Born-Again Dirt | A Book ReviewTim Kinnard
There’s a book I stumbled across a while ago written by Noah Sanders with a foreword by Joel Salatin called “Born-Again Dirt.” When I first saw this book on Amazon, or whatever online store I was looking at, it immediately grabbed my attention. It grabbed my attention particularly because of its subtitle which is: “Born-Again Dirt: Farming to the Glory of God.” The title is then expanded further with the description: “Cultivating a biblical vision for God-Glorifying Agriculture.”
When I first saw the cover, I thought “What a refreshing premise for a book!” I say the premise is “refreshing” since when one typically thinks about all-things-agriculture—from compost heaps to barn-yard stalls—“The Glory of God” isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.
If you stop to think about it, though, the profession of agriculture really is by design meant to be all about God’s glory since it’s the profession of agriculture that God first assigned to man to “work & keep the garden” (Genesis 2:15). And why did God assign this task to man? For the good of creation, and for the glory of its Creator.
So, with an interest to learn more on the subject, I decided to give Noah’s book a read and, I’m happy to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
To give you a short synopsis of the book, the first thing I want to comment on is the book title itself. Because, while the subtitle is what made me click “add to cart,” I admit the title made me raise an eyebrow because the phrase “Born-Again Dirt” sounds a little like an oxymoron.
Most people are familiar with where the phrase “born again” comes from in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It’s in that context Jesus makes the salvation appeal, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). So, when Jesus uses the term “born again”, he’s talking about a persons’ soul. One’s soul must be reborn and remade into a new life that God’s Spirit enables.
When I saw the title, “Born-Again Dirt,” my first impression was, “I’m afraid I don’t see the connection. How can dirt be reborn?” But as I started reading, it became clear the author must be using a double meaning. Because, from a biblical perspective, man was created from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). So, in that line of thinking, we are the dirt that needs to be re-made.
But it’s not just man’s soul that needs spiritual redemption, but quite literally the soil needs it too. We know this is true because with the effects of sin, according to Genesis 3:17-19, the ground became cursed because of us. God says,
“…Cursed is the ground because of you.
In pain shall we eat from it;
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth.
By the sweat of our brow we shall eat bread,
until we return to the ground, for we are dust
and to dust we shall return…”
So, again, the title “Born-Again Dirt” carries a double meaning in that we need to be born-again, and by extension, the ground we work needs to be born-again as well. Or, I think, a phrase that speaks a little clearer to the point is “redeemed.” The ground we work needs to be redeemed. Noah often uses the phrase “redeeming the dirt” in his materials.
Ultimately, we know God is the One who will accomplish that redeeming work when he one day remakes the heaven’s and the earth, undoing the effects of the fall in both the soil and our hearts. But, in practical terms, one of the things Noah argues for is a “redemption of the dirt” in terms of how we as born-again Christians manage the dirt in a still fallen world.
Does the Bible speak toward how Christians—specifically how Christian farmers—do agriculture from a Gospel-centered perspective? Noah makes the case that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes, the Bible speaks to this subject!” If you want the full explanation to the case he makes, you’ll have to go pick up a copy yourself, but I can try to summarize it for you:
As a disclaimer, the following summary doesn’t follow the format or chapter order that is used in the book, but after I finished reading it, what I picked up were 3 major layers of thinking woven throughout the book that are understood to be necessary for cultivating a biblical vision for God-glorifying agriculture.
The first layer Noah seems to spread out for his readers is what I would simply call “A Biblical Method to Agriculture.”
Now, if you’re like me, the suggestion that there are certain methods of farming out there that are more biblical than others can sound a bit presumptuous of God’s will since the last time I checked there aren’t many portions of Scripture where God tells us how to plant out carrots and potatoes.
And yet, a closer look at Scripture, and not only Scripture but a closer look at God’s good design in Creation itself, does offer us some very practical methods we would be wise to apply. For example, there are both principals & patterns clearly intended by our Creator in his creation in respect to things like:
- The role of soil in God’s design, and in what soil conditions things are meant to grow.
- The role of the seasons in God’s design, and how deliberate timing and planning makes a difference.
- The role of people, plants, and animals in God’s design, and how a proper relationship between them is supposed to work.
- The role of rest in God’s design, and the practical purposes for that rest.
There are so many things to point to. One of the specific things the book gives attention to, going back to God’s design for the soil, is a method of farming that adopts God’s use of mulch in nature, or what another Christian farmer calls “God’s Blanket” of recycled organic matter, that seems to serve as God’s intended ground cover for things to grow.
There are other specifics talked about, but applying biblical methods in agriculture is the first big emphasis I noticed.
A second layer of discussion that gets a lot of attention is what I’ll call “A Biblical Manner in Agriculture.”
It’s not just about applying biblical methods but going about those methods in a biblical way. We’re not just concerned about strategies for growing tomatoes, but just as important is how we’re growing as “people” in our attitudes & actions. This point is particularly relevant for born-again Christians, right? Because the idea is, we shouldn’t just be concerned with how well we cultivate the ground, but with how well we are cultivating our hearts as stewards of God’s creation.
Noah talks a lot about the importance of having an outlook, or worldview, that acknowledges God as the real owner of all we manage and, therefore, the importance of viewing ourselves appropriately as his mangers. We’re ultimately subject to him, and as such we want to develop faithful hearts that respect that.
Having a faithful heart toward God means we need to be hard-working, deliberate, diligent, and wise. It means we need to be humble, able to admit our mistakes. It means we need to be joyful and grateful, knowing from whom we receive what we have. It means we need to grow in our faith, trusting God as our ultimate Provider. In short, it means we need to repent from sin and become like Christ even in our farming.
One of the chapters puts it this way:
“Our role as farmers who are born-again, or redeemed by the blood of Christ, is an important, but it’s not an easy one. To embrace the role of a Christian farmer goes against our sinful, selfish nature. If we want to see agriculture renewed, if we want to see a healing of the land that has been torn by the effects of sin, if we want to see an abundance of fruitfulness that can’t be matched by other farmers, then we need to surrender to Christ and let him create new hearts [in us]…” (pg. 57)
So, there is a biblical manner we need to have as we seek to conform to Christ and as we seek to be faithful in implement biblical methods in managing what he gives us to manage.
A third layer I’d point to in Noah’s book is the emphasis he places on what I’ll call “A Biblical Motive in Agriculture.” This focus goes back to the subtitle of the book.
To what end should a Christian farmer go about his work? The answer to that question is “to the glory of God, and for the good our neighbors”
On this point, I love the following statement:
“I know it’s shocking, but if we want to have born-again dirt, we must realize that farming isn’t all about us! Again, we probably all agree with this, but it’s easy to become selfish farmers, just like it’s easy to become selfish in anything we do…
…The goal of farming isn’t just to make money off the land. The goal is to love God by reflecting His image as we care for His creation and produce food and fiber that provide for the needs of others.” (pg. 15-16)
So, the whole point behind our wanting to produce fruitful soil and fruitful Christ-like souls is to give honor to the Creator, and to serve our neighbors around us. I appreciate how the book devotes part of it’s focus to to discussing the aim Christian farmers should have to produce food in such qualities and quantities not only to improve the industry but to serve their own families well, to serve the church well, and to serve the less fortunate well in giving much of what we grow away to those in need.
So, all of that I think is laid out as necessary layers to cultivating a biblical vision for agriculture to the glory of God. We want to be about implementing biblical methods, adopting a biblical manner, and, ultimately, being led with a biblical motive, to the glory of God.
If you’re interested in other materials by Noah Sanders, check out his website at www.reedemingthedirt.com.