Continuing our review of Death by Love, we will focus in this post on two things that this book does very well. First, it does an excellent job of presenting a very broad range of perspectives from which the atonement must be viewed. Although they present the atonement as most fundamentally about penal substitution, Driscoll and Breshears do an excellent job of articulating a broad range of aspects that must be included in any adequate understanding (victory, sacrifice, justification, propitiation, expiation, ransom, example, reconciliation, and revelation).The reader is thus challenged to reconsider the atonement and realize the tremendous breadth, depth, and reach of this central truth of the Christian faith. Given the size and nature of the work, it is, of course, not comprehensive, and one might have wished that they had dealt with some metaphors more directly (e.g., healing metaphors, and payment metaphors beyond the ransom metaphor). Nonetheless, it is still a very useful work for demonstrating the breadth of the biblical portrayal of the atonement.
Although oddly presented as another aspect of the atonement, the authors also provide a very nice defense of “unlimited, limited atonement” (i.e., the atonement is unlimited in its extent, but limited to the elect in its application). This chapter is unlikely to satisfy fans of limited atonement or those preferring more Arminian articulations of unlimited atonement; nonetheless, it is an understandable presentation of some of the key issues and a clear articulation of the position.
A second key contribution of the book, and the one that I think is even more important, is that Death by Love is ultimately an exercise in atonement-thinking. That is, Driscoll and Breshears seek to model how belief in the atonement should permeate Christian life – all of our decisions, the things that we believe, the ways that we respond to people in crisis, and how we approach sin in our own life, should all be grounded in the cross. For example, in the first chapter, a woman who has long struggled with deep-rooted sins and issues with demonization is not approached with a particular method of dealing with the demonic, but is presented with the truth of the atonement and Christ’s victory over sin. That is, she is encouraged to think and live atonement-ly. This process is then repeated through all twelve chapters. If you are paying attention, by the time you get to the end, you are beginning to wonder where your life and ministry need to be challenged by the reality of the cross and the truth of the Gospel as you come to recognize that we should all be people who think atonement-ly at every turn.
For both of these reasons, then, Death by Love should be a very useful book for anyone wanting to develop their understanding of the atonement’s breadth, sharpen their atonement-thinking, or help others in their church do likewise. It should be especially useful in a Sunday school or small group setting, given the wide range of discussion topics that it provides.