Death by Love: Letters from the Cross

By Johnson, Adam J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Death by Love: Letters from the Cross


Johnson, Adam J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Death by Love: Letters from the Cross. By Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008, 272 pp., $19.99.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears wrote this book with the purpose of making "otherwise complicated truths [about the accomplishments of Jesus' death on the cross] understandable to regular folks so that their love for and worship of Jesus would increase as they pick up their cross to follow him . . . [and] serving . . . Christian leaders who bear the responsibility of teaching and leading people" (p. 9). Specifically, they hope to bring about this understanding by means of relating the doctrine of the atonement to every day life, helping "to ensure that the cross remains at the crux of all that it means to think and live like Jesus" (p. 10). Thus, while this book bears on the doctrine of the atonement and the contemporary questions surrounding it, its primary emphasis is on integration: helping us to bridge the gap between doctrine on one hand and matters of everyday life on the other. The preface and introduction set forth some of the foundational material, the twelve chapters each relate one aspect of Christ's saving death to a specific person's questions and problems, and a brief appendix offers some suggestions for further reading. Each of the main chapters of the book concludes with a section answering common questions pertaining to that chapter's content.

The preface sets forth four central truths concerning the cross which are of great significance for the character of the book as a whole. First, the authors contend that "the cross is a multi-faceted jewel" (p. 10). Acknowledging the diversity throughout Scripture and the history of Christian doctrine when it comes to explaining the effects of Christ's death, Driscoll and Breshears seek to honor this diversity, considering each of these effects, inasmuch as they are rooted in Scripture, to be complementary facets of a jewel. They further warn that the rejection of or overemphasis on any one of these aspects comes with a significant cost in terms of our understanding of Christ's saving work. Second, "the cross is not a pagan jewel" (p. 10), meaning that "the only way to faithfully interpret the New Testament metaphors regarding the atonement is to understand their origination as not coming from pagan culture but rather coming from the revelation of the Old Testament" (p. 11). Third, this jewel is "mounted in the setting of Jesus' work in history," demanding a fuller appreciation of the saving nature of Jesus' life, resurrection, and exaltation to complement our understanding of his death (pp. 11-12). Fourth, the cross is that jewel which decisively reveals the love of God. Together, these four central truths provide the theological basis underlying the rest of the book.

In the introduction, Driscoll and Breshears offer a summary treatment of the jewel of substitutionary atonement whose facets they exposit in the ensuing chapters. This summary offers an extended narrative permeated with theological reflection, portraying and explaining many of the events and details surrounding the horrific nature of Jesus' death. A meditation on Jesus' seven last words is also included. This theological narrative serves to establish the main tenets of what the authors see as the crown jewel of atonement theology: penal substitution.

Each of the twelve main chapters begins with a brief account of an acquaintance of Driscoll's, summarizing a certain aspect of that person's life that deeply reflects his or her need for a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The bulk of each chapter is in the form of a letter to that person, relating a "facet" of the cross to the specific need. In this way the authors relate themes such as justification, expiation, reconciliation, and ransom to such every-day issues as demonic oppression, rape, hatred, and adultery. Given the pattern of the book, I will focus my attention on just one of these chapters that will serve as a representative for the others. …

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