters. The modern Church not only seeks to disembody us on earth – it would have us eternally bodiless in heaven! Modern Christianity has man pining for an ethereal, metaphysical bliss, in an immaterial eternity. Yet God, significantly, has not chosen to discard His Creation or physical bodies in the resurrection and eternal state. Indeed, he preserves, redeems and restores them for eternity.
Scripture teaches that separation of the Soul from the Body at death is unnatural and makes death a part of the curse -- the last enemy. In redemptive history the curse is temporary, and overcome by salvation which includes resurrected bodies. God assures us that His redeemed Saints will comprise an innumerable host, like the sands of the sea, that no man can number. (Gen. 15:5, Rev. 7:9) As far as we know and should assume, physical bodies demand location -- some physical place. Eternity, indeed, will be far more physical and 'earthy' than Christians have yet imagined.
One is reminded of C. S. Lewis's imagery in The Great Escape. A fictional group of people visit heaven. Lewis’s point is wonderfully relevant. Heaven, they discover, is simply too weighty and substantial for them. Even the blades of grass are too firm for hell-dwellers to step on without pain. Lewis intends this to contrast with life on earth, which by comparison, is a vapor and mist. Yet given the multitudinous wonders of the earth and universe we now live in under the curse of sin, one pastor has surmised that heaven will likely be the most perfectly physical and phenomenal place of God’s creation. Christ's promise '...I go to prepare a place [dwelling] for you...' in John 14: 2 is no empty vow.
Man has been given a bodily dwelling in a physical creation from which he is formed and to which he is connected. Being God's crown of Creation, man bears God's image and likeness within his body. Though separated from it at death, he is reunited to his body in the resurrection for eternity either in Hell or the New Heaven and New Earth. These are our first two pillars which establish a prima facie credibility for Agrarianism.
Creational anthropology and the physicality of the Eternal State have many implications. One is that Pastors, Elders, and Deacons should be alert to oppose anything that blurs and distorts man's biblical anthropology and connection to Creation and soil. God has set a place or context for us to understand who and what we are. Spiritual and other-worldly abstractions which deny or up root man from this context, however well-intentioned, are fraught with danger and distortion.
The Scope of God's Redemptive Purposes
'For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.' (Colossians 1:19 & 20)
'No more let sin and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground. He comes to make, His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.' Joy To The World
'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.' (Roman 8:18-23)
The Third pillar establishing the prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism is the scope and breadth of God's redemptive purposes. The modern Church, in growing progressively anthropocentric or man-centered over the past two centuries, has fallen into a sort of atomistic individualism. God's redemptive purposes have not only been narrowed to man in general, but more and more address only man the individual. This isolation rips men and redemption from their proper context within Creation and Covenant.
Put simply, the Bible never portrays salvation and redemption in exclusively anthropocentric or individualistic terms. Indeed, one of the gems of Covenant theology is that God's redemptive purposes are set, redundantly, within corporate or communitarian language which encompasses the communion of saints, as well as all Creation.
The most obvious place is what we call Christ's 'Great Commission' to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. Here Christ tells His disciples to go and 'teach the Nations'. Individuals are unavoidably included -- but the focus is upon nations – teaching them, collectively, to obey all Christ's teachings and commands. There is simply no hint of the modern portrait where ministers have God plucking isolated individuals from the fires of hell. Such a gospel sees people merely as individuals in isolation, rather than in community. Christ's commission is corporately focused upon discipling nations.
We must also remember that Christ’s commission is given within a Covenantal context which includes several thousand years of God's historic dealings with His people. In particular, God's redemptive purposes deal with vast and extended family descendants from Abraham. This broad cultural context for God's redemptive purposes is God's blessing to 'all the families of the earth'. Where sin abounded -- grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20). The modern Church has failed to declare the whole story of redemption. Rather, the gospel's good news has been narrowed to individualism.
What has been missed, perhaps even more than corporateness, is the place of Creation in redemption. Roman 8:18-23 unashamedly connects redemption to the physical order of Creation.
In no other place is the doctrine of salvation and redemption treated so extensively. We talk about taking unbelievers down the 'Roman Road'. But notice that salvation does not concern people only. Creation is 'fallen' by sin, but Creation itself is expectant of redemption. When Adam and Eve sinned, we inherit a fallen nature from them. But Creation itself is fallen (God cursed the ground), and is expectant of salvation.
'Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.' (Romans 8:20)
This is ignored in the modern Church. We have become too pietistic to notice Creation. The physical Creation participates in the redemptive purposes of God. God’s people are central to His redemptive purposes -- yet do not comprise all that God is redeeming. Here we see that the Creation 'groaneth and travaileth' with birth pain. After Christ came to earth to live and die -- Creation now participates in the process of redemption with God's people. This is not a new idea. We hear it Isaac Watts' carol Joy To The World.
'No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground, He comes to make his blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.'
The effects of the incarnation of Christ, His life, death and resurrection -- are to reach in scope as far as the Fall of man. Redemption is comprehensive. Creation is not discarded or set aside. All that is cursed is included, in some degree, with all that is redeemed. The old myths and fairy tales are essentially true – the prince does come and set an up-side-down world right again!
Note also the similar theme in Colossians 1:19 and 20:
'For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
Here the scope of redemption is stated more succinctly. All fullness or completeness dwells in Christ, as taught in verses 15-18 where Christ is the firstborn over all Creation, and preeminent over all things. Again, the focus is upon the breadth and scope of God's redemptive purposes. It pleased the Father, to reconcile all things to Christ, whether things on earth or things in heaven... having made peace through the blood of His cross. How have we missed this? If I were to ask your children, 'What is included in "all things" I bet they'd know -- everything! The extent of Redemption includes the created order, which is not discarded.
What I want to do now is Agrarianise your Bible reading. We must begin to notice the prominent place God gives land and the earth in His Word. Remember God's promise of land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God fulfills that promise by bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land. The inheritance of Canaan is, of course, a type of redemption -- that Egypt, in some way, is a type of our slavery to sin and death, and the Land flowing with milk and honey, is a type of heaven. (Note here that Covenantal Agrarianism grants no place for a bland and austere stoicism. Indeed, as we become faithful stewards and husbandmen, the fatness and wealth of Creation is to be joyfully relished!)
But this is not all. God promises the whole earth -- redeemed, renewed and restored. In Romans 4:13 the land promised to Abraham (the father of all by faith), was a type of a greater promise. It is God's tithe or token of the whole, a pledge or down payment of what He would do. The land given to Israel was great. Now the meek are to inherit the earth. Notice just a few of the earth and land promises in Scripture and their imagery of the Garden.
For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord. (Is. 51:3)
The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden. And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Is 58:11)
You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering.... (EZ. 28:13)
The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited. (EZ. 36:34-36)
For the upright will dwell in the land, And the blameless will remain in it; But the wicked will be cut off from the earth. And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it. (PV. 2:21,22)
Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. (PS 37:3)
The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever. (PS 37:29)
Wait on the Lord, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land. (PS 37:34)
God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a dry land. (PS 68:6)
He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. (PS 1:3)
The breadth and scope of God's redemptive purposes includes Creation and gives us our Third Pillar for the prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism. We have limited the scope of redemption and made it anthropocentric. In this we have impoverished our view of God and made Him small. In so doing we have denigrated the Creation and like modern city dwellers, have defiled our own Place. The broad, historic and biblical scope of God's redemptive purposes is our Third Pillar solidifying the prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism.
The Fourth pillar for Covenantal Agrarianism grows from the doctrine of God's Covenant. God's Covenant is the primary unifying doctrine of scripture. In all the wonderful diversity of creation, life and redemption, God's Covenant gives unity to the particulars. Amidst all the fragmentation of Modernism, where unity is lost in the details, God's Covenant provides integration, synthesis, and resolution to faith and life. The best single volume on God's Covenant I know of is O. Palmer Robertson's excellent book The Christ of the Covenants. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
More could be said about the centrality of Covenantalism than is appropriate here. Concerning Agrarianism, the Covenant provides us with our fourth pillar for the prima facie credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism. Consider three points: 1) God's Covenant implies a distinct people, 2) God's Covenant calls forth Christian Community, 3) God's Covenant calls for Social and Cultural Antithesis.
Covenantalism -- Unto A Distinct People
The discriminating particularity of God's Covenant is undeniable. God initiates the redemption of a fallen world and race within the context of covenant selectivity. God calls a people to Himself, which means, as Christ so clearly testified, 'my sheep hear my voice, and I know, and they follow me.' Not all men are the sheep of Christ, as we are assured by the savior 'ye are not of my sheep' (John 10:26,27). This covenantal idea of God selecting a distinct people to be His own possession is all but impossible to miss in Scripture. How could the children of darkness not be distinct from the children of light?
'But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in times past were not a people but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.' (I Peter 2:9, 10)
Covenant Unto Community
Covenantalism implies communion and thus community. What could be more natural than for people in communion with God and each other, to live in social communion? Should this not be the expected rule and if absent signal something is amiss? Covenantal Agrarianism inherently challenges the propriety of modern urban and suburban sprawl. Volumes have been written about the isolation and fragmentation bred in modern cities and suburbia. People sense the need for solitude and quiet, yet are incessantly bombarded with a myriad of stimuli and distractions in modern cities. There is little or no communion and covenant in Modern cities.
Covenantal Agrarianism challenges this Modernist fragmentation by asking why covenant communion with God and one another does not yield its natural expression in Christian community? Where is the Christian sub-culture where we live distinctive lives with one another, and from which we model and proclaim the gospel? Why are the people of the Covenant scattered thinly amongst the people with little if any identity? Our worship on The Lord's Day and other times of informal Christian fellowship are highlights of communion. But they do not constitute real community. Indeed, most congregants likely live scattered lives in distant suburbs with little to no contact with each other on a weekly, monthly and evenly yearly basis. Their 'relationships' consists mainly of superficial small talk when they 'see each other at church'. They might not even know each other's names, much less their gifts, children, life story and personal struggles.
That God is creating a community of faith, where His people live in communion with each other is not always denied -- it's just relegated to the eternal state. We have bled the Apostles command '…come out and be ye separate' of most all meaning. The modern Church, regardless of its liberalism, neo-orthodoxy or traditional conservatism, lives thinly scattered lives in urban and suburban fragmentation and isolation. There is little if any 'community' of the saints except for a brief few hours on Sunday.
Covenant Unto Social-Cultural Antithesis
Social and cultural antithesis follow naturally from God's Covenant. God did not intend that His people live like all others, or conform to whatever cultural and social mores which happen to dominate. The very idea of a cultural distinctiveness is rooted in the chronicles of human history. Be it Muslim, Aboriginal, or Christian -- religious distinctiveness is the expected result of devoutly held belief systems. It answers the late theologian Francis Schaeffer's question in book form, How Shall We Then Live? All religions, the Christian religion included, call forth distinct and particular kinds of living -- lifestyles. Notice the Positive-Proscriptive aspects of Covenant antithesis, and the Negative-Prohibitive aspects of Covenant antithesis.
‘Surely I have taught you statutes and judgements, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." "For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?’ Deut. 4:5-8
‘According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.’ Lev. 18:3
The Modern Church has rejected cultural antithesis. It cowers, paralyzed under the modern fear of being 'marginalised' or feeling 'isolated' from the world. It has opted for a total absence of covenantal identity. There is no social or cultural antithesis between the sons of God and the children of the devil. The social fear of isolation and being marginalised has led the modern Church to barter a rich and distinctive Covenant life -- for conformity, assimilation in the social poverty of Modernism.
This brings us to a subject seldom considered in Christian social theory. Within the Covenant community, we are told to 'work with our hands’, and ‘owe no man anything but to love one another'. What should we think about the multitudinous dependencies inherent in modern society? Should the Bride of Christ embrace a social structure which yokes Her to, and ensnares Her children with a dependence upon unbelievers for the basic sustenance of life? Why? The modern city and suburb, with its radical division of labor, relegates our families to a hosts dependencies upon giant municipalities and corporations. Some Christian economists have taught us to call this progress. We might ask ‘Progress for whom, and by what definition?’
Let's be more clear concerning our dependencies. Few modern Christians ever contemplate their all but complete helplessness to provide their most basic sustenance of life -- shelter, food, water and clothing. We have become contented in our dependence upon government municipalities and giant corporations (agri-businesses and grocery chains) for our food, water and shelter. What would your family do if the electricity stayed off for several weeks and no trucks came to restock the food at the giant grocery outlet? Christian man and pagan man are all too similar -- both are Modern Proletariats. Rather than rise to some modicum of self-reliance to meet his family's needs – both have become wage-laborers. The property he owns is largely unproductive -- frivolous and useless in meeting any part of his essential needs of food, shelter and clothing. These are provided via exchange of money with strangers with whom he has no relationship other than economic. This has not always been the case. Indeed, it has gradually arisen over the last 130 years of Industrialism – especially in the last 50 years!
The story of the modern Proletariat is completely ignored today. Modern man would rather gush on about his progress, techno-toys and all his 'cool stuff'. But take a moment to contrast the small independent farmer and his community of 1948, 1848, 1748, and 1648 ... to his suburban counterpart in 1998. The Husbandman-Farmer produced a large portion of his food and water from his own skill and productive property, year after year. Modern suburbanites have no productive landed property -- or the skill and ability to provide for themselves if they did.
The Husbandman-Farmer lived in a community of landed freeholders much like himself, who not only worked with him from time to time, but supplied most of what he lacked by trade, barter and sale. Note here that an Agrarian economy or market is socially diversified by 1) some modicum of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, 2) local barter and trade, 3) regional commerce and exchange.
Modern proletariats are completely swallowed by The Money Economy. His 'neighbors' are as equally helpless and dependent to meet their needs as he is. Rather than see him as a helpful asset committed to their well being, he is more likely viewed as a economic competitor. Nor should there be much more than a superficial relationship in modern neighborhoods. Most suburbanites are temporary transients. Their corporate employers, or career opportunities are likely to relocate them in 3-5 years. So they have little enduring attachment to Place or community. The Mall and the Stadium -- economics and sports -- are the only forms of 'community' in Modernism's nomadic status-quo. Without Covenant, there is no chance for real community. Life becomes largely reduced to economics, and that an all but exclusive monetary preoccupation.
Covenantal Agrarianism, contrary to some misunderstandings, however, does not champion an isolated sort of rugged individualism, where a man meets all his needs all by himself. Rather, Covenantal Agrarianism champions the historic ideal of a freeman, or yeoman property owner, who has the ability to meet many of his basic needs, and carefully limits his dependencies. Though he might purchase some non-essentials, his essentials are provided by local interdependencies.
Some have confused Agrarian denunciations of the modern divisions of labor and attendant family dependency, with isolation or rugged, self-sufficient Individualism. This is false. They have not read carefully or charitably. Yet they seem blinded with only two options – dependent Proletariats, or self-sufficient Individualists. Both options are folly and freemen on landed property have been neither. Agrarians are not hyper, self-sufficient individualists like Jeremiah Johnsons -- or dependent, modern proletariats. Rather, they are members of Covenant communities, without either abject helplessness or unproductive dependency. Beware of arguments constructed with straw men.
Novelist, poet and essayist Wendell Berry has commented extensively on this theme. Noting that the modern proletariat exists due largely to an over-specialized division of labor, he comments:
'Even worse, a system of specialization requires the abdication to specialists of various competencies and responsibilities that were once personal and universal. Thus, the average -- one is tempted to say, the ideal -- American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists and "agribusinessmen," the problems of health to doctors and sanitation experts, the problems of education to school teachers and educators, the problems of conservation to conservationists, and so on. This supposedly fortunate citizen is therefore left with only two concerns: making money and entertaining himself... And not surprisingly, since he can do so little else for himself, he is even unable to entertain himself, for there exists an enormous industry of exorbitantly expensive specialists whose purpose is to entertain him.’
'The beneficiary of this regime of specialists ought to be the happiest of mortals -- or so we are expected to believe. All of his vital concerns are in the hands of certified experts. He is a certified expert himself and as such he earns more money in a year than all his great-grand-parents put together. Between stints at his job he has nothing to do but mow his lawn with a sit-down lawn mower, or watch other certified experts on television....
'The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money... From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride.
'It is rarely considered that this average citizen is anxious because he ought to be -- because he still has some gumption that he has not yet given up in deference to the experts. He ought to be anxious, because he is helpless. That he is dependent upon so many specialists, the beneficiary of so much expert help, can only mean that he is a captive, a potential victim. If he lives by the competence of so many other people, then he lives also by their indulgence; his own will and his own reasons to live are made subordinate to the mere tolerance of everybody else. He has one chance to live what he conceives to be his life: his own small specialty within a delicate, tense, everywhere-strained system of specialties.' ('The Ecological Crisis As A Crisis of Character', in The Unsettling of America, page 19-21)
Covenantal Agrarianism exposes the modern proletariat. It calls for an interdependency of families living with and for each other in community on productive landed property. God's covenant promises the earth (land) for His people to settle as community of free-holders of landed property.
Agrarianism has been the ideal of Greeks, Romans, Medieval Christendom in Europe, Jeffersonian America, and the old South. Agrarianism, of course, doesn't have to grow from overtly Christian doctrines and motives. The pagan Greeks and Romans were far more self-consciously Agrarian than are today's Moderns -- but without Christ or Covenant history. Today many hippie dropouts and environmental communities have rejected Modernism to embraced various forms of Agrarianism by other names. Shamefully, modern Christians have so embraced and conformed to modern culture, that they see no need for Covenant community or social antithesis. Their consciences will not allow for holy warfare against what they really love. They are more Modern than Christian.
Thus are the four foundational pillars of Christian Agrarianism: 1) Man's anthropology in the Doctrine of Creation, 2) The physicality of the Resurrection and Eternal state, 3) The breadth and scope of God's Redemptive Purposes, and 4) The Cultural and Social implication of Covenantalism. Here is man as God's Body/Soul crown of Creation, given proper identity and context for living a rich and multifaceted life. Here man can truly live with contentment, understanding, and the grace to relax in who he is within an inscrutable Created Order.
Delightful results arise by engrafting Covenantal Agrarianism into one's theological and cultural worldview. One is peaceful humility before Creation -- what Richard Weaver called pietias or piety – the result of knowing and resting contented in one’s Place and limits in Creation. Also, Covenantal Agrarianism engenders a rooted, connectedness to the earth, soil, plant and animals – the real things of Creation from which we are exhorted to learn. Covenantal Agrarianism acts as a check upon both esoteric abstractions in theology that flirt with the secret knowledge of Gnosticism. But it also rebukes the hubris of Scientific Materialism which champions rationalistic Empiricism. Agrarianism encourages an unembarrassed joy in relishing an earthy worldview and life not reduced or minimized to theological precision. Rather, it champions a tangible vision for building and becoming vibrant parts of real Covenant communities. Here, the Christian family lives productively, interdependent and deliberately. They are careful of family and community antithesis with the modern world. They sense the tension and pull into opulent materialism as modern proletariats. Thus, Covenantal Agrarianism acts as a hindrance to the pride of Modernism that seeks to possess him.
One glorious day God will bring the Church to repent of Her contentment and complicity with Modernism. Even faithful and orthodox churches have thought our repentance and needs merely cerebral and doctrinal, and have assumed the need of the hour for Christian faithfulness merely a matter of right thinking. The absence of antithesis in covenant-living has been presumed of little consequence. Yet Covenantal Agrarianism offers more than a corrective rebuke. Covenantal Agrarianism calls Christ's Bride to rich and vibrant community with holy antithesis, in bodies and Creation both destined for Redemption and Glory. With the Apostle, '...the love of Christ constrains us. Thus, ‘we persuade men...' (II Corth. 5:14 & 11).