What Is Agrarian Theology?

Dr. Ellen Davis describes agrarianism as, “a way of thinking and ordering life in community that is based on the health of the land and of living creatures.”[1] I describe agrarianism as what my grandparents did before they knew any other way of living.

My grandparents were farmers. Their parents were farmers. Their parents before them were farmers. Our farm has been in the family since before the American Revolution, and up until my parents’ generation agrarianism was what we Davises did. Agrarianism is living in relationship with creation in such a way that both you and creation benefit. It was inescapable for any farmer before the green revolution of the 20th Century; if you did not care for and nurture the land, it would not produce food for you.

Though my parents’ generation left the farm and none in my generation have ever actually lived on the farm, the farm has not left us. Growing up, we visited my grandparents on the farm constantly. We played in the chicken houses, watched the tractors in the fields, picked cotton balls out of the ditch after they had blown out of the big bales on the backs of the trucks, we hunted in the woods that my dad had hunted in. We grew vegetables in the garden and picked blueberries every summer. We sat around that table that has stood in my grandparents’ house for decades and shared meals of chicken slick and fried pork chops and peas and potatoes and greens. We cared for one another, we learned to be attentive to the land and the plants and the wild animals and our neighbors. And that is agrarianism.

Chicken Houses

Chances are many of you reading this have had similar experiences growing up. Perhaps not on a farm, but you have a connection to a place, a table, a community somewhere, somehow. And that is agrarianism.

But what about agrarian theology? Don’t let the term scare you off. Theology is simply words and ideas about God. We all have a theology, whether it is formalized and dogmatized or not. Agrarian theology, then, is words and ideas about God focused through the lens of community living together in healthy relationship in a place. In Christian agrarian theology, at least as I understand it, we believe that God did not speak to human beings who lived in a bubble apart from anything but the most generalized of life experiences, nor do we believe that God intends God’s followers to live separated from the world around them. We believe that God wants to be known by us, that God wants to be in relationship with us, and that such a relationship is very practical.

Agrarian theology, then, is a way of looking at the Bible, at Jesus, at God’s redemptive work, practically. I think that is ultimately why agrarian theology attracts me. A million words can and have been written about God’s love for me. But when I sit down to eat a bowl of collards, I know God loves me. Collards are my love language.

[1] Davis, Ellen. Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. Cambridge University Press. 2009. 1.