Kenneson, Phillip, D. Life on the Vine, Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
In the book Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson challenges the Western Church to take up the action of discernment. He wonders if the fruit of the spirit is in fact being cultivated by churches in his Western context. Though biblical study and reflection, he analyzes his culture to see if there are certain cultural traits that inhibit believers from producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As I read this book, a couple questions emerged:
- Is the church in the West known by its fruit?
Let me first say that a better phrasing of this question perhaps would have been, “What is the fruit by which the church in the West is known?” I say this because I quickly realized when I began to read this book and reflect on Kenneson’s comments, that the church does produce fruit, it may not be the fruit that Paul mentions in Galatians, but it produces fruit. That is why I found Kenneson’s case for discernment so compelling. In the first chapter, Kenneson asks us to consider the possibility that without careful discernment, we may fall into the trap of producing fruit that, “tastes less like the sweetness of the Spirit, and more like the sourness associated with self concern” (p 27).
Discernment is not easy. This is especially so when you live in the middle of a culture and are naturally invested deeply in that culture. I have found that travel to another culture many times helps one to develop the ability needed for such discernment. Once you are outside of your culture you can then clearly look back and see the bubble from which you emerged. This is why I believe that a key step towards the renewal and transformation of the Western Church lies in individuals within churches teaming together to travel outside their culture on a spiritual journey of discernment. This journey built on biblical study, cultural reflection, and service, may hold the key to a renewal by the Spirit of the Western Church.
The church in the West does produce fruit. Is it the fruit of the Spirit of God? Kenneson eloquently warns about not discerning, “…we insist we are fig trees, yet we bear many of the outward attributes of a stinging nettle” (p 29).
- Are the fruit of the Spirit related?
Increasingly, I am finding myself reminded of the sovereignty of God. As we continue to emerge from a society that views most things in life as either/or into a society that embraces a both/and reality, I am compelled to seek out the relationships between these nine fruit of the Spirit. I may not understand why there is grey in life, but I realize that God understands and I find myself relying more and more on faith born from paradox, doubt and uncertainty. Kenneson connects the nine fruit of the Spirit in several ways throughout this book and I want to mention two.
The first relation that he draws between these fruit is the “centrality of love” (p 36). He writes, “Love ought, therefore, to be the primary disposition of the Christian life” (p 37). Because of the primary centrality of love to the character of God, Kenneson concludes that these other eight fruit are evidence of, or “characterize” a life lived in love (p 37). Kenneson frequently employs an agriculture metaphor in the book and I use his agriculture metaphor to opine, love not only prepares the soil for sowing, it also empowers us to sow the seed, cultivate and harvest the crop.
The second relation that he draws between these fruit is the “other-directedness” of each fruit. This is a common statement and theme in each chapter. These fruit grow in individuals as they engage in community and in communities as they engage with others. This engagement is not for self-gain but an engagement of service. This makes me think more about what Jesus said sums up God’s law—to love God with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself. Maybe these words are more telling than at first glace. Jesus was human and knew well that a human’s first love in most cases is our self. The fruit of self concern/self love are not very virtuous.
- Has the Baptist emphasis on its traditions of the authority of the local church and soul freedom undercut the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit?
This is a question that began to jump out at me as a read the book. The more I read, the more I questioned. Much of Baptist tradition and thought emerged with the enlightenment. Therefore, it tends to focus much attention on the individual. I am not sure if the extreme individualism that you can see in many Baptist churches today was what was intended. I do however think that in the West, the evolution of the tradition along side the principles of individualism espoused in the development of the American culture and practice, have aided our development into what it is today. I think that this question requires deep discernment. I realize that the answer might mean rethinking some of our basic principles and beliefs, not necessarily throwing them all out the window, but weeding a field that perhaps is choking.
Upon reflection, I do think as Kenneson suggests, that the fruit of the Spirit are intimately related. I enjoyed the picture that Kenneson drew when explaining them as a prism. Love is the light and the colors are the other eight fruits (p 37). Nevertheless, who or what is the prism. Is it the body of Christ, the church, placed in the world so that it can cast the love reflected through these fruit on those around? After all, the Spirit reconciles us to God and each other in and through Christ. But what of the role of the Spirit? Does the Spirit cut the glass to the exact measurement love wills so that we experience love to its fullest? These are questions for me to ponder, but most importantly I wonder, without discernment, how are we to know which spirit is cutting the prism?