Death by Love

Death by Love

Letters from the Cross

by Mark Driscoll, Gerry Breshears
Publisher: Crossway Books
Hardcover, 272 pages
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The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is at once the central doctrine of Christianity, one ofits most misunderstood doctrines, and one of the most challenged ideas among skeptics and liberal theologians. In Death By Love, pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington and theologian Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon attempt to reveal both the theological depths and the practical implications of this essential doctrine.

In the introduction, the authors explain in layman's terms what we mean when we talk about "Christ's substitutionary atonement," focusing on the physical act of Jesus' death, particularly the gruesome details of crucifixion. But this isn't just a litany of tortures: each of Christ's sufferings and experiences on the Cross are explored for their theological meaning, so that readers begin to see why it was necessary that our Savior be submitted to such pain and horror.

The following twelve chapters are in the form of letters by Mark Driscoll written to members of his congregation, each of them men and women he's actually counseled over the years. Every letter looks at an important event or reality in the life of the addressee, and approaches it from the standpoint of Christ's atonement. There are lots of big theological words, like "expitation," "propitiation," "covenant sacrifice," and "Christus Victor," but all of them are thoroughly explained and illustrated.

For an idea of how this works, here's an example: The first letter is written to "Katie," a girl who, under the influence of demons, gave her body adulterously to endless nameless young men. She'd been tormented for years, by guilt, by temptation, by demonic oppression, and she was worn out and needed help. Driscoll's letter highlights the idea of Christus Victor, the idea that Jesus Christ gained the ascendancy over the devil and death through His atoning sacrifice.

This is an excellent idea. Driscoll and Breshears are able to make some very difficult ideas understandable, and to address important issues among Christians and in churches at the same time. Almost all of the stories recorded here are pretty harrowing (illicit sex, abuse, and drunkenness are prevalent themes), but the out-size nature of the sins help to better illustrate the doctrines explored by offering a huge backdrop.

However, Death By Love isn't without problems. First of all, some of the analogies seem to be calculated more to shock than to instruct. In the introduction, the authors compare the wearing of crosses by first century Christians to people of our day using "a junkie's needle or a pervert's used condom" as a religious symbol. Not only is that a disturbing analogy, it doesn't seem to be theologically astute: Christ suffered on the Cross, but He did not sin, which both of those analogies suggest.

Also, some of the advice offered in the letters is strange. Driscoll is known for his anger and verbal outbursts, and some of that seems to have found its way into this book. For instance, in the chapter called "My Wife Slept with My Friend: Jesus is Luke's New Covenant Sacrifice," the wronged young man tells Driscoll he wants blood, which Driscoll assures him is the manly and right response. While he does go on to say that forgiveness is in order, encouraging the man's rage hardly seems pastoral.

There is plenty of good content here, and for those struggling with some of the things in this book, it may be just what you need to help you reconcile and move forward in Christ. And Driscoll isn't all anger: he shows a surprisingly tender side in a letter to his son, Gideon Joseph. This isn't a "safe" book (lots of adult content), however, and the warnings are real. Read with caution, but don't just tune out the many right-on statements because there are some that miss the mark.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating
FLAWS: Deliberately shocking content, some questionable advice
Summary: Two well-known Christian leaders look at the doctrine of the Atonement from a variety of theological and pastoral perspectives.

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