Let the faithful man seize a plow with oxen so that he may, nevertheless, look at God who gives greenness and fruit to the earth; and let him walk according to the commands of his master so that, cultivating earthly things, he does not desert heavenly things. ~ Hildegard of Bingen (LVM IV.76)
John Davis, New Mexico-born cattle-rancher, is a recent Bethlehem College graduate (M.A. ’23). Though initially drawn to Bethlehem for his undergrad because of its integrated curriculum and approach to the Liberal Arts, what caused him to stay for his master’s wasn’t just Liberal Arts—it was Theology. As he put it, “while at Bethlehem, I fell in love with the beauty of theology. I fell in love with a way of telling the story of God coming to save us.”
It was this love of theology—theology as ‘God and all things in relation to Him’—that struck John with theology’s relevance to all of life. The truth that, as he said, “there is no untheological work” catalyzed his desire to ground his love of agriculture in theology. In his fifth and final year, John united his love of the land and love of theology in his master’s thesis—a work on the agrarian theology of Hildegard of Bingen. As his theology crystallized, so did his vocational direction.
It is now John’s desire to share his passion—to faithfully steward and cultivate the earth in anticipation of its final restoration—with other farmers. He put it this way: “Both the Bible and church history are rich tools for farmers. They help farmers who are Christians to be Christian farmers.” The work of farming is often arduous and discouraging, which is why farmers need strengthening. “Cursed is the ground,” says Genesis 3:17, and it is through sweat and wrestling with thorns and thistles that produce is brought forth. But this isn’t the end of farming. With the curse, God also gives hope.
John’s passion for rural ministry springs from the hope of the restoration of all things, including the land. As he said, “I think that the cultivation of the land points to our original vocation and the hope we have of restoration in Revelation. What they’re doing is a high calling and not insignificant. What they’re doing is good and points to Christ. The church should help equip farmers with these truths.” Persevering in the cultivation of the land requires wrestling with thorns, often with sweat and tears, yet God gives hope to strengthen this worthy task.
John concluded his master’s thesis with this: “The church must work to teach its farmers so that they may faithfully seize their plows, and with their eyes set on the hope of God, cultivate the earth entrusted to their stewardship, and pray that God causes it to flourish.” Through studying at Bethlehem, God used these truths to not only sharpen John’s theology of the land but also to direct his vocation—to help others to fix their gaze on the God “who gives greenness and fruit to the earth” (Hildegard of Bingen, LVM IV.76).