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Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit Paperback – November 1, 1999
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About the Author
Philip Kenneson is professor of theology and philosophy at Milligan College. He is the coauthor, with James L. Street, of Selling Out the Church and has contributed to Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World and The Nature of Confession (both IVP).
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As the culture in North America becomes increasingly post-Christian and post-modern, Christians should not expect to continue to develop their faith in a privatized and individualistic manner. If the church is to truly be the salt and light of the world, namely, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, then the church needs to begin corporately living out and embodying the fruit of the Spirit (Matt 5:13-16). How else will Christian's "light shine before men, [so] that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:16)? For the Christian witness to be powerful, the Gospel needs to be preached through word and deed (the deed being the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit).
Life on the Vine is the best book that I have read which has explained the fruit of the Spirit. It is such a practical guide that I am going to make it a regular part of my ministry and approach to discipleship
I give this book five stars out of five.
First, Kenneson puts the concept of character development, or sanctification, squarely within a cultural setting. In other words, he recognizes that character development does not happen in a vacuum. It can't just happen apart from all the cultural emphasis that are a part of how we live our lives. The foundation of his entire book is the question, "How do we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit within a culture like ours?" (21st century United States). Kenneson was writing the book around the turn of the 21st century, yet the cultural trends he identified are still in full force today, and I believe are accelerating. This emphasis is so rare in these kinds of books - to have this kind of focus on spiritual formation within the cultural context.
Secondly Kenneson emphasizes our cooperating work with the Spirit in fruit-bearing. He speaks to both the Spirit's work and our work. To do this he utilizes the horticultural analogy that Paul uses when he lists the fruit of the Spirit. A number of other books on character development or fruit of the Spirit may put too much an emphasis on what we are to do to cultivate those traits. Other books might essentially say, "Hey, sanctification is the Spirit's work." I thought Kenneson struck a healthy balance on this issue.
I also loved the author's emphasis on community throughout. Most every other book I've read on sanctification or developing the fruit of the Spirit or character development were all largely personal or individually based. This book, however, is all about how the fruit of the Spirit is cultivated within a Christian community. This is a huge difference, and you see it throughout the entire book. Kenneson is very focused and intent on this community aspect, and I believe it pays dividends. It is not only refreshing, and makes the book stand out from others, but I believe also makes it more biblically grounded - particularly ground in light of the New Testament church.
There are a few other things that I really appreciated about this book. The entire structure of the book is based on the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. There is an opening chapter of introduction and then one chapter for each of the fruits. The first part of each chapter presents a biblical exposition for the fruit itself, where Kenneson traces the concept not only biblically, but also theologically. The second part is an explanation of some of the ways the dominant culture inhibits the development of this fruit. The third part includes some resources the church has for cooperating with the Spirit's cultivation of this fruit in community. The final part presents some questions for reflection along with practical suggestions. Each chapter contained this four-part structure, which the book easy to follow, and I appreciated that element of the book.
I also like the way that Kenneson describes each of the nine fruits in ways that are much deeper than most of the typical definitions and explanations that you normally hear about these character traits. By doing so he taps into the theological depth of these concepts. For example, when he's talking about love he appropriately points you to the relevant Biblical passages, but then he looks at it in a grander theological scale by contrasting love with "market-style exchanges." This takes the whole idea of love to another level and helps you get a fuller and more theologically grounded perspective of love. Another good example is his discussion about joy. He mentions the fact that joy cannot be pursued for its own sake; it is always a by-product of discovering something you weren't looking for.
As a pastor who is keenly interested in the spiritual formation of those in my sphere of influence, I can hardly recommend this book highly enough.
I bought this book to use as a guide for a Bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit. It was the best material I've ever read on this subject. My Bible study group was very blessed with what we discovered about God's blessings and what he can do through us. This book has the general information you've learned already about the fruit of the Spirit; but even better, the author really delves into what it is in our lives and in our culture today that hinders us from really cultivating these fruit in our lives to be effective servants of Christ. He also emphasizes that the fruit that God produces in us is not for our own personal benefit or enjoyment, but rather to serve our fellow Christians in church (as well and share the gospel with Gentiles).
It was evident that the author did lots of research and prayerful consideration to create the book. I highly recommend this to any Christian, although, since it's a little advanced, it may be a little high-level for beginning believers? Anyway, this book is fantastic and I'm buying my 3 siblings and my mom each a copy for Christmas!!