A Permanent Becoming
A Contemporary Look at the Fruit of the Spirit
ISBN 9781850787839 (1850787832)
I invited Alan Mann to tell us about his new book — and that’s precisely what he’s done. So not a review but an author’s story. Read, enjoy, then get on down to your nearest Christian bookshop to buy and read the book — because the challenges Alan sets before us here are far too important to ignore.
– Phil Groom
I sometimes ironically refer to myself as ‘the Lost Author of The Lost Message of Jesus’, which I co-wrote with Steve Chalke back in 2003. My books don’t normally get such exposure — good or bad! My 2005 offering, Atonement for a ‘Sinless’ Society, successfully dipped under the publishing radar, except for some notable mentions in books by Howard Marshall, Scot McKnight and Stephen Holmes — which I guess means that it reached its target audience! Undaunted, I keep writing because primarily I love the process; plus the fact that people ask me to — and I’m just about arrogant enough to believe that I’ve got something interesting to say about faith in the twenty-first century.
My latest book, A Permanent Becoming: A Contemporary Look at the Fruit of the Spirit (Authentic Media) is hopefully a case in point. I nicked the title from an interview I heard with Bob Dylan because it fitted perfectly with something I’d been wrestling with for sometime — why are Christians so often fixated with the Gifts of the Spirit, but seldom, if ever, get excited about the Fruit of the Spirit? After all, many of the New Testament writers (and Jesus himself) suggest that it is the rather ordinary and human sounding Fruit of the Spirit that make us Christ-like — and to be Christ-like should be the central aspiration of the Christian life.
Actually, to be Christ-like should be the central aspiration of life — period. For to be Christ-like is to be what so many people long to be — authentic; fully awake, open to the world; self-aware; at-one with ourselves, with others, the creation — to be at one with the God.
Strange then, that so little time is being given over, not only to understanding, but purposefully pursuing the Fruit of the Spirit. For what Jesus and others appear to be suggesting is that this is the spiritual framework, the matrix out of which we respond, act, live, develop, know and become known, leading us into that permanent becoming of who we are meant to be: human beings created in the image of God, as personified in the life of Jesus.
Given this apparent lack of interest in mundane spirituality, it might seem like literary suicide to write an entire book on the Fruit of the Spirit. Indeed, it might be a valid question to ask whether there is a book that can be written on the subject. After all, we know what it means to be good: help granny across the road and don’t kick the cat. What else is there to know?
But here lies our error: we only give the Fruit of the Spirit a surface reading, a cursory glance, because we assume their content and their call on our lives. They look ordinary, commonplace, lacking the complexities, energy and profundity that will generate within us spiritual depths. But if we think that, then we’ve not only missed their place, purpose and pervasiveness within the biblical narrative (and specifically in the life of Jesus) but we’ve failed to perceive their relevance to our contemporary context and the vitality they can bring to our spiritual formation as human beings.
Therefore, what I’ve tried to do in the book is three fold:
- To peel back the skin of the Fruit of the Spirit to discover the depths that lie underneath that unassuming exterior, letting Jesus, and the Spirit of God define our understanding of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, not the culture we live in.
- To peel back the skin of the world we live in and so understand a little more deeply the stories we currently live by.
- To bring the two together so that we can give ourselves the chance to generate a genuine, meaningful, contemporary and life-changing Christian spirituality. Not just for our personal advantage, but for the sake of everyone who shares this world with us.
As the title of the book suggests, this isn’t a quick fix, self-help spirituality for a consumer-driven culture, but a permanent becoming toward something that is hopefully a little more earthy, resourceful, and culturally attuned. It is a search for God; love; happiness; wholeness; purpose; social justice; environmental concern and faith in the midst of doubt. Ultimately, it is the discovery that true spirituality and authentic Christ-likeness are ordinarily human.
Alan Mann, September 2008
Alan Mann is a writer, educator, and consultant (and stay-at-home dad). A Distance Learning Tutor for London School of Theology, he graduated himself back in 2000 after completing a Masters Degree in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation. Alan lives in Bristol with his wife and daughter. His blogs can be found at alanmann.wordpress.com/ and apermanentbecoming.wordpress.com/