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Book Review - Death by Love

Death by Love is Mark Driscoll’s fourth book (or eighth if you count the “A Book You’ll Actually Read” series of booklets released earlier this year by Crossway) and the second to be released in the 2008 calendar year. It follows Vintage Jesus, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and The Radical Reformission. Along with Vintage Jesus it is the second to be co-written with Gerry Breshears. Death by Love is unique among Driscoll’s books in that it is serious in tone from the first page to the last; gone is the sometimes-irreverent humor and gone is the biographical theme. In place comes a deadly-serious look at deadly-serious theology.

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:

Introduction
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

Appendix:
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.