And God planted a garden…

[R]econciliation has too often been discussed in Christian circles as if it took place in a vacuum, as if only people and not trees, rivers, mountains and farms are swept up in God’s redemptive drama. Our aim, then, is to point our attention back to the land, to say what a faithful life on it might look like, and to show that the land–indeed, the entire cosmos–is inextricably bound up in God’s salvation through Jesus Christ (see Col 1:20).

–Fred Bahnson & Norman Wirzba in Making Peace with the Land

The newest offering from IVP Books’ Resources for Reconciliation series is Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with CreationThe Resources for Reconciliation series pairs a practitioner with an academician, who then together address the theology and practice of reconciliation in a given sphere of life. The first book in the series, Reconciling All Things, profoundly influenced my development of a Biblical theology of justice and reconciliation.

Practitioner Fred Bahnson is an agriculturalist and writer (and excellent theologian); academician Norman Wirzba is a theology professor at Duke Divinity School (and grounded practitioner). Making Peace with the Land makes the Biblical case that “redemption is cosmic,” and so extends to the whole created order, not just humanity. God wants all creatures (“human and nonhuman”) to be “reconciled with each other and with God.” In other words, our Biblical theology of reconciliation is anemic if it does not extend to a loving stewardship of the whole of God’s creation. The authors warn against “ecological amnesia.”

Our “ecological amnesia” is at its core a theological issue. God is God of the soil, a gardener who loves the soil and brings forth life through it (as noted in Genesis). But we have worked against the land in developing systems and structures for farming that draw heavily on “our own agricultural scheme” and “monocultures of annual crops.” Instead we need to “look to nature as a model for how to practice agriculture,” engaging in what Bahnson calls regenerative agriculture, founded on the truth that “the ecosystems in which we find ourselves–created by God and deemed ‘very good’–are far more adept at growing things than we are.” The profile in chapter 6 of the work of ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) both astounded and inspired me. (Check out ECHO here.)

Bahnson and Wirzba are compelling: “Surely it is a contradiction to profess belief in the Creator while showing disregard or disdain for the works of the Creator’s hands.” After reading a lengthy description of how Chicken McNuggets are made, I was about ready to become a vegetarian. Regardless of how the phrase “animal rights” makes you feel, animal torture is not possibly justifiable by those who have been called to co-steward the creation with God.

At times I desired more exegetical nuance when the authors dealt with Scripture. For example, though the prologue is convincing enough that we ought to view God as gardener, to accept that God’s gardening work is “the most fundamental and indispensable expression of the divine love that creates, sustains, and reconciles the world” is difficult for me to… well… reconcile with the expression of divine love on the cross. In the end, it’s all of the above. That said, Bahnson’s note on the acacia tree in Isaiah 41:18-19 as a nitrogen-fixing tree and thus “divine agroforestry advice” was awesome. And the authors do affirm elsewhere that reconciliation begins with the person and work of Jesus–it is in Jesus that all things hold together, as they point out from Colossians 1.

Many of us practice “a sort of gnostic disdain for manual labor, soil husbandry, caring for physical places and living within our ecological limits.” If I make enough money to simply buy food, I don’t need to get close to that food except to pick it up at the store (or restaurant!). Then I eat it and keep going with my work, however disconnected I may be from the source of that food. However,

Reconciliation with the land means learning to see the land as part of God’s redemptive plan and acknowledge God’s ongoing presence there. That will require putting ourselves in proximity to the land and staying there long enough to be changed.

After reading this book, I’m unsettled. I’m a lot farther from “the land” than I perhaps should be. I’m not sure what to do with that. And my theology of reconciliation has often not been robust enough. But I’ve been thinking more about my food, its sources, and my connection to God’s land now that I’ve read Making Peace with the Land. I’m not suggesting that we engage carbon offsets as a solution. (Slight detour: does this not look eerily like indulgences?)

But if I’m unsettled, I’m also inspired. What if I allowed my having been reconciled with Christ to inform a ministry of reconciliation not limited to other people? What if we followed Wirzba’s advice to allow our weekly “Eucharistic eating” to “not only transform the eating we do with people,” but to also transform “the entire act of eating, which means [changing] the way we go about growing, harvesting, processing, distributing, preparing and then sharing the food we daily eat”?

That would be an abundant life.

Thank you to IVP for the free review copy, in exchange for an unbiased review, and–as it turns out–a re-examined life. Find more about Making Peace with the Land here (IVP) or here (Amazon). Highly recommended.

6 thoughts on “And God planted a garden…

  1. Abram!

    Thanks for this review. I must read this book. It’s topic (especially the Eucharistic eating aspect) is similar to topic of my Ministry Thesis that I completed this year, and in which Wirzba was a rich conversation partner.

    Hope all is well with you–looking forward to further chats about this and other theological topics!


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