What Would Wesley Do?
(A Deliberate Agrarian Book Review)

Dateline: 25 October 2015

I have just finished reading William C. Guerrant's newly published book, Organic Wesley. Subtitled, A Christian Perspective on Food, Farming, and Faith. It could more accurately be subtitled, John Wesley's Perspective on Industrialized Agriculture and the Modern Food System. That is not a criticism on my part. Just an observation.

For those who don't know, John Wesley was a famous 18th century Protestant evangelist. He lived from 1703 to 1791 and was a primary founder of Methodism, which was the beginnings of what would become the Methodist denomination, from which would later come the Wesleyan denomination. 

Organic Wesley begins by taking a look at The Rise of Industrial Agriculture and the Emergence of the Food Movement. That is, in fact, the title of the book's first chapter (which is available to read online). 

Guerrant statistically contrasts how agriculture and the food system once was, against how it now is. He makes the point that the modern revolution in food production isn't the agricultural panacea presented by those who have developed, perpetrated and profited from it. 

While, admittedly, industrial food is now relatively cheap, and certainly abundant, industrialized agriculture has also brought the proliferation of toxic chemicals, genetic manipulation (GMOs), increased use of synthetic hormones and antibiotics in the meat industry, and widespread, systematic animal cruelty (CAFOs). All of which has had significant adverse health effects on those people who are dependent on the industrial food paradigm.

An increasing awareness of the negative realities of industrialized agriculture has brought about a multifaceted populous reaction that Guerrant refers to as the Food Movement

I suspect that most everyone reading this is, to some degree, part of this food movement, which is to say, you are aware of industrial food dangers and make an effort to eat more natural, wholesome, ethically raised foods.

In Organic Wesley, William Guerrant makes the observation that many Christians are involved in the food movement; that various aspects of the Christian ethic compel them to be actively involved. It's an apt observation.

What I've just written is a summation of Chapter 1. After that, comes John Wesley. A brief biography of Wesley's life and ministry is in Chapter 2. Here we also learn that when John Wesley was a student at Oxford (1724) he read a book that would lead him "to connect food and faith in significant ways."

The book was Dr. George Cheyne's, An Essay of Health and Long Life. Here is a quote from Organic Wesley:

Wesley enthusiastically embraced Cheyne's teachings and became a lifelong admirer of his work. Cheyenne's call for temperance and dietary discipline resonated with Wesley, who along with his Methodist cohorts had already adopted the pratice of twice-a-week fasting and other forms of self denial that they believed were characteristics of the earlier Christian communities. Wesley immediately incorporated Cheyne's advice into his own personal practices, faithfully following Cheyne's recommendations for the rest of his life."

Wesley himself was a prolific writer, producing  more than 400 books and tracts, including some on the subject of living a healthy lifestyle. Guerrant states...

"Within this abundant body of work, including sermons, treatises, tracts, letters,and journals, there is evidence from which we can discern where Wesley's views might locate him within the contemporary food movement, and from which we can identify the elements of a Wesleyan food ethic."

With a background in law, Guerrant (now a farmer) proceeds to do an excellent job of presenting his evidence. After reading it, I'm now persuaded that John Wesley, were he alive today, would be railing against industrialized agriculture (along with industrialized medicine), and actively involved in promoting a contrarian (Wesleyan) food ethic among the faithful.

After presenting his evidence for a Wesleyan food ethic, based on Christian ethics and promoted by John Wesley over 200 years ago, Guerrant relights the torch. The last chapter of the book, Living The Ethic, is an encouraging call to action.

Though I am not a Methodist, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a well written thesis that brings together history, theology, and agriculture in a compelling way. It speaks to critically important issues of our day. It offers valid personal responses and solutions to the serious harm being inflicted  on individuals and families by the industrial food juggernaut.

Also, from my perspective as a Christian-agrarian, I interpret Organic Wesley as a contra-mundum book that should be in the library of every Christian-agrarian believer. 

As I've stated in the past, the dominant, modern, centralized, corporate-industrial food system is, ultimately, a Babylonian system of control and enslavement. Of all people, Christians especially should be actively working to lessen their dependencies and separate themselves from this ungodly system as much as they possibly can.


A pertinent quote from the book to close this review...

“…it is not just modern-day Wesleyans who stand to benefit from attention to a Wesleyan food ethic. Recovery of the historic Wesleyan food ethic might be profitable not only to those in Wesleyan traditions, but to all Christians who are looking for a point of entry into our ongoing cultural conversation about food that is grounded in faith and in the history and tradition of the church. Indeed, an ethic that explicitly defines good food as that which is nutritious, eaten in moderation, and ethically sourced, should resonate broadly among those of all backgrounds, whether Christian or not, who are looking for a way to engage the food movement that is motivated not only by a desire for personal well-being and pleasure, but also by a desire to improve the world, help others, and honor the Creator. 

Wesley’s teachings about food must be seen and considered within the context of his larger call to a cultivation of personal and social holiness and a striving toward the perfection that God intends. So while Wesley taught that disciplined ethical eating was a means of obedience to God and part of the cultivation of personal holiness, he was not merely some sort of food Pharisee. He did not call upon his followers simply to obey a list of rules about eating. Rather, he encouraged them to eat in ways that would contribute not only to their personal health, but also to the betterment of the world, celebrating the goodness of creation in life-affirming ways, while advancing God’s kingdom and glory.”


William Guerrant also has a blog that is well worth reading. Check it out at Practicing Resurrection.


A further thought... Perhaps the publication of Organic Wesley will lead to the writing of more theologically-derived Protestant (the Catholics have a few already) agrarian titles. How about Organic Luther, or Organic Calvin?


Rebekah said...

Thank you for reviewing this book. It's existence is really timely in our lives and we look forward to reading it soon. God bless.

Ezekiel Mossback said...

Mr. Kimball,

You should write a review of 'On Pilgrimage', by Dorothy Day, or 'Nazareth or Social Chaos' by Vincent McNabb. 'The Servile State' by Hillaire Belloc deserves a review on your blog as well.

God bless you!

Joshua Mincher

Anonymous said...


To add to Ezekiel's post, one could arguem as Hillaire Belloc did, the rise of Protestantism was also the inevitable cause of the industrial revolution and industrial agriculture. That said, I've read some good books on this subject from the Mennonite perspective, and would find this an interesting read.

As for "Organic Luther", or especially "Organic Calvin", again, Belloc would argue neither is philosophically possible.