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Death By Love: Letters from the Cross Hardcover – Sep 12 2008
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The book is written in quite a unique format. Following the model of the biblical epistles, Driscoll writes letters to his congregation--individuals who have come to him for pastoral counsel through the years of his ministry. He writes letters to address their issues in light of the gospel. "Our approach is an effort to show that there is no such thing as Christian community or Christian ministry apart from a rigorous theology of the cross that is practically applied to the lives of real people." By perusing the table of contents the reader can quickly see the themes of the book and the contexts in which Driscoll writes about them:
We Killed God: Jesus Is Our Substitutionary Atonement
"Demons Are Tormenting Me"
Jesus Is Katie's Christus Victor
"Lust Is My God"
Jesus Is Thomas's Redemption
"My Wife Slept with My Friend"
Jesus Is Luke's New Covenant Sacrifice
"I Am a 'Good' Christian"
Jesus Is David's Gift Righteousness
"I Molested a Child"
Jesus Is John's Justification
"My Dad Used to Beat Me"
Jesus Is Bill's Propitiation
"He Raped Me"
Jesus Is Mary's Expiation
"My Daddy Is a Pastor"
Jesus Is Gideon's Unlimited Limited Atonement
"I Am Going to Hell"
Jesus Is Hank's Ransom
"My Wife Has a Brain Tumor"
Jesus Is Caleb's Christus Exemplar
"I Hate My Brother"
Jesus Is Kurt's Reconciliation
"I Want to Know God"
Jesus Is Susan's Revelation
Recommended Reading on the Cross
Similar to Vintage Jesus (and the forthcoming Vintage Church), Mark Driscoll writes the bulk of the text while Gerry Breshears offers questions and answers relevant to the topic at the close of each chapter.
The book is targeted at a general audience and is intended to share with these people a biblical theology of the cross. "We write this book not with the intention of pleasing all of the scholars who may find here various points about which to quibble. Rather, our hope is to make otherwise complicated truths understandable to regular folks so that their love for and worship of Jesus would increase as they pick up their cross to follow him. Additionally, we write in hopes of serving fellow pastors and other Christian leaders who bear the responsibility of teaching and leading people. We are heartbroken that the cross of Jesus Christ is under attack by some and dismissed by others. This book is our attempt to respond in a way that helps to ensure that the cross remains at the crux of all that it means to think and live like Jesus."
In most cases, Driscoll covers the topics well. He writes with a true pastor's heart and shares deep and important theology with the reader. He grounds all help, whether it is to overcome lust or doubt or marital infidelity, in the cross. He constantly turns the reader's gaze to the cross and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The great strength of Death by Love is the "realness" of the book. This is no abstract theology torn from any genuine context. Instead, it is theology from the battlefield of pastoral ministry. It is a pastor's attempt to offer comfort or demand repentance from the people God has called him to lead.
Those, like me, who have expressed disappointment with the occasional moment of irreverence in Driscoll's former books will find little to complain about here. The writing is serious and carries a gravitas appropriate to the subject matter. While there are moments of heart-rending pain and depravity in these letters, they represent real-life situations and a pastor's reaction to them. While the book's theology is largely sound, there are a couple of exceptions. Many readers will object to what Driscoll teaches in Chapter 8, "My Daddy is a Pastor." This chapter is written to Gideon Driscoll, Mark's youngest son. Here he encourages his son not to take faith for granted but does so in the context of a doctrine known as "unlimited limited atonement." This is guaranteed to alienate most of his audience since so few people hold to it (Bruce Ware being one notable exception). While I'll grant that Driscoll does a good job in explaining the doctrine (or doing so as well as it can be explained), it was not convincing. Some may also struggle with the chapter on being tormented by demons and on Driscoll's teaching on that subject.
What makes Death by Love so different from his other books is what makes it good. Driscoll holds his tongue, refusing to bring his trademark humor to this book. In this case it is a very good thing as the subject demands a serious tone. Driscoll looks at real-life crises and offers biblical wisdom and hope. While I have struggled in the past to recommend Driscoll's books, I have little hesitation in recommending this one.
I bought the book because in my own life, I often see a separation between hurting people and the gospel, I was hoping to gain insight as to how to counsel individuals who have gone through similar trauma. I think I was expecting more of a narrative. Each chapter starts with a short narrative, and each letter of response from Mark Driscoll begins very warmly and in the concrete, but I found myself struggling to track with the responses. There was a very definite demarcation between the "theology" part and the "real life" part. I was hoping there wouldn't be, which is why I bought the book. From the title, cover, and much of the letters written, I got the feeling Mark was trying to communicate that Christ's horrible suffering and death takes Him from an abstract theology to a very relatable, concrete personhood. The problem is that it's hard to relate to torture, and also hard to explain to people who are hurting that someone else's torture absorbs and alleviates their own.
All that being said, the book does give a great defense of substitutionary atonement. He explains it in very simple language. I was moved and inspired by the author's heart of love for each of the people he dealt with. And I appreciate that he presented Christ as the answer. I guess I was hoping that His life and resurrection would play into that answer a little more.
In Death by Love: Letters from the Cross (Crossway, 2008), Driscoll describes the cross as a multi-faceted jewel that needs to be appreciated in all its biblical glory. He refuses to pit one theory of the atonement against another, instead insisting that the proper view of the cross will lead to proper pastoral application of each theory.
"Most poor teaching about the cross results from someone's denying one of these facets, ignoring one of these facets, or overemphasizing one of these facets at the expense of others, often due to an overreaction to someone else's overreaction. Such narrow and reactionary theology has tragically caused the beauty of the cross to become obscured by the various warring teams that have risen up to argue for their systematic theology rather than bowing down in humble worship of the crucified Jesus." (10)
Driscoll may be committed to letting all of the atonement theories have their place, but he remains staunchly committed to the traditional substituationary view. He takes on the recent critics of the substitutionary view:
"Such critics are also commonly known to be the most vocal of hypocrites, simultaneously demanding justice on the earth for the poor, oppressed, and abused, while denying God the same kind of justice that is due him by those people that he created to glorify him with sinless obedience." (22)
One might say that Driscoll sees substitution as the central theory, around which all the other theories find their ultimate meaning and strongest application.
Death by Love contains powerful imagery. You cannot read the accounts of sin and its consequences without feeling a sense of holy rage and holy sadness. Driscoll does not tone down his talk about evil. He describes it in gut-wrenching detail.
Another strength of Death by Love is the nature of Driscoll's pastoral insights. He is able to apply the atonement practically without neglecting the powerful theological content necessary to do the job. Who would have thought that a book on the cross for a popular level audience would include a chapter on Driscoll's view of "unlimited limited atonement"? Even more, who would have expected a chapter like this to be so practical (and convicting)?
I was glad to see that Driscoll did not argue for merely one atonement theory at the expense of the others. The different motifs are weaved into most of the letters. The chapter on reconciliation, for example, overlaps with the Christus Victor theme. The reason for such overlap comes from Driscoll's commitment to explaining the atonement biblically instead of forcing artificial distinctions upon the atonement theories.
This commitment to the beauty of each aspect of the atonement gives Death by Love a depth sadly missing from many evangelical books on the cross. For example, when Driscoll tells someone to forgive his dad who beat him mercilessly, he is able to ground the appeal to forgiveness in the cross itself. This makes his instruction much richer and deeper than just telling the man to "forgive."
At times, Driscoll describes Jesus' crucifixion in gruesome detail that rivals Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. This kind of detail can be useful in preaching, especially due to our tendency to sanitize what happened at Calvary. Still, I cannot help but ask why (if such detail is necessary) the Gospels avoid such gruesome depictions. Breshears rightly points out that "fascination with blood itself has no resonance with the Bible," (85) which makes me wonder why Driscoll describes the bloody cross in so much detail in many of his letters.
Readers may grow weary at times of the repetition in these letters. Since each chapter is a letter from Driscoll to a specific individual, the chapters tend to repeat previous themes again and again. The letter-format explains why this is the case, but the average reader might grow weary of the repetition.
The other weakness of the book is the absence of the Church. Of course, it could be said that the book contains Driscoll's letters to individuals. True. But where is the biblical emphasis on Jesus dying to create a church, breaking down barriers between Jew and Gentile in order to form a worldwide community of believers from every tribe and tongue and nation? I expected this theme to come up in the chapter on reconciliation, but it did not.
Perhaps a chapter called "Jesus is my Church Membership" could have been written to the scores of young people today who see the believing community as an optional aspect of the Christian faith instead of one of the central reasons why Christ died.
Overall, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross is a solid book that ably demonstrates the power of Jesus' Passion for everyday life. Pastors and laypeople alike will benefit from the cross-centered counseling that fills these "letters."
As always, Driscoll generously sprinkles his explanations with hundreds of specific Bible references. This author is passionate about Truth and has a gift for bringing Christ's work alive in poignantly relevant stories. His letters, each an independent chapter, address issues such as child abuse, terminal illness and even spiritual complacency through a lens which allows the reader to uniquely see how Jesus answers, with His death and resurrection, their specific concerns.
In this work, Driscoll and Breshears offer an easy-to-understand theology on meaty doctrines such as expiation, justification, and revelation. For example, in a letter to his friend "Thomas", a man driven by sexual addictions, Driscoll draws from I John and II Peter clearly demonstrating his friend's slavery to physical cravings, lust and pride. He then shows Thomas the beautiful power of the cross to redeem us from the curse of the law, the power of Satan, our sinful flesh, and being dead to God. The author brilliantly moves on to show us how Jesus redeemed us to life in Heaven with God, Jesus' return, and a resurrected body.
One of my favorite chapters was Driscoll's letter to his 18-month-old son, a convincing discourse on "unlimited limited atonement". In this letter, Driscoll skillfully weaves his unique perspective on atonement, a combination of Calvinist and Arminian views. Driscoll and Breshears challenge their readers to take a look at free will and God's election, in harmony: "Jesus' death was sufficient to save anyone and, subjectively, efficient only to save those who repent of their sin and trust in him."
"Death by Love" quite possibly contains the clearest, most understandable, explanations I've ever read on all that Christ's death and resurrection accomplished. These authors are able to explain the cure to our modern-day sins and show us the ultimate example of Love with the unchanging Truth of the cross. "Death by Love" infused me with fresh hope in Jesus' promise that He has already defeated Satan and death!