Monday, May 13, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about the Christian sect known as “the Diggers.”

It is May 13th, 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A very happy Monday to you all; my basketball team is eliminated, and my baseball team might as well be… oh well… we head to the mailbag today as it is Monday, and I have a collection of emails that are not so many questions but rather “hey, have you done a show on” or “hey, can you do a show on…” and those are great because sometimes I miss someone or you would like the CHA treatment given to a character or movement or idea because I will bring it to you both researched and concise. So- we head to Ted in Huntington Beach…

Whoa. Growing up in Orange County, we were always scared of the HBHC, which consists of raised trucks and tribal tattoos. Nevertheless, you did give us 90s local bands like the Vandals, the Aquabats, and Reel Big Fish… also, Dean of Jan and Dean, who wrote Surf City about Huntington Beach, and the wonderful Paul Williams, who wrote Rainbow Connection.

So, Ted writes: “Recently, I was listening to an episode about the English Revolution, and it introduced me to the fascinating Diggers movement of the 17th century. The way they intertwined Christian beliefs with their vision for society really sparked my curiosity. I think it would be amazing if you could give them the CHA treatment, exploring not only their historical context but also their connection to Christian principles and how that influenced their movement.”

So- I dig this because it isn’t just “tell me about” but “How did their faith specifically influence them?” and that’s a good question. The “Diggers” were also referred to as the “True Levelers”- the more “hardcore” levelers. These were radical Protestants amidst the English Civil Wars of the 1600s. The King had been put to death, the world turned on its ear, and these Christians saw this as an opportunity to rearrange the political situation in light of Christian principles radically. A radical upheaval like this one, or the Reformation in the earlier century, will always lead to a burst of “free spirits,” anarchists, and others who will use the upheaval for their own interests.

But the Diggers, led by Gerard Winstanley (whom we have covered on this show), saw the doctrines of original sin, the allure and sin of collecting power, and the upside-down Kingdom of Christ as the means for rejecting private property. Sure, they would use the verse in Acts 4 about the early church having all things in common. Sure, later radicals would claim them as their spiritual heirs (for instance, the Soviet Union had an obelisk with Winstanley’s name on it).

But the Diggers and Winstanley especially saw the spirit of Freedom of Christ in their desire to liberate private property, which they saw as not only a result of covetousness but also a means for helping the poor. They took up George’s Hill in Surrey and set about “digging it up” to manure it and plant crops. This was peaceful work on an otherwise vacant hill, but the fear that rose from their actions and radical calls led to their being violently suppressed.

Winstanley would take this into account and would publish tracts calling for government rule, but only to protect the rights of all. He and the Diggers, while unsuccessful, helped to disestablish the prevailing views of a “Great Chain of Being,” that is, that God himself established a hierarchy amongst humans from king to peasant. Thus, the poor are simply relegated to their state until the second coming. The individualism prevalent in the Reformation and Renaissance is seen with these Diggers as both proto-Revolutionary for the events of the next century but also an explicit Christian insistence on creating a political structure in the present based on Christian and Protestant ideas.

A quick personal word- the Diggers didn’t last, of course, but we see in them the ability to think big about “what ifs” with regard to our faith and the state. I picked this question, Ted, as when contemporary politics get me down, I have found myself time and again perusing Jacques Ellul’s Anarchy and Christianity, which isn’t “anarchy” as some may imagine it but rather a call to “what if” thinking- neither left nor right but thinking about power and the Kingdom in ways we sometimes miss. Ted, you are right to see interesting Christian ideas about sin, power, and government in this 17th-century movement.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and a word from Paul to the Philippians that also serves as a word to us today:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of May 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Christian action figure, Bible Man- played by Willie Aames, is also from Huntington Beach- Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man with a lifted truck and tribal tattoos like Dwayne Johnson—I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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