Imagining a Different Way to Live

Wendell Berry is inspiring a new generation of Christians to care for the land.

Wendell Berry defies easy description. His book jackets call him everything from social critic to farmer to conservationist, and he is all of these, though they do not contain him. He is a writer—poet, essayist, and novelist. Everyone from The Progressive to National Review has claimed him. Eugene Peterson names Berry one of the seven most important writers on spiritual theology for him, saying that Berry's combination of "prophetic bite and Christian winsomeness … keeps our identity as followers of Jesus in sharp focus."

Increasingly, his readers are young Christians, particularly evangelicals seeking community life and character transformation. Wheaton College political science professor Ashley Woodiwiss says, "Students are attracted by the imaginative alternatives and possibilities that Berry sets forth." While some students offer the standard criticism of Berry, that he is a romantic idealist, most see him as a Christian thinker, albeit not an evangelical. Woodiwiss told me that of all the writers that he teaches, including many very "realist" political thinkers, Berry has the most practical impact on students' lives well after college.

Sermon-on-the-Mount Conservationism

For the last four-plus decades, Berry, 72, has been asserting in various ways that we Americans live without much care for the world and our place in it. Berry points out that most of us consume and adopt new technologies without considering the hidden costs. Berry asks, how many of us think about environmental degradation when we start up our computers, which in cases depend on electricity from coal gouged out of the mountains of Appalachia?

Berry does not mean that no one should use a computer or technology. ...

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