I just finished reading the new book by world renowned authors Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love (Crossway, 2008). I was going to suggest that one of you write a review of it, but I decided that maybe reviewing a book co-written by one of your professors might be a little intimidating. You should reserve that for when you’ve graduated and they no longer control your destiny (which, by the way, never happens). So, I thought I’d take a stab at it.
To keep this from becoming obnoxiously long, I will break my review into a few pieces. In this post, I will start by summarizing what the book is about. Subsequent posts will comment on some of the things that it does really well and make a few critical observations.
In Death by Love, Driscoll and Breshears seek to explain to a lay audience the multi-faceted nature of the atonement and its practical significance. As a popular-level work, Death by Love is replete with stories and examples, most of which function effectively to communicate challenging theological concepts in easily understandable ways.
In the introduction, the authors lay out their basic theological convictions regarding the atonement. They argue that any biblical understanding of the atonement must recognize that it is both substitutionary (Christ died in our place) and penal (Christ took upon himself the punishment that was God’s just judgment on human sin). Thus, penal substitution is what the atonement is fundamentally about.
To understand what this penal substitutionary atonement means in its fullness, though, one must consider all of its various facets. The majority of the book, then, comprises twelve chapters that each focus on a different aspect of the atonement. Probably the most unique feature of this book is that each of these chapters unfolds as a letter written to some person explaining how the atonement bears on the sins and life problems facing that person. Thus, we find people struggling with sexual sins, abusive relationships, Pharisaic self-righteousness, and addiction issues, among others, and each of them is confronted with truths about the atonement that challenge their ways of behaving and believing.
At the end of each chapter, the authors respond to some of the key questions raised. Since the answers are necessarily brief, they tend to provide more of an outline of an appropriate response than a complete answer. They are helpful nonetheless. The book closes with a chapter offering resources for studying the atonement further. Though largely limited to conservative evangelical works on the atonement, the works on the list are generally good and helpful for anyone seeking deeper discussions of a whole range of issues.