(The following is a guest post from a friend and book-lover who chooses to remain anonymous.)
Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book, Death by Love, is an exposition of the work of Christ on the cross and its relevancy to the often complex and painful situations of life. Death by Love is composed of 12 letters from Pastor Driscoll to different people he counseled about real-life situations. Each letter is prefaced by a short introduction, explaining the recipient’s background to book readers.
Driscoll, along with his co-author, Gerry Breshears, writes, “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” (13).
The Video Intro
This video provides a very good feel for the book as a whole.
A Good Book for the Sexually Broken
Although Pastor Driscoll addresses a wide range of topics through the various letters, the topics of sexual sin, brokenness, and healing feature prominently in many letters. Consequently, Death by Love is a relevant book for individuals seeking to relate the work of Christ to sexual brokenness in an effort to become whole. Letters (which are chapters) that address sexual brokenness at considerable length include:
- Chapter 1 – “Demons Are Tormenting Me”: Jesus is Katie’s Christus Victor
- Chapter 2 – “Lust is My God”: Jesus is Thomas’ Redemption
- Chapter 3 – “My Wife Slept with My Friend”: Jesus is Luke’s New Covenant Sacrifice
- Chapter 5 – “I Molested a Child”: Jesus is John’s Justification
- Chapter 7 – “He Raped Me”: Jesus is Mary’s Expiation
- Chapter 9 – “I am Going to Hell”: Jesus is Hank’s Ransom
The book does not deal entirely with sexual issues but it is easy for readers to skip around from chapter to chapter if they are looking for good practical theology that relates to sexuality.
Before continuing with the review of Pastor Driscoll’s work, it should be noted that this is probably not a book for younger children. Mark Driscoll is extremely popular with teenagers and college students, yet parents of middle school children should consider pre-reading the book to determine if they are comfortable with the content. While Pastor Driscoll never used unnecessarily graphic language to describe the background of the individuals about whom he writes, there is nonetheless an honest retelling of individuals’ stories that involves things that may be traumatic for younger children (e.g., “When he was drunk Hank would force his little girls to perform oral sex on him. He began fondling and raping them once they started developing physically”).
A Brutally Loving Confrontation of Sin
One major strength of Pastor Driscoll’s writing is its brutally honest and lovingly confrontational tone. Instead of offering veiled sympathy that amounts to license, Mark challenges readers to understand their evil motivations and spiritual pretensions. From this position, he brings readers to an understanding of why they continue to sin.
For example, Mark writes to a man who cheated on his wife by sleeping with so many women he lost count and spent an hour a day watching porn for years only to finally ask Driscoll to relieve his conscience: “Because you have chosen years of repeated sin, you have run far from God, and I sincerely doubt if you ever were or currently are a Christian, although that is ultimately for Jesus to decide. You show no signs of being redeemed, because you love sin, and your deepest desire is to do what is evil.” Pastor Driscoll continues with what is one of the most eye-opening statements about some sexual addicts: “You do not really love God, but rather merely fear hell” (59).
At points some might think that Pastor Driscoll takes his style too far and unnecessarily castigates individuals. For example, he opens his letter to someone whose sexual sins are admittedly vile by writing: “Dear John, You are a despicable human being. Jesus knew you would be born and said that it would be better if a large millstone were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea (Luke 17:2)” (110). This type of language may well unnecessarily turn off readers who otherwise might benefit from Driscoll’s content.
However, it could be argued that precisely this pedagogical style is the genesis of Driscoll’s incredible popularity amongst the least churched group in America—young men.
Getting to the Root of Sin
An additional strength of Pastor Driscoll’s book—although certainly not unique to his book—is the discussion of how deeply rooted issues engender sinful behavioral habits. For example, Pastor Driscoll writes, “Because you were exposed to naked women in person and print as a young boy, you have simply decided that you are a slave to lust. Because you have a stressful job, you have decided that you are a slave to sin and the pressures of your job push you to sin. Because your parents were perverted, you have excused yourself as some sort of genetic victim who is sexually deviant” (60). Likewise, in story after story (especially in chapters one and seven), the recurring narrative of children sexually abused (only to grow into sexually broken sinners) reoccurs.
One downside of the book—for many readers of this blog—will likely be its lack of practical tips, however, some of its stories of redemption from sexual brokenness are deeply moving. Indeed, some stories provide a powerful testimony and template to others. For example, Driscoll tells of how an understanding of the biblical theme of Jesus as a sacrifice for sins helped restore a marriage when the wife told her husband she had been sleeping with one of his friends while the husband was at work.
For whom did Christ Die?
Chapter eight deals with the subject of “Unlimited Limited Atonement.” Driscoll takes his stab at answering the classic theological question, “For whom did Christ die?” and attempts to mediate between Calvinism and Arminianism.
It should also be noted that readers with strong allegiances to historic Catholic theology (e.g., The Council of Trent’s statements on the protestant doctrine of justification and imputation) will not like some of the content as Pastor Driscoll generally aligns himself with the Reformation teachings of grace.
A Final Story
Perhaps the best way to give you an idea of this book is to re-tell a story Pastor Driscoll told in chapter seven.
Mark wrote about a woman who suffered through childhood rape and after finally meeting her future Christian husband and becoming engaged, she repeatedly slept around. She did not tell her husband about her past abuse or infidelity until years into the marriage. When she confessed, it devastated her husband.
“At this point she feared that her husband would leave her and want nothing to do with her. Then he did the unthinkable: he left their home, and she did not know where he was going or if he would ever return. Because he knew the gospel of Jesus Christ, though, he went to the store and purchased for her a new, clean white nightgown. He returned home and asked her to undress in front of him and clothe herself in white, which she did. He then said that he had chosen to see her not by what she had done or by what had been done to her, but instead solely by what Jesus had done for her to forgive her sin and cleanse her filth. He embraced her and prayed for her, and she wept tears that purified her soul as her sin was scorned by the love of Jesus and her husband” (157-158).
As someone who has read thousands of pages of books dealing with sexual purity and thousands more dealing with Christian living, theology, and history, I am quite impressed with Death by Love. Although the book is by no means for everyone and some individuals should not read it (e.g., younger readers), it is an excellent piece of writing for individuals broken by the pain of sin (especially sexual sin), and for those who desire a deeper understanding of the Person and work of Christ.
Mark Driscoll seamlessly weaves together the real-life stories of individuals with the deeply-biblical theology of the cross in a manner that is just as applicable to individuals with no background in Christianity as it is to those with nuanced understandings of the doctrines of justification, expiation, and propitiation.