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Death by Love is as muscular as Mark Driscoll’s language, sermons and general outlook on life. He is absolutely brutal, but thoroughly biblical. Tiny margins and tiny print over 250 pages equals a fine-tuned treatment of the gospel and the practical implications it has on life.
The book is built around twelve stories. These are true stories–actual cases in which Driscoll the pastor counseled. Serial rape. Demonic possession. Violent child abuse. Flagrant adultery. Sexual perversion and chronic child predation.
With the exception of three chapters, this is not a child’s book. This is for mature audiences only.
But the single and solitary purpose of this book is to demonstrate the all-sufficient power of the cross. The message is simple: nothing–absolutely NOTHING–is beyond the substitutionary power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The bulk of the book is by Driscoll who sets each chapter up with a person and their story. He then proceeds to write them a letter, thus the subtitle “Letters from the Cross.” Breshears is on clean up duty, closing each chapter with a brief question and answer session.
The result reminds me of the product that John Bunyan and R. C. Sproul might churn out if given the chance. John Bunyan is the clear, cross-centered storyteller while R. C. Sproul is the scholar cum agile panelist.
Driscoll opens up the book with a primer on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement before he launches into the stories. Each chapter is a segment of that larger doctrine. Let’s take a brief look at each.
“Demons Are Tormenting Me”: Jesus Is Katie’s Christus Victor
The gut of this story is about spiritual warfare. Katie flung herself into a life of sin, and even though a Christian now, she’s still suffering from the heavy toll of that previous life. Driscoll tells Katie that even though she may feel like she is losing the battle, Christ has already won it for her. Driscoll paints a fascinating picture of the conquering Christ (which is one of the reasons I compared him to John Bunyan).
“Lust Is My God”: Jesus is Thomas’s Redemption
Thomas is an unrepentant pervert. He pours himself into pornography, strip clubs and adulterous affairs. And then has the gall to ask Driscoll to keep this confidential. The news would crush his wife. Driscoll then proceeds to crush Thomas. With the redemptive power of the cross.
“My Wife Slept with My Best Friend”: Jesus Is Luke’s New Covenant Sacrifice
Luke found out–after he was married and his wife was pregnant with child–that his wife cheated on him while they were engaged. In the very bed they now sleep in. Thomas wants blood. Driscoll commends Luke for his thirst for vengeance, but points to the shed blood of Christ and says you already have your blood.
“I Am a Good Christian”: Jesus Is David’s Gift Righteousness
David is a good Christian. But he is also a fraud. He worships at the idol of religion and rebuffs any attempt to understand the true gospel. His family is suffering under his tyranny, and Driscoll explains to David the ten differences between the gospel and religion. This chapter is child safe.
“I Molested a Child”: Jesus Is John’s Justification
John was raised in a good home. A Christian home. But when he left for college and then the real world, he kicked Christianity to the curb and lived life to the hilt. All that came to a screaming halt when he was arrested for molesting a child. In time he repented and trusted in Jesus, but shame dogs him. As if he is still damned. Driscoll explains that John will not stand condemned before God because Jesus is his justification.
“My Dad Used to Beat Me”: Jesus Is Bill’s Propitiation
This cycle repeated its self endlessly in Bill’s home: dad gets drunk. Dad thrashes children. As the oldest, Bill stood up for the younger ones. Bill moved out as soon as he could, became a Christian and got married. He refuses to treat his children like his dad. The twist is that dad, too, eventually became a Christian. But Bill struggles to forgive him. His anger is eating him alive.
“He Raped Me”: Jesus Is Mary’s Expiation
For years Mary felt like a dirty woman because her first boyfriend stalked, raped and verbally abused her. It didn’t help her father never tried to protect her. Driscoll unfolds how the doctrine of expiation cleanses us from all sin–including those who’ve sinned against us.
“My Daddy Is a Pastor”: Jesus Is Gideon’s Unlimited Limited Atonement
Gideon is the youngest of Driscoll’s five children. And the target of Driscoll’s teaching on “Unlimited Limited Atonement,” or, as Driscoll puts it, the biblical teaching of what Jesus’ death on the accomplished–and for who. Child safe. Sort of.
“I Am Going to Hell”: Jesus Is Hank’s Ransom
Sexually assaulting anything that didn’t move–including his children–for nearly sixty years, Hank is scared to death he is going to go to hell. Driscoll doesn’t mince words: he should. He deserves it. But in spite of Hank’s wickedness, Jesus died to pay the insurmountable moral debt against God Hank accumulated over his life. He just needed to repent and trust Jesus.
“My Wife Has a Brain Tumor”: Jesus Is Caleb’s Christus Exemplar
Interesting mix of charismatic Calvinists, suffering and Christianity Lite. Driscoll’s advice to his friend Caleb: Don’t make the mistake of Calvinists and exalt Jesus at the expense of the Spirit. Don’t make the mistake of charismatics who exalt the Spirit at the expense of Jesus. Instead, be Jesus-focused and Spirit-led.
“I Hate My Brother”: Jesus Is Kurt’s Reconciliation
This is the story of two brothers. But the focus is on Kurt, whose life is falling apart in a most disgusting way. His brother is a Christian who wishes to help Kurt, but Kurt despises and hates his brother. Thinks he’s too good for his own skin. This cycle of bitterness is destroying Kurt, his children and his business. Driscoll explains to break that cycle Kurt must look to Jesus–the one who reconciled us to God.
“I Want to Know God”: Jesus Is Susan’s Revelation
At least Susan is honest: she knows she’s not a Christian. And not sure why she should be. But she does want to know God. Driscoll points her to the cross where it all starts: she cannot truly know God until she repents and trusts in Jesus who will open her eyes to the truth. Until then she will always be remote from Him.
About half-way through this book it hit me: how would Joel Osteen handle these issues? I’m certain he’d wilt. What about T. D. Jakes? Or Joyce Meyer? The unfortunate thing about the self-help gospel is that there is no answer to devastating sin like you see above.
It usually boils down to trust God.
Driscoll, on the other hand, demonstrates that a faithful teaching of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is utterly sufficient to deal with the most heinous crimes against God and man. Theology isn’t dry. It’s critical.
My faults with the book comes down to a few things. The graphic nature of the stories tends to tweak the lust in you. Think rubbernecking when you pass a car wreck on the highway. You plow through this book because of the fascination not wholly unlike what you might get if you read 50 Shades of Grey. And I’m guessing that opening the book with the notion of demon possession was an editorial decision informed by a desire to entice.
For the most part Driscoll matches the doctrine with the story perfectly. Hank being ransomed from his debts (which were in abundance financially and relationally) or Mary being cleansed from rape were seamless. Others, not so.
This also means that there is a lot of overlap from chapter to chapter. The Day of Atonement is explained seven different times. At least Driscoll is consistent. And I guess this does allow each chapter to stand alone.
In the end, this book is staying on my shelf. And probably one of a very few that I will reluctantly loan out. I like it that much.
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