This book examines how one can foster elements like true fulfillment in one's life, health in one's relationships and triumph over things like anxiety and conflict by simply allowing God's spirit to develop in one's heart by growing his fruit. The fruit described is of course just a metaphor and is one which invited an examination of the joy, peace, patience, kindness and other elements of the spirit which can help one examine what happens when one lives each day intimately connected with God. The writers of this book push one to foster an intimate relationship with Jesus so that loftier qualities like joy, peace, patience, kindness and other elements will be able to flourish and thrive within one. There needs to be a more passionate and revelatory examination at what happens to one's mental and emotional health when such a change is made. The authors of the text are fundamentally determined to see one foster such a relationship with Jesus and to help one embrace these changes through conviction and encouragement and through a greater amount of cooperation, with true life examples to inspire one to make this difference. Ultimately, the change that they encourage is a drastic lifestyle change to help reproduce the character of Jesus within.
One of the analogies that the authors rely very heavily on is the analogy of the vine and the branches. Trask and Goodall constantly remind one that in order to produce good fruit there need to be healthy branches connected to the vine. This is something which the reader is reminded of repeatedly. As the authors assert, "when our lives are totally committed to God and we are determined to obey him, we will bear the fruit of Christ because he is the vine! We cannot help bearing all the fruit of spirit when we remain in him" (Trask & Goodall, 11). These are the fundamental keys to spiritual transformation that the writers continually focus upon. Much more of the book focuses on the religious beliefs of the authors and how precious they consider the connection between the vine and branch to be. The authors believe strongly in the sanctity of this living connection between those elements, and the sanctity necessary to produce God's fruit.
Another strength of the book is that the authors are consistent in reminding the readers that these "fruits of the spirit" are not simply reserved for those of us who are blessed with saint-like qualities or who are members of the clergy. The authors also offer some practical measures for helping one to develop the more elusive fruits of the spirit through meditation with one's Bible, through prayers and through ordinary persistence in cultivating godly habits: these are methods that the authors are able to discuss and describe in ways that are meaningful to the reader and which help in showcasing the importance of such habits -- through real-world examples. The authors are also very apt at providing vivid explanations for how and why God wants to have a close, personal relationship with individuals and that this creates a largely relational framework. The Holy Spirit is thus able to transform people's minds, emotions and actions, allowing them to live with a greater level of consistency via this spiritual fruit.
An additionally effective aspect of this book which is so strong and so thorough are the deft usage of personal anecdotes and common scenarios which show how those who are solid in a form of spiritual fruit and who have a certain amount of spiritual depth are able to conquer the problems of life. These stories are really compelling and generally very well used: they illustrate the points that the authors are generally trying to make and they are highly engaging. Some of the stories presented in the book are amusing, such as stories about husbands learning to be better to their wives. Other stories presented in the book are heartbreaking. When the authors tell the story of Roger, they tell the story of a child who died of a lack of love and acceptance: he was alienated from his parents, who apparently did not give him any significant amount of love or attention. The authors explain how this child had created this lonely existence for himself and that no one was able to reach him: essentially, this was a child who died of loneliness. In this story, the authors finally explain, "Every person desperately needs love, acceptance and forgiveness. All around us are people who are similar to Roger. They are in your workplace, school, neighborhood, and perhaps, family. Your acts of love, words of encouragement, and demonstration of forgiveness could change their lives -- for eternity" (Trask & Goodall, 37). The point that the authors make is a solid one; however, it does demonstrate a certain amount of cavalierness on their part.
The authors of the book are not doctors: they really can't be sure that the child was not suffering from some sort of illness or infirmity. The fact that they don't even mention a physical or autopsy that the child went through or if the child had a pre-existing condition strongly demonstrates that these authors are slightly out of touch with reality. If the authors had mentioned that the child had no previous conditions such as diabetes or seizures, and if the authors had mentioned that the child had undergone an autopsy, their assessment would just seem more credible. However, none of those things occurred. The authors just made a sweeping remark about how the child had no wound or sickness, but had died of loneliness. While it is a possible for a sensitive, vulnerable individual, particularly one as fragile as a child, to suffer greatly from loneliness, and even have that be a fatal cause of his or her death, the fact that the authors do not make even the vaguest reference to science or medicine makes the entire presentation seem odd and imbalanced. This profound sense of imbalance means that the authors lose a sense of credibility, which can be damaging to the other points that they're trying to make. Thus, when it comes to this personal story, the reader has the responsibility to take the fundamental meaning of the advice to heart, and then leave the rest. Basically, the reader has the duty to remember that we all have the power to change one another's lives for the better and that it's up to us to take up that responsibility.
However, one of the more disturbing aspects of the book is the bizarre stance that the authors take on homosexuality. The authors treat this subject with a certain amount of bigotry and intolerance. The bigotry and intolerance are thinly veiled, but they are still apparent. "We need to wake up to the moral compromise that television programmers consistently offer. Twenty-five homosexual characters were regularly featured on prime-time dramas and sitcoms during the 1998-99 season, according to the Gay and Lesbian alliance against defamation, which lobbied the TV stations and urged them not to run an ad that a coalition of eighteen conservative groups wanted to run in Washington D.C. The 'ex-gay' TV ad that was to be kicked off nationwide had a Mother's Day theme. It showed an elderly mother sitting with her son. 'My son Michael found out the truth -- He could walk away from homosexuality. But he found out too late. He has AIDS" (Trask & Goodall, 112). Instead of indicting this advertisement and damning it for the intolerance and bigotry that it so clearly demonstrated, Trask and Goodall merely ruminate on how programmers wouldn't run this advertisement, saying that programmers do not want "solid, moral truth" to come through (112). This is very distressing. The Bible clearly states to love thy neighbor as thyself. The Bible, at its most fundamental, discusses the love that human beings have to have for one another, along with the tolerance of differences and diversity. While Trask and Goodall are being very subtle about their lack of tolerance, the discrimination still comes through. They clearly feel that TV programmers should have run an advertisement which treats homosexuality as a disease or condition which can be cured. In that sense, Trask and Goodall are not only using this book, which truly does have many beneficial teachings, as a platform for teaching intolerance and bigotry. There are enough of those things in the world that need to be battled against. Trask and Goodall need to use the book as a means of urging others to give up their homophobic ways and to see all people as their neighbors in God and in the universe.
Trask and Goodall continue this trend of textbook religious homophobia throughout their book, as they shake their heads and essentially condemn against a media which allows gay characters to be portrayed. What Trask and Goodall are engaging in is a certain level of classic religious and theological homophobia. "While…