This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2010 vol. 167 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Death by Love: Letters from the CrossCrossway, Wheaton, IL May 16, 2012
Driscoll pastors the Mars Hill Church, Seattle, and Breshears is chair of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary in Portland. This work is primarily a composition of letters written by Driscoll to those who in one way or another, willingly or unwillingly, need to hear the message of the Cross. Breshears’s part was to respond briefly at the end of each chapter to common theological questions related to the Atonement Driscoll exposits. The point of the book is “to present the timeless truths of the cross in a timely manner that is biblically faithful, culturally relevant, and personally helpful” (p. 13).
The opening line of the book is telling: “Because no one is born into this world with a theology, each generation must rediscover the truths of Scripture for itself” (p. 9). While some generations have done this well, others have not. “The tragic result is false teaching that renders the church impotent to see the power of the gospel unleashed because she either has a false Jesus or is embarrassed by the real one” (ibid.). The authors outline four central truths that guide their work. First, the Cross is a multifaceted jewel. Second, the Cross is not a pagan jewel; it is true to Jesus Himself and the biblical testimony. Third, the meaning of the Cross is situated in the greater life of Christ, but the death of the Savior is foremost in the New Testament writings especially after Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost. Fourth, rather than deter from God’s love, the Cross reveals divine love.
The Introduction declares the centrality of the passion and death of Christ to the Gospels and to Christian faith with helpful and sometimes jolting observations on the history and symbol of the Cross itself. The authors insist that while the meaning of Christ’s atonement is many-sided, the concept of substitution is central.
Driscoll then addresses twelve letters to people who are “very dear” to him with the intent “to make these points personally relevant to you [the reader].” “What they each need is what every person desperately needs—a proper biblical understanding of and personal faith in what Jesus has accomplished for them on the cross” (p. 30). The real-life letters that follow are powerful. Chapter titles reveal the diversity of Driscoll’s pastoral admonitions: “Lust Is My God,” “My Wife Slept with My Friend,” “I Am a Good Christian,” “I Molested a Child,” “My Dad Used to Beat Me,” “He Raped Me,” “My Daddy Is a Pastor,” “I Am Going to Hell,” “My Wife Has a Brain Tumor,” “I Hate My Brother,” “I Want to Know God.” With each chapter Driscoll describes the person and situation to which he writes. These are gritty realities, yet neither salacious nor prolonged. After these brief cameos, the bulk of every chapter is the pastoral-theological application of the doctrines of the Cross. Here are fairly heavy biblical-theological explanations with inserts of bold pastoral application. Each chapter focuses on specific aspects of the Atonement and ends with Breshears’s brief question-responses regarding the soteriological theme at hand. While endnotes are sparce, the work has a five-page appendix of recommended reading and twelve pages of subject and Scripture indexes.
Driscoll’s insights and forthright style are challenging, refreshing, and stimulating. The book’s letters evoke either response or rejection, but the message of the gospel is clear. In fact various doctrines are surprisingly well expounded (including even Chalcedon’s two natures of Christ, pp. 199–211). Nevertheless sometimes the cameo of the person addressed seems more like a ploy to develop a soteriological theme. Other times this reviewer marveled at the pastoral insight and the directness of dealing with people struggling in sin and needing to hear the Word of God (esp. chaps. 9–11). Driscoll is often declaring the gospel to a crowd that will not listen any other way. Breshears’s brief additions are more informational but lend theological credibility to each chapter.
Some statements were misguided. For example Islam does not “officially” teach that Jesus swooned on the cross (p. 28); Islam claims Jesus never went to the cross (Sura 4:157–58). Driscoll quotes as authoritative the “Testimonium Flavianum” passage in Josephus (p. 247), the authenticity of which almost all scholars doubt.
But overall this is a good book. Crossway has risked its usually conservative appearance with slashing black-and-white contemporary art with bold red inside covers. Driscoll and Breshears are teaching the solid doctrines of the Cross as coming right into the existence of a world without God. Driscoll is the fireman, and the house is burning down. A new generation of Christians, seminary students included, need theology reconnected to life. For all of Driscoll’s excesses, this helps get readers started.
—J. Scott Horrell